Plucky Bangladesh survive to fight another day
If Tests were played like Grand Slam tennis matches, with each day equating to a set, then England would currently be leading 2-1 at Chittagong - 6-0, 6-1, 5-7 - but with Bangladesh having shown sufficient tenacity to scrap their way back into the contest, and give themselves a slim hope of taking the game to a decider.
Unfortunately for Tamim Iqbal and his colleagues, not to mention the neutral spectators who have probably now drifted off to watch the IPL, this game is surely already out of sight, despite their best day of the tour so far. In a peculiar sequence of misguided strategies, England started by giving Bangladesh's bowlers too much respect by packing their side with batsmen, only for Bangladesh themselves to baulk at the compliment by fielding first and gift-wrapping a 600-run handicap.
The net result has been a slow bleeding of Bangladesh's resistance in this contest, rather than the swift neck-crack that might have been administered in the past - and while that still counts as progress of a sort, it rather undermines the true value of their spirited fightback on a sappingly humid third day.
Their gutsy lower-order batting, coupled with a sparky effort second-time around in the field, could yet be sufficient to give them a get-out, despite the fact that they were still restricted to less than half of their opponent's first-innings total. But from the manner in which wickets began to tumble on a livelier-than-anticipated third-innings surface, survival will be a stern challenge, especially against a bowler as guileful as Graeme Swann.
"We're 430 ahead after three days and you can't argue with that," said Swann. "Yes, we lost a couple of wickets at the end which isn't ideal, but with two days to play I think we're in the box seat. We picked the best possible team to win this game, and I've got no qualms because we're in a magnificent position."
In truth, England picked a team to guard against embarrassment, and their subsequent strategy has been tweaked accordingly. The absence of a fifth bowler made Alastair Cook's refusal of the follow-on inevitable, no matter how negative it might appear to the outside world. With just three frontline pacemen, one of whom is on debut and another of whom was an injury doubt coming into the match, going for broke was never going to be countenanced. There's a time and a place for big statements - the here and now is simply about getting a job done.
"The follow-on was discussed but we felt this was the best way to win the game," said Swann. "From the one-dayers we played beforehand, Bangladesh showed they've got some capable batsmen and some capable bowlers, so it's no surprise they are putting up a fight. We'll have to perform well in the second innings to win.
"The pitch is excellent, but we knew it would be good," he added. "You have to work hard after the ball goes dead, and if a guy gets in you have to work hard to get rid of them. But we've got a bit of reverse-swing going and there's always a little bit of turn, with the odd one hitting a crack and going a bit more, so we're confident."
All the same, by laying claim to the third-day honours, Bangladesh ensured that their confidence is as high as it has been all week - and given that they started the game in disarray following the walk-out of Raqibul Hasan, the recovery, no matter how partial, is a testament to their collective determination.
"At the moment it is difficult for us, but I think the match has not ended yet," said Tamim, whose superb 86 was ended by the ball of the match from Tim Bresnan. "I think they are eyeing a lead close to 500 runs, but we scored more than 400 in the fourth innings in a Test match against Sri Lanka in Dhaka, so who knows? You cannot predict in cricket what will happen in a game. If two or three of us can play a big innings, only Allah can say what will happen."
Once Tamim had departed, the cause was taken up by his diminutive team-mate, Mushfiqur Rahim, whose fighting 79 allowed Bangladesh to all but double their overnight 154 for 5. Despite looking like a schoolboy he batted like a man, dancing at the crease to keep both spin and seam at bay, before finally succumbing to a stunning take at short midwicket from the substitute fielder, James Tredwell.
"Short blokes are quite tricky to bowl at," said Swann. "When a chap is knee-high to a grasshopper it's quite hard to get your length right, but he batted really well. It's always nice to have a big guy lunging down the wicket giving you easy bat-pad chances, but I thought Bangladesh batted really well today, in the hour before and the hour after lunch. We'll have our work cut out to bowl them out in the second innings."
"It will be difficult, but not impossible," said Tamim. "We've got some good players, and everyone is capable of making big scores, so if two or three play big innings everything is possible. We are now mentally strong, and we all know we have to perform well in the next innings."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.