Labouring England flirt with danger
There's still plenty time for England to get their act together and stage the recovery they require to maintain their 100% record against Bangladesh, but right at this moment they are flirting with embarrassment.
All winter long, attrition has been England's preferred approach to Test-match batting - whether it has been to save a contest, as at Centurion and Cape Town, or to win, as at Durban and Chittagong. So their chosen tempo on the second day at Dhaka came as no surprise. It did, however, look mighty peculiar when set against the efforts of their supposedly inferior Bangladeshi counterparts.
On the one hand, Bangladesh's No. 10, Shafiul Islam, spent the first hour of the day tonking England's attack to all corners of Mirpur - or, to be precise, the corners at third man and extra cover, both of which were left unmanned as England's rookie captain, Alastair Cook, endured a morning to forget. On the other hand, Jonathan Trott ground his way to a 147-ball fifty - an landmark that ate up exactly 100 more deliveries than Shafiul's, having spent almost as long on 0 (33 deliveries) as his counterpart, Tamim Iqbal, had required to reach his own half-century (34).
It's a state of affairs that has left Bangladesh in command of the contest without quite having full control, and while the last laugh remains to be claimed in three days' time, the hosts are doing well to stifle their giggles at present. With Shakib Al Hasan leaking barely a run an over from his first 24 of the match, they've got their opponents right where a four-spin attack would want them - scraping for runs on a sparse and slow surface, with a sizeable deficit still towering overhead.
"I wouldn't say we're evens," said Kevin Pietersen at the close. "I think Bangladesh showed a lot of fight and courage this morning, and we have definitely got a fight on our hands. But I think we are still looking to win this Test match. We bat down to No. 10, and if we bat all day tomorrow - which we should do on that [wicket] - we can get ourselves into a good position, and still play to win every game on this trip."
Nevertheless, the contrast between the approaches of the two teams remains stark. For all that Bangladesh are growing in confidence in their own conditions, England are not so unfamiliar with the subcontinent that they can disguise the witlessness of their day's work, particularly in the first session, in which 89 invaluable runs were segued onto their overnight score of 330 for 8 with barely a hint of a tactical rethink.
"They initially tried to attack me, but I was just waiting to hit the loose balls," said Shafiul, a man in his third month of international cricket, and with a previous top score of 13. "They [the England fielders] were telling me to hit sixes. But Naeem [Islam] was discouraging me from taking the aerial route, because if I hit in the air on this kind of wicket, that's a problem."
It was the sort of problem, in fact, that Cook himself encountered when his new favourite shot, the slog-sweep, resulted in a hole-out to midwicket. But by then, the captain's real crime had already been committed, after he opted - bizarrely - to operate with a split field including three men on the leg-side, not enough men in the slips, and no-one at third man, where nine precious boundaries were leaked to the Bangladesh cause.
"You put a third man in place when a player is guiding the ball down there," said Pietersen. "But at the end of the day, we had two slips and a fine gully, and then one slip and two gullies, and the ball still kept going in between them. In hindsight you can say maybe we should have shifted a fielder, but they were driving the balls through the covers and midwicket as well. Sometimes you have to say well played."
Or poorly bowled, maybe? Though Pietersen protested that the wicket was "a road", on which a well-set tailender could camp on the front foot with no fear of the short ball, it was still left to the rookie Shafiul to spell out the second lesson of subcontinental bowling. Having given his side a rare glimpse of the ascendancy with the bat, he set about following his team orders to the letter, bowling six overs for 13, at an economy-rate than none of England's seamers, bar the diligent Tim Bresnan, came close to matching.
"We were set a target to bowl dot-ball and maiden overs, without bothering about taking wickets, and we tried accordingly," said Shafiul. "We are now in a very good position, and [England] are a bit down. They would have been even more down with two more wickets - that would have been really good for us. But we fulfilled our target. It's now very possible for us to take the lead, but our bowlers have to continue to do well."
"They bowled two left-arm spinners, we had offspinners bowling into the right-handers and we bowled a lot of seam as well, and they were definitely easier to face than Shakib, who bowls wicket-to-wicket with pretty straight fields," explained Pietersen, without quite convincing anyone with his reasoning. "It's one of those wickets where you have to grind it out, when you've got two accurate spinners bowling at you."
And that, presumably, will be England's plan on day three, although the irony of their predicament won't be lost on the management, who rightly decided to reinforce their bowling after labouring to that five-day win in the first Test at Chittagong, but now find themselves that little bit lighter in genuine batting options. With Trott doing his best impression of Chris Tavare at the top, they've been light on get-up-and-go as well.
"The wicket was flat in terms of trying to get a batsman out," said Pietersen. "We've struggled to score runs, but none of the batsmen have ever really looked like getting out, because if you don't want to get out, then a batsman can bat all day. Every session has been quite hard, but we've just got to make sure that when one team breaks, it's not us who breaks. If we keep putting on the pressure, we could be 500 for 3, or 500 for 5 at the end of play tomorrow. Then it's a different ballgame."
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.