Predictable Bangladesh lose their focus
The penultimate day of England's tour of Bangladesh was a destitute day of cricket. It began with one team looking back in anger, still frothing with indignation after Monday's umpiring controversies, while the other looked forward with eagerness to their flight home and a break from the touring grind. The net result was that the present passed by in a fog of indifference, dropped like a Jonathan Trott sitter - embarrassingly but, for the visitors at least, not half as costly as it ought to have been.
It was all so hopelessly predictable. Bangladesh awoke to a screed of inflammatory headlines - "Umpires for the Empire?" being the best of them - and duly performed as if their excuse for failure had been pre-packaged. England, meanwhile, happily accepted the six-wicket gifts that came their way, but even if you accept Trott's calamity as an aberration, they still allowed three further opportunities to go begging, and required a deflection off Alastair Cook's toe to extract the Chittagong roadblock, Junaid Siddique, for 34.
Before the start of the match, Kevin Pietersen had admitted how important it was for England to maintain their concentration right up to the last delivery of the series. "We often don't finish tours the way that we would like," he said. "We sort of veer off at the end of a series because we want to get home, because we travel so much. The key to the team this week is to really make sure we grind it out here and get a good victory."
Will this count as a "good victory" if England manage to wrap the contest up on the final day? Not especially. It will be a face-saver at best, and who knows what would have happened had Tamim Iqbal made the most of the three opportunities that he, of all batsmen, was afforded before he had reached his second fifty of the match. That he could not capitalise on his let-offs spoke volumes for the mood in the Bangladesh dressing-room. Emotion got the better of the squad - and most culpable of all was the coach, Jamie Siddons, who was fined for his outburst on the third afternoon. With their equilibrium tilted, a familiar meltdown ensued.
When asked if Bangladesh were still feeling aggrieved at the umpiring, their top-scoring debutant, Jahurul Islam, could barely hold himself back. "It's right," he said. "We were working hard yesterday and if you don't give out one specialist batsman, then you may not get the second chance. They didn't give out Matt Prior, he scored 62, then same mistake for [Tim] Bresnan, and he scored 91. If we had got those two wickets, they might have been bowled out for 275 to 300 runs. Then we would have been in a strong position."
But all of that was yesterday's news, and Bangladesh's failure to refocus was dispiriting. For all the progress that they have made in recent times, they still cannot do anything about arguably the most damning statistic in world cricket, their draw count. In 66 completed Tests since November 2000, they have secured a stalemate in just six matches - and four of those owed everything to the weather.
Only twice - once at Gros Islet against West Indies in 2004, and then seven months later at home to Zimbabwe - have Bangladesh played out the full distance in a five-day Test match, which is an awful record, even allowing for the greater speed at which contests are played these days. New Zealand, the side that is always cited when excusing their shortcomings, may have taken 45 Tests and 26 years to record their first victory, but they still managed to draw exactly half of their matches leading up to that breakthrough performance at Auckland in 1956.
Before you can learn how to win, you have to know how not to lose - and that, incidentally, was the lesson that Nasser Hussain was forcing upon England in the winter of 2000-01, at exactly the time that Bangladesh were playing their inaugural Test. After bossing the opening exchanges, Bangladesh had a real opportunity to claim a moral victory, by gritting it out in this match, much as Junaid and Mushfiqur Rahim had done for four-and-a-half hours in Chittagong last week. It can still be done with a bit of tail-end resistance and a few hours of tidy bowling, but unless they can instigate an overnight mood transplant, another contest is sure to bite the dust tomorrow.
"It was looking very easy at the end. I could have played a big innings easily if I had been more careful and stopped playing shots," said Jahurul, who epitomised the loss of focus when he was drawn into a loose drive on 43, to be bowled through the gate by Graeme Swann. "You can always hope in cricket, and you never know, it's still possible, but if we could have ended the day with four wickets down, that would have been good. Those last two wickets were too much for us."
"I think four quick wickets tomorrow and we chase 150 and win, that's how I see it," said Tim Bresnan, who had a right to be upbeat after a career-best 91 and a diligent spell of 1 for 21 in nine overs. "We'll see how it goes but that's how we've set it up. We will be chasing a total, I have a feeling about that, especially after getting the key wicket of Mushfiqur. We've got a nightwatchman in tomorrow and then Naeem [Islam], who'll hang in a bit, but if we can get them out, we are sniffing a win."
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.