Bangladesh June 2, 2010

Ten wickets with a stick of French bread

In which, the Achilles heel of Bangladesh cricket is ruthlessly exposed

Mudassar Nazar: master of the fearsome blitztrundle © Getty Images

England has reaffirmed its status as the greatest nation in the history of the world with its third consecutive intermittently-unconvincing-but-ultimately-comfortable victory over Bangladesh. It was a good, competitive Test match. Whilst Bangladesh were batting. When they were bowling, it was another pointless exercise in zero-intensity average-inflating net practice for England’s batsmen, although only Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss took full advantage.

Trott took the opportunity to bump his Test average up from 37 to 53, mutating from a Neil McKenzie to a Virender Sehwag over five days of ruthless accumulation. It would take six consecutive ducks for Trott to re-McKenzify his average. Ian Bell’s average remains 2.5 runs better off five years after helping himself to 227 unbeaten runs in the two-Test series of 2005. Word is he still sends Tapash Baisya and Anwar Hossain Monir a box of chocolates every Christmas.

Bangladesh’s bowling “attack” currently poses the offensive threat of a broken toy zebra in a lion enclosure. They average over 60 runs per wicket this year, and it is traditionally difficult to win Tests when you are conceding 600-plus per innings. Not impossible, admittedly, but reliant on the presence in your dressing room of a high-quality hypnotist to hoodwink the opposition captain into two rogue declarations.

The Tigers, for all their recent improvement, continue to lack both penetrative bowlers and, more importantly, top-notch hypnotists. Until one or both of these understandable problems is resolved, they will continue to strive for draws rather than victories.

Nevertheless, their excellent top-order batting confirmed that they have now improved sufficiently to officially become a team that is not ritually humiliated in every Test it plays. Progress towards becoming a team that has an ice-lolly’s chance in a volcano-surfing competition of actually winning a Test remains negligible, however: Bangladesh’s bowlers remained as incisive as baguette. And, just as you can’t perform an appendectomy with a stick of French bread, so you cannot win a Test without taking wickets.

Their batsmen, however, provided another good examination for England’s bowlers, which only Steven Finn passed. Bangladesh extended their record run without an innings defeat to 10 Tests, and have now scored over 200 in 16 consecutive Test innings since January 2009. They had been skittled for less than 200 in 15 of their previous 25 innings, and 61 of their first 116 since an elevation to Test status that was not so much premature as before conception.

To maintain these sequences at Old Trafford on a potentially bouncy pitch, they will need more from their middle order, which failed to support Tamim, Imrul and Junaid’s respectively dazzling, determined, and also determined efforts.

Tamim Iqbal again showed himself to be a rampant entertainer of rare brilliance, whose willingness to intersperse his vibrant strokeplay with failed attempted smears over midwicket gladdens the heart of all village players, who can aspire to match at least the latter part of his repertoire. How appropriate that Tamim should have illuminated the old ground so close to the 20th anniversary of another immortal Lord’s innings by a visiting player, back in 1990 – I refer of course to New Zealand opener Trevor Franklin’s almost-equally iridescent 101, which Tamim eclipsed by two runs from 210 fewer balls over four and a half fewer hours.

The MCC announced yesterday that, as part of their planned expansion of Lord’s, a 30-metre high bronze statue of Franklin will be erected at the Nursery End, its base adorned with sculptured reliefs of the Auckland Awkwardian playing a series of obdurate forward-defensives, whilst spectators are resuscitated in the background.

Lord’s has long inspired foreign batsmen. Tamim joins Franklin on an illustrious list that now includes, amongst others, Don Bradman, Martin Donnelly, Mohsin Khan, Gordon Greenidge and Jonathan Trott.

Sadly, the great old ground failed to exert a similarly motivational effect on Mohammad Ashraful, who clocked up his 48th single-figure dismissal in just 54 Tests. He remains some way behind the record for most single-figure scores by a top-order batsman, held by Alec Stewart – the top six in this list make a useful batting order:

Stewart (66 scores below 10), Atherton (65), Border (64), Tendulkar (64), Lara (62) and Steve Waugh (61). Serial failers to a man.

One suspects Tendulkar will extend his career until he has claimed top spot from Stewart. A record is a record. Expect the little master to deal only in centuries and singe-figure failures from now until retirement – he will want to leave a legacy of records that no one will ever match.

Ashraful, aged just 25, has plenty of time to break into this elusive club and claim his place amongst the all-time elite, and to do so he will be hoping Bangladesh play all their Test matches away from Asia – his average in his 18 Tests elsewhere in the world is 12.7, which puts him on a par for non-Asian Tests with batting legends such as Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Ian Bishop.

The statistics suggest unarguably that Ashraful is a 6’6”-plus West Indian paceman trapped in the body of an underachieving 5’6”-minus Bangladeshi batsman. Perhaps he could be the answer to the Tigers’ new-ball troubles. If only the aforementioned hypnotist was on hand to swing his pocket watch to and fro, and bring out the lethal Caribbean quickie that is the real Mohammad Ashraful. “You are getting sleepy. You are getting sleeeeepy. And... gone. Right. When I click my fingers, you will charge in from a 30-yard run, bang it in short of a length at over 90mph, follow through to within an inch of the batsman’s still-twitching nose, and glare at him like he’s just stolen your mother. And... click.”

Despite the promise of Finn, England should be concerned by their failure to take wickets when the sun, unpatriotically, shone. Four late-summer Tests against Pakistan and an Ashes tour in Australia are looming, and if the solar system’s number-one-ranked heat-and-light source betrays England consistently, their four-prong bowling attack may regret its lack of fifth prong, especially if the key prong, Swann, remains as uncharacteristically unprongy as he was at Lord’s.

Tamim became the 150th batsman to score a Test century at Lord’s, and celebrated with a joyful if bizarre piece of physical theatre and/or modern ballet, which experts interpreted as a demand to have his name rapidly inked onto the pavilion honours board. Many greats of the game are absent from the board at the Home Of Cricket. And some certifiable non-greats of the game have carved their names indelibly into Lord’s eternity.

I have compiled a couple of similarly structured XIs for you. Tell me who you think would win. Bearing in mind that the match will be played at Lord’s.

Not on the Lord’s Honours Board XI MA Atherton, SM Gavaskar, SR Tendulkar, ER Dexter, CH Lloyd, Imran Khan, APE Knott (wk), Wasim Akram, SK Warne, DK Lillee, CEL Ambrose.

On the Lord’s Honours Board XI CWJ Athey, TJ Franklin, MJ Horne, MH Richardson, AB Agarkar, Nasim-ul-Ghani, SAR Silva (wk), DR Pringle, RG Holland, ESH Giddins, Mudassar Nazar.

(Note that I have selected Ajit Agarkar as a specialist batsman for his mind-bending 2002 century, and Mudassar as a specialist bowler for his low-pace 1982 blitztrundle, arguably the most devastating display of dibbly-dobbling in cricket history. His tail-end runs could prove crucial – you would back him to chip in with a few more than Ambrose. And this contest could prove once and for all who is the greatest Australian legspinner of all-time – Shane Warne, or Bob Holland.)

There will be another Confectionery Stall Q&A later this week. Leave any queries you want me to answer in the comments below, and I will intensively research and/or completely fabricate responses shortly.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer