England v Bangladesh, NatWest Series, Trent Bridge June 21, 2005

A tale of two agendas



Mohammad Ashraful: Tiger, tiger burning bright © Getty Images

England and Bangladesh met in the middle of the country, but this was no meeting of minds. Their gameplans and ambitions were totally contrasting. England wanted to send out a potent message to Australia just two days after overhauling them - that they are world-beaters - while Bangladesh had something to prove to Australia, just three days after overhauling them - that they are not one-off wonders. But, more importantly, Bangladesh had something to prove to themselves.

Bangladesh have crushed major opposition before - Pakistan and India - before crumbling immediately in subsequent matches. But after taking giant-killing to new heights on Saturday, they dared to dream that this time it was no false dawn, that this may be the beginning of a real surge towards sustained competence. It wasn't to be this time but, nevertheless, they were victorious in a few battles along the way, with Mohammad Ashraful in particular demonstrating that their future could yet be bright.

England's main focus, though, was on showing the Aussies that they mean business. On a docile pitch, their batsmen pummelled Bangladesh into meeker-than-meek submission with the second-highest one-day total of all time. From the moment Michael Vaughan won his fifth toss out of six and chose to bat, Bangladesh knew that they were going to have a fight on their hands, chasing under the lights. "We just wanted to go out there and do an attacking job," said the impressive allrounder Paul Collingwood - who was only the second player, after Viv Richards, to strike a century and take five wickets in an one-day international. Collingwood summed up England's brutal sentiments. Only Sri Lanka have surpassed the total of 391 that England eventually posted.

But, on the day that one Tiger roared back from the brink at Wimbledon, eleven others tried their best to do likewise, albeit playfully, in the sound knowledge this was a lost cause. Tigers tend to hunt alone, but these were hunting as a pack. And they were led by the youngest and most fearless as once again Ashraful displayed his electrifying talent with 94 from 52 balls, easily the fastest ODI fifty by a Bangladeshi.

He was finally too fearless - but he gave his wicket away in a selfless gesture to his team. Ashraful once more belied his tender 20 years to tear into Steve Harmison and show that there is nothing wrong with the eye of this Tiger. Neither is there much wrong with his mindset. For he shrugged off a freakish let-off from his first ball and from that moment he let go, with the insouciance of youth.

He has been learning. After an unsuccessful Test series a frustrated Dav Whatmore had challenged Ashraful not to squander his wicket. It worked against Australia, and it worked a second time here, too, before he finally fell on his sword for his team. He cannot be blamed.

Bangladesh also showed that they have learned in other areas, notably how to play the short ball. At the start of this tour they were struggling against the short stuff from county sides and they didn't improve in the Tests. But here, when England tried the same thing again - where perhaps they should have been pitching it up, especially under the lights - their pace attack came in for some tap. It took Ashley Giles - on a successful return from a hip injury - to apply the brakes. But even he went for 52 from his ten overs.

Giles admitted before the game that it wasn't easy to come back into a buoyant England side. What about one entering the side for the first time? Well, Chris Tremlett looked the part and more with figures of 4 for 32, and he also had the good grace to laugh off the hat-trick-that-wasn't, a sure sign of the confidence which is needed at this level.

But what must Andrew Flintoff be thinking? Last year he couldn't stay out of the limelight, this year he's struggling to gain even a flicker of attention. It was just his second knock in an England top this summer, and he made just 19, to go with his 17 against Australia. For once, though, Flintoff wasn't playing second-fiddle to Kevin Pietersen, whose pyrotechnics weren't needed - he didn't even bother to pad up.

These one-day matches do not reflect greatly on Test cricket, neither for Bangladesh, who have so far acquitted themselves well in the one-day arena, nor Australia, who most certainly haven't. But if there is just a sneaking psychological edge to be gained for England, then they are going to grab it and hold on for all they are worth.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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