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May 28, 2010
On this very day five years ago, Bangladesh were subjected to one of the most comprehensive drubbings ever witnessed in the history of Test cricket. The final margin, an innings and 261 runs, was vast even on paper - at the time, it was England's third-largest victory, and their best for more than 30 years - but the manner in which it was delivered, and the message it sent to the watching world, was of even greater significance.
From Bangladesh's first-day dismissal for 108, via Marcus Trescothick's uncompromising 194, and through to the second-innings shredding for 159, the entire contest was wrapped up inside seven sessions, as indeed was the second Test at Chester-le-Street. And at the end of it all, Michael Vaughan's damning verdict - as his team's thoughts shifted towards a seismic tussle with Australia - was that the whole contest had simply been too easy.
Five years on, and England's planning is once again being geared towards the Ashes, but on this lacklustre evidence, it's just as well that Brisbane is still some six months in the distance. All throughout their recent tour of Bangladesh, England's bowlers kept themselves sane on the flattest of shirt-fronts by dreaming of the green, green grass of home. The wars of attrition at Chittagong and Mirpur would be long forgotten, they assumed, once they located the seam and swing of England's early-season surfaces.
And yet, England failed to acknowledge the tenacity of a team with a far greater incentive to raise their game to untouched heights, and for Shahadat Hossain, one of three survivors from the 2005 chastising, redemption was achieved on his return to the hallowed turf. Shahadat had made his Test debut in that game, a thrusting teenager with a penchant for the bouncer and a grunt at delivery to rival Monica Seles. His inclusion was intended to apply some menace to a powder-puff attack, but his hideous analysis of 12-0-101-0 told the tale of a rookie overawed.
Today, however, Shahadat returned older and 26 Tests wiser, and made it his mission to atone for those shortcomings. His reward was a place on the dressing-room honours board - the first Bangladeshi ever to achieve such a feat. But more importantly, the verve and impetus he injected into his own performance provided his team with the inspiration that had been so sorely lacking on that last infamous visit. The net result was the best day that Bangladesh has ever produced in a Test against England, and for a sceptical audience, definitive proof of the strides they have taken in their development.
"I am very happy today," said Shahadat. "My name is on the board, and it's the first time in Bangladesh cricket so it's a big thing for me. After my debut, I never thought I would get a second chance to come here to Lord's, but I always said that, if I did, I would try to make up for it. That time Trescothick and [Andrew] Strauss hit me everywhere, but this time I just tried to forget it. I bowled line and length with a bit of swing, and nothing else."
From the moment Shahadat found his range in a purposeful second spell, Bangladesh's collective approach was of the up-and-at-'em variety. They claimed six wickets for 143 to rob England of their right to declare, and if Tamim Iqbal's initial flurry of bat-swishes crossed the line between bold and reckless, it nevertheless got the close fielders out of his eyeline, and encouraged his more timid partner, Imrul Kayes, to knuckle down alongside him.
In Chittagong, Kayes had been badly found out by the short ball, and in 22 previous Test innings, his highest score had been 33. He may never be the answer to his team's top-order needs - and a lifter from Steven Finn eventually did for him in the pre-ordained manner - but not before he had compiled a calm 99-ball 43. Perhaps the fierce blow to the helmet he took at short leg helped to steel his mindset, but either way, to produce his Test best on the biggest stage he's yet played was a credit to his growing tenacity.
"We saw them bat like that in Chittagong and Dhaka earlier in the year," said Finn, who took a phlegmatic view of his first day's work in an England home Test . "They're a developing team who are getting better game-by-game. They have players who are dangerous, and it's important we don't take them lightly. We need to treat them with respect and have to be able to build dots against them, because we're not just going to be able to blast them away; we have to build pressure, which will in turn get us wickets."
But playing the waiting game will only get a team so far - a bit of intent is needed as well, and to that end, the performance of Jonathan Trott was instructive. Admirably though he performed in notching up a career-best 226, he also batted with a lack of ambition, especially after reaching his maiden double-century. While the ability to bore a team to death is not something to be underestimated, Trott's default setting was ponderous, and his mood permeated the collective performance.
It doesn't exactly amount to a scientific study, but of the 36 individual scores in Test history that fall in the range of 220 to 230, Trott's tally of 20 fours is the second lowest boundary-count after that renowned barnacle, Bobby Simpson, way back in 1966 (and Simpson even hit a six to offset his 18 fours). Perhaps it's too easy to get carried away with boundaries in the Twenty20 era, but the England of 2005 set about putting all opponents, Bangladesh included, in their place. And they weren't even Twenty20 champions back then.
"The last time we were here, the wicket was grassy, and England had one of the best bowling attacks ever," said Shahadat. "Harmison, Jones, Flintoff ... their bowling was very fast, and the conditions were very hostile. Everyone tried their best, but the ball was swinging so much and they bowled very well."
The veteran said it best. Compared to what he and his team-mates were put through five years ago, the reception that Bangladesh have received this time around has been tame in the extreme. The gap between the sides may have shrunk in the intervening years, but that's all the more reason for England to raise their game, rather than go through the motions.
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