Strauss and Shakib target improvement
For the third Test in a row, a comfortable margin of victory masked a match in which Bangladesh forced England to graft for their rewards, but the events of the final day were typical of the gulf that still exists in the mindsets of the two nations. While England believed that they'd come good in the end, and ultimately galloped to their goal at a rate of five an over, Bangladesh knew deep down that another disappointment awaited, and the final margin spoke of a familiarly demoralised surrender.
"The facts will be that we won by eight wickets, but we had to work very hard for our win," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss, who sealed the result with a final-day 82. "In some ways we've got to give credit to the way the Bangladeshi batsmen played - in the first innings and the second they held us up with some stubborn resistance and some pretty good strokeplay. We'll be better for this game and the five days we've had, but we're obviously looking to set our standards higher than we achieved in this game."
At times in the game, Bangladesh had the measure of their opponents, and more. When conditions were at their best for batting, in bright sunshine on the second afternoon and again on the fourth day when Tamim Iqbal was blazing through the follow-on, they spanked along to 493 runs in 135 overs, for the loss of five wickets. However, when the sun disappeared - into the clouds on the third and fifth days, and over the horizon when the new ball was taken on the fourth evening - they mustered figures of 15 for 171 in 68.2.
"They are definitely getting closer because more of their batsmen have the belief they can get decent scores," said Strauss. "But, like most sides, if you keep chipping away and pressurising them, eventually you will see a collapse of some sort, and on both day three and five when the conditions suited us, we were able to take wickets quite frequently."
"It's a bit frustrating but we know that we are improving," said Bangladesh's captain, Shakib Al Hasan. "When it was overcast the ball was doing a bit, but we didn't apply ourselves for long periods of time, and that cost us the game. We thought we'd have a good chance to draw if we batted more than 50 overs, but then I got out, and our tailenders couldn't get enough runs. It's always frustrating when you lose, but we can take so many positives out of this game. There are so many negative things as well, and we need to learn from them and improve."
After lighting up Lord's with a thrilling hundred on Sunday, Tamim claimed to have been inspired by some scathing remarks from Geoffrey Boycott, who had argued on Test Match Special that Bangladesh's attack was not worthy of Minor Counties cricket. It was a charge he repeated, with some justification, as England amassed 160 runs in a single session to wrap up the result, and afterwards Shakib admitted that his bowlers were struggling to compete on equal terms.
"We know we will win some games if we win sessions, day by day, but we need to improve our bowling, especially in these conditions," he said. "At home we can depend on our spinners, but here we have to depend on our fast bowlers, so they need to learn quickly. As far as our batting is concerned, that was our best game against England, but we didn't bowl in the right areas, and that was the main problem. Any team that scores 700-plus in a match makes it difficult for us to win."
The extent to which the conditions dictated terms doesn't exactly bode well for Bangladesh's prospects ahead of the Old Trafford Test, where the weather tends towards the damper side of mild, and where the pitch promises to be hard and fast. But England themselves should be equally concerned by the ramifications. They can't expect such prodigious assistance from the heavens in Perth and Adelaide this winter, and the question of whether to go in with four bowlers or five is one that will remain a hot topic for the remainder of this summer.
"It was hard work for our bowlers," admitted Strauss. "We probably didn't hit our straps in the first innings, though we got better as the game went on and the pitch got flatter, and that was encouraging. We've always said we'll judge whether we need four bowlers or five depending on the conditions we're likely to encounter. We probably felt on this wicket there'd be more in it than there was, early season, but we'll keep looking on a case-by-case basis."
One factor that should not be overlooked was the unusually subdued performance from Graeme Swann, England's Player of the Year and the No. 2-ranked bowler in the world. He went wicketless for the first time since the Headingley Test during last summer's Ashes, and has never before returned a barren analysis in a Test in which England have claimed 20 wickets.
"You've always got to judge your attack that on the conditions you're likely to encounter," Strauss said. "Sometimes you want four extra bowlers when a partnership develops but you can't have them. But I think what the bowlers did well was that they stuck at their task very well. At times they had to change their plans and dig it in short, while Graeme Swann didn't have a huge role to play because there was no turn at all. On most wickets he's going to be more threatening than on this one."
On the subject of Tamim, who has now helped himself to 395 runs in three Tests against England, at a remarkable strike-rate of 83.33, Strauss was cautiously appreciative. "He's a dangerous player because he hits length balls straight and very hard, and he goes after the short balls as well," he said. "Some of the orthodox fields you might employ are rendered slightly redundant at times, but there's no secret to bowling well at any player. If you're hitting the top of off as often as possible he's going to struggle, especially with the ball nipping around."
With that in mind, Strauss was grateful for the influence of Steven Finn, who marked his home Test debut with Man of the Match figures of 9 for 187, and had all of the Bangladesh batsmen flinching at the accuracy he generated from his 6'7" frame. "There wasn't a lot there for our bowlers, and the lines and lengths he hit were encouraging," said Strauss. "He's obviously got some great attributes, his height and a pretty clean action, and early in your career it's fantastic to get wickets and show you belong at this level, which he has done."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo