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January 4, 2008
New Zealand edged ahead of Bangladesh on a day when 14 wickets fell at Dunedin's University Oval, making its debut as a Test venue in the series opener, as the tourists struggled during the opening day of their first Test in six months. The bowlers got themselves into Test mode, Chris Martin and Jacob Oram sharing seven wickets as Bangladesh's under-performing tour of New Zealand continued, with only Tamim Iqbal's debut 53 offering a semblance of respect to another poor overseas total of 137.
After the hiding they received in the ODI series the first innings of Bangladesh's 50th Test followed a pattern seen all too often in foreign conditions and even a spirited reply with the ball couldn't mask their frailties in the five-day game. The hosts' reply started off shakily as well and they owed plenty to a cultured half-century from Matthew Bell, on the comeback trail after six years in the wilderness, to leave Bangladesh playing catch-up.
A strip that was condemned leading into this Test - it lay just next to an allegedly deceitful strip exploited by Otago's seamers a month ago in a domestic four-day game against Auckland that was over inside two days - soon appeared to be a fair track. There wasn't excess bounce but the ball carried through at a good height and Bangladesh's struggling top order was undone by poor shot selection.
The script went to plan as Daniel Vettori won yet another toss and had little hesitation inserting Bangladesh. Junaid Siddique, one half of a debutant opening pair, edged to slip to give Martin first blood in just the third over, and the collapse was in motion. Bangladesh shuffled their pack for the Tests, recalling Habibul Bashar and Shahriar Nafees, but both seemed confused as to what format they were in. Bashar's attempts to hit the cover off a hard and shiny new ball resulted in two top-edged sixes but he was caught by Brendon McCullum to make it 43 for 2. Nafees played and missed his way through a 35-run stand with Tamim, after Mohammad Ashraful went shouldering arms to an inswinger first ball, and an attempted slog-sweep against Vettori rolled back onto the base of off stump shortly before lunch.
If you can drive on the up on the first morning of a Test match it cannot be that bad and Tamim did that to decent effect, especially against Kyle Mills early on. He was given a reprieve when Craig Cumming dropped a sitter at forward short leg, after Iain O'Brien dug it in short, but came out after the lunch break with firm drives past Martin for four to raise fifty on Test debut.
But then, another dramatic collapse. Aftab Ahmed struggled for 25 deliveries, content to play second fiddle, but an awful swipe across the line to Oram resulted in disaster. Martin's short-pitched stuff ball proved too hot too handle for Tamim, who tried to play one leaping up at him but failed to keep it down. Mashafe Mortaza was peppered incessantly - one delivery from Martin knocked him to the ground - and he was soon out, jumping to leg once too often and dragging onto his stumps. Shahadat Hossain nicked his first delivery and tiny Mushfiqur Rahim's brave little fight lasted just under an hour before he cut Mills to gully. Mills picked up another cheap wicket to finish the innings at 137 a half hour before tea.
New Zealand's start wasn't much better. Bangladesh gave debutant Sajidul Islam the new ball ahead of Mortaza and a clever bit of late inswing got Cumming, returning from a broken cheekbone in South Africa, lbw for 1. Peter Fulton, another top-order batsman handed a recall, was pegged back by Shahadat in the ninth over, beaten for pace. Stephen Fleming struck a few lusty boundaries off Sajidul through cover-point but the bowler won the battle when Fleming edged an away-swinger for 14.
Here's where one man showed that there was no substitute for time at the crease. Bell, who played 13 Tests between 1998 and 2001 and averaged 22, has scored 722 runs for Wellington this season at an average of 103 and it was easy to spot his confidence. He started confidently with firm cuts either side of backward point. A mistimed pull, misjudged in the deep, curbed his enthusiasm somewhat but not his timing square of the stumps. Imbibing all his pre-Test confidence, Bell played spin and pace with equal application. It was like he'd never been away from Test cricket.
Mortaza bowled 11 overs before stumps, getting a dubious lbw shout against Mathew Sinclair in his favour, but Bell was unbeaten on 74 by stumps, cutting two fours in the last over. Neither batting line-up really adjusted from one-day cricket but Bell, one man who didn't play any recently, made the difference.