Unconvincing England battle past Bangladesh
England have done what neither India nor South Africa could manage: they have beaten Bangladesh. That they succeeded with more than five overs remaining belies the mess their batsmen got themselves into in chasing a mere 144, and fails to hide the basic errors which have blotted their pithy World Cup journey. Despite the loss, Bangladesh very nearly notched their third felling of a giant, further polishing a reputation which continues to gleam with every match.
On a pitch more suited to pace than spin - or so we thought - England approached their target with inexplicable trepidation. In fairness, both Andrew Strauss and their captain, Michael Vaughan, are in varying stages of rediscovering their form, but their top-order continues to creep along without conviction. Strauss did show glimpses of aggression form in his bullish 23, though, cracking a huge six over midwicket and at last unleashing his favourite cut stroke with pleasantly crisp timing.
Vaughan was mercurial as ever. He scratched, he poked and he prodded, occasionally cover driving with his trademark panache, before top-edging Abdur Razzaq to short fine leg, 70 short of his maiden one-day hundred. And there went another chance to assert himself on this tournament, and on one-day cricket as a whole. Kevin Pietersen soon followed before Mohammad Rafique sent England into a blind, nervous panic with two quick wickets. Andrew Flintoff was first, bowled by a beautiful arm ball before Ravi Bopara - inexperienced against such high class spin - chopped him onto his stumps via his boot. At 110 for 6 with 34 still needed, Bangladesh believed they would win.
England did not, judging by the hapless running between the wickets that Paul Collingwood and Paul Nixon showed. But, somehow, they hauled themselves over the line with a great deal of huffing and puffing. The batsmen's feeble effort, albeit against a useful bowling attack, was at complete odds with the excellent, disciplined bowling performance England produced earlier in the day.
Where Bangladesh's spinners enjoyed the bounce, it was England's seamers who made the most of a lively Bridgetown pitch - in particular Sajid Mahmood. He continues to blow hot and cold, but continues to show tantalising glimpses of rare star quality. Against batsman of small stature desperate to get onto the front foot, he was more than a handful. Tamim Iqbal was first to go, fending a lifter straight to Paul Collingwood at point. It was a classic fast bowler's dismissal, short of a length and threatening Iqbal's throat; with it, Mahmood and James Anderson adjusted their lengths accordingly. Bangladesh's batsmen couldn't cope.
As pleasingly accurate Anderson and Mahmood were, it was left to Vaughan to highlight Bangladesh's inexperience, not to mention England's own misgivings in the shorter game. A lazy, careless flick from Shahriar Nafees spooned a simple catch to Vaughan at mid-on who jogged back a couple of yards to spill the simplest of chances. Furious with himself, and unaware of the batsmen taking a single, the ball was flung in disgust to Nixon who whipped off the bails, leaving Habibal Bashar - unaware of the dropped catch - short.
It was shoddy cricket all round, but at least spared Vaughan's blushes for a pantomime performance at mid-on. More sloppiness from England followed, though, with Paul Nixon iron-gloving a simple catch to Andrew Strauss at second slip to remove Nafees. The wickets were falling, if not in the most conventional fashion.
There was some hope for Bangladesh in Saqibal's counterattacking 57, shining like a beacon in the foggy chaos. Cracking Flintoff flat for a powerful six over backward point, before smacking him for successive fours, he was joined by Mashrafe Mortaza in a pressure-relieving stand of 47 spanning more than 13 overs. Mortaza couldn't last forever - bowled by a beautiful Monty Panesar delivery - but Bangladesh's tail resisted the inevitable long enough for Saqibul to raise his bat for his fourth one-day fifty. His was a lone effort though, and Bangladesh were left wondering what might have been had they managed to reach 200. In four years time, especially on subcontinent wickets, they could be a serious handful.
England's class with the ball won them the game, but their meekness with the bat raises questions as to how far they believe, as a team, they can realistically progress. South Africa, England's next opponents, will not be so forgiving.
Will Luke is staff writer of Cricinfo