First Test Match

Bangladesh v England

Matthew Engel

At Dhaka, October 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 2003. England won by seven wickets. Toss: Bangladesh. Test debuts: Enamul Haque, jun.; G. J. Batty, R. Clarke.

The inaugural Test between Bangladesh and England - the last unplayed fixture between any of the ten full members of the ICC - came close to providing an earthquake that would have surpassed anything on the seismograph of England's embarrassments down the years. With a day to go, Bangladesh (previous Test record: P 24 L 23 D1) had a distinct chance of victory.

In the end, England came through comfortably enough and, objectively, Bangladesh's performance was no more than a logical continuation of their improved form since the World Cup and their near miss in Multan six weeks earlier. However, defeat would have caused derision both at home and across the cricketing world. As it was, in a contest billed locally as Tigers v Lions, the home-grown cubs at least managed to inflict some scratches on opponents who - certainly on days three and four - looked both mangy and toothless.

The game also came only six weeks after one of England's most remarkable victories, against South Africa at The Oval. But, as so often, the team showed little continuity, with nearly half the Oval team gone: Stewart (retired), Smith and Bicknell (not selected), and Anderson and Flintoff (unfit). At The Oval, England came back from an apparently impossible position; this time, they flirted with defeat from a near-impregnable one.

After the first day was almost entirely rained off (the actual rain only lasted 15 minutes, but it stair-rodded, and the outfield turned to mush), England made up for lost time and swept towards command on the second. They only fielded two specialist seamers, which was a mistake. But Harmison and Hoggard, neither with a reputation for robustness, gamely shouldered the burden of the attack. This was unenviable work, because of the humidity, because the sessions were lengthened to make up lost time and because Giles, England's only experienced spinner, was very publicly remodelling his action and was short on control.

When Khaled Masud and Mushfiqur Rahman dug in at 72 for five, it became especially tough. But Harmison polished off Bangladesh with the new ball, and their 203 soon looked paltry. Trescothick came in and blazed away and Vaughan, still searching for his first worthwhile score as England captain, survived an early struggle in a manner that suggested he might soon put aside all the doubts about whether responsibility was harming his batting.

But next morning, on 48, Vaughan swept on to his stumps and England contrived to collapse from 137 for nought to 295 all out. This happened despite Trescothick making his way to 113, and Thorpe joining him in a shorter and rather less exuberant rerun of their great stand at The Oval. Thorpe was left to shepherd the tail which, as usual with England, proved a thankless task.

On a pitch that was not slow by subcontinental standards but was never either trustworthy or favourable to strokeplay, most of the batsmen struggled against the two left-arm spinners, the aggressive Mohammad Rafiq and Enamul Haque (no relation to the player of the same name who appeared in ten previous Tests for Bangladesh). This Enamul was officially listed as still being 16; he said on TV he was 17; reliable local sources said he was probably at least 18. Anyway, he looked about 12 - and bowled like a mature and confident cricketer.

England still hoped to make inroads on the batting that night, and the two seamers were raring to go. But with less than four overs bowled, the floodlights - which had helped keep the show on the road during a sunless week - failed. England sat themselves in a circle in the forlorn hope of a restart. Investigations into the mysteries of the Dhaka power supply, including one after the fact by the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, failed to produce a coherent explanation.

The next morning, the mood had changed. Harmison and Hoggard had their worst session of the match, and Habibul Bashar and Hannan Sarkar eased Bangladesh into the lead with a second-wicket stand of 108. To the delight of the game's largest crowd - about 15,000 - Bangladesh frustrated England all day. By the close, they were 153 ahead with four wickets standing and their hopes were sky-high.

Then England got their act together. Harmison - who finished with nine for 79 in the match - and Hoggard whipped through the remaining batsmen with the newish ball in nine overs on the fifth morning. Faced with 164 to win, Vaughan led from the front and England charged to victory. Bangladesh blew their best chance by failing to bowl their spinners early enough, and there was a sense afterwards that they might struggle to get so close to England another time. Asked to name his preferred line-up for the Chittagong Test, Bangladesh coach Dav Whatmore replied: "Eight batsmen and six bowlers."

Man of the Match: S. J. Harmison.

Close of play: First day, Bangladesh 24-2 (Hannan Sarkar 18, Rajin Saleh 0); Second day, England 111-0 (Trescothick 77, Vaughan 30); Third day, Bangladesh 12-1 (Hannan Sarkar 4, Habibul Bashar 0); Fourth day, Bangladesh 245-6 (Mushfiqur Rahman 43, Khaled Mahmud 17).

© John Wisden & Co