At Chittagong, October 20-24, 2016. England won by 22 runs. Toss: England. Test debuts: Kamrul Islam, Mehedi Hasan, Sabbir Rahman; B. M. Duckett.
This taut contest was unrecognisable from the eight previous Tests between the sides, all comprehensive England wins. At 21 for three on the first morning, they knew they were in a tussle, and during the course of four days and 21 balls there remained little to separate the teams. The final margin was England's closest win by runs outside the Ashes, and Bangladesh's narrowest defeat - and the difference was made by England's all-rounders. Stokes was sound in defence, measured in his aggression, and tireless and skilful with the old ball. This was his best Test to date, with 103 runs and six wickets on a pitch whose sharp turn meant ten different spinners had a bowl. It was he who landed the two knockout blows on the final morning. Moeen Ali, surviving a record five lbw reviews - including three in six balls against Shakib Al Hasan either side of lunch on the first day - hit his best score in overseas Tests, and spun the ball at pace to take five wickets. And Bairstow made runs in both innings, becoming the first to pass 1,000 in Tests in 2016, and overtaking Andy Flower's record for most in a calendar year by a wicketkeeper; in demanding conditions, he made only one clear mistake behind the stumps.
English escapology was a constant theme. Bairstow's stands of 88 with Ali in the first innings (from 106 for five), and 127 with Stokes in the second (from 62 for five), were England's best of the match. By extending to seven the number of successive fifty partnerships for their sixth wicket, England set a Test record. Showing genuine belief, Bangladesh faltered only after tea on the fourth day, when they were 179 for five, needing another 107.
Cook belatedly turned to his seamers to dry up the runs and test the patience of opponents unused to victory. Two debutants had given them unexpected edge. Mehedi Hasan, unfazed by being his captain's go-to bowler in the week before his 19th birthday, proved an off-spinner of accuracy and nerve, while Sabbir Rahman kept alive hopes of a famous upset with a courageous and composed 64 not out; if Sabbir erred, it was in agreeing to a single off the last ball of the third over on the final morning, leaving No. 10 Taijul Islam to face Stokes. Within three deliveries, he removed both Taijul and Shafiul Islam leg-before.
Both went to review: England challenged the not-out verdict against Taijul on the basis that he had gone across his stumps; replays showed the ball hitting leg. It transpired that Taijul would have been not out under DRS as it was before September 22, when the required target area on the stumps was smaller. The second struck Shafiul outside the line, but his bat was behind his leg and he was not obviously playing a shot. Bangladesh challenged in vain.
It was fitting that the denouement involved DRS and umpire Dharmasena. The game had spawned a record 26 reviews, 16 at Dharmasena's end, of which eight - another record - were overturned. And the ten reviews in England's first innings broke the old mark of eight. Chris Gaffaney had ten decisions challenged and three overturned. Both umpires deserved sympathy. With the pitch providing unpredictable degrees of turn, and spinners operating with new ball and old, they found their judgment as sorely tested as the batsmen.
England played three spinners, one of them the 39-year-old Gareth Batty, recalled after a world record absence of 142 Tests - passing the 114 of Martin Bicknell, another Surrey man. He found himself opening the bowling in both innings, the first England slow bowler to do so since Sam Staples in 1927-28 on the Durban matting. Here, the trio ended with 12 wickets, but gave their captain headaches setting fields to bowling of variable length, as an economy-rate of 3.5 betrayed. They compared unfavourably with Bangladesh's three frontline spinners, who claimed 18 wickets and went for 2.3.
In opting to go with Ben Duckett as Cook's latest opening partner, England resisted the temptation to make Haseeb Hameed their sixth teenage Test cricketer in 139 years, highlighting a cultural difference with Bangladesh, for whom Mehedi was their 26th in 16 years as a Test nation. Cook, meanwhile, was playing his 134th Test, putting him clear of Alec Stewart as England's most capped cricketer, and started by winning the toss.
The first day introduced England to the particular nature of this Test tour, as a game of unusually fine margins unfolded, even if the loss of early wickets followed by a recovery conformed to a familiar pattern. Duckett showed glimpses of positivity before he was bowled trying to stay leg side of the ball; Cook was also bowled, tangled up in a sweep; and Ballance fell lbw when Mehedi called for a review, detecting that ball had struck pad fractionally before bat.
Ali, focusing on covering off stump and sweeping prodigiously, tightrope-walked his way through three and a half hours for 68, though only Root's persuasions convinced him to ask for two reviews in the first over after lunch. But there was no saving Root himself moments later, when he edged to slip via the keeper's leg. Although Shakib breached Stokes's defence, and Ali was eventually caught behind by one that left him, life was obviously easier once the ball grew soft, and it took the arrival of the second new ball for Bairstow to be undone by a skidding delivery. That wicket made the hard-worked Mehedi the first spinner to claim five on his first day of Test cricket since slow left-armer Alf Valentine took eight for West Indies at Manchester in 1950.
England's last three fell cheaply on the second morning, but a total of 293 looked useful. However, Bangladesh responded strongly thanks to Tamim Iqbal, who held firm for 78, despite losing two fellow left-handers to Ali shortly before lunch. Rashid accounted for Mahmudullah, and Batty for Tamim, but England's spinners failed to repay Cook's faith. Not until the 67th and 68th overs did he use seam from both ends, and Stokes's leg-cutters soon had an impact: he removed Mushfiqur Rahim for an impish 48, a strike that seemed all the more telling next morning when Bangladesh's last five tumbled for 27, starting with Shakib's rash charge at Ali's second delivery. Stokes clattered Sabbir on the helmet - sending him to hospital for observation - and produced an impressive spell of 10-5-10-4, spread over two days.
It did not take long for England to surrender momentum, or for Shakib to make amends, as Cook, Root and Duckett departed in the space of 20 balls, Root wasting a review as he did so. It was only after the loss of both Ballance, who fell at leg slip, to a smart catch by Imrul Kayes, and Ali that England found two batsmen - Stokes and Bairstow - able to pick off the bad balls. Both were gone by stumps, along with Rashid, but their three-figure stand, on a day on which 13 wickets fell for 255 (five to Shakib) felt match-shaping.
If Bangladesh were discouraged, they did not let on. England could add only 12 for their last two wickets on the fourth morning, as the hosts claimed all 20 for the first time against a side other than Zimbabwe or West Indies. It left them needing 286, and Kayes seemed in an impudent hurry to knock them off. As Bangladesh rattled along, Cook's faith in spin again appeared misplaced, but by tea Ali, Rashid and Batty had five wickets between them. There followed a tense passage as England switched to seam, hoping Bangladeshi nerves would crack. But when Broad created an opportunity against Sabbir, Bairstow spilled a leg-side offering. Finally, Batty produced a snorter to have the redoubtable Mushfiqur caught at short leg, ending a stand of 87. Through the breach piled Broad, picking up two wickets towards the end of a harrying nine-over spell full of reverse swing.
England might have won that evening, but Sabbir remained immovable, and Taijul swung with abandon in fading light. Cook was content to come back next morning, refreshed and with a new ball - if needed - available after two overs, and Bangladesh having had a night contemplating history. A couple of streaky shots set English minds on edge, but Stokes got the job done.
Man of the Match: B. A. Stokes.
Simon Wilde is cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times