Tour review

Bangladesh v England, 2016-17

Will Macpherson

One-day internationals (3): Bangladesh 1, England 2
Test matches (2): Bangladesh 1, England 1

Throughout England's 34-day stay, Bangladesh sent two emphatic messages to the world. First, that the country was open for business, three months after an attack on an upmarket Dhaka cafe in which 29 died, including 20 hostages - many of them Westerners. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales subsequently pulled out of the trip, citing safety worries, but the Bangladeshi government and cricket board, as well as the ECB's security adviser - the hard-nosed former Melbourne cop Reg Dickason - arranged protection normally reserved for visiting heads of state. Happily, the tour passed without a snag.

The other message, eloquently expressed on the pitch, was that Bangladesh had genuinely arrived as an international force. When debutant off-spinner Mehedi Hasan, who turned 19 between the two Tests, trapped Steven Finn in Mirpur to complete an England collapse of ten for 64, the Shere-Bangla Stadium erupted. Bangladesh's players ran wild, the stands - rowdy, rather than rammed - went berserk, local residents strained for a view from rooftops, and armed guards downed their weapons to dance.

After 16 years and 95 Tests, Bangladesh had claimed their greatest win - their eighth in all, but their first over opposition other than Zimbabwe or Floyd Reifer's weakened West Indians of 2009. They had played to their strengths, which were growing by the day - and dovetailed perfectly with England's glaring flaws. Given the narrowness of the Bangladeshis' defeat in the First Test at Chittagong, it could easily have been 2-0.

The contrast with England's previous tour, in early 2010, could not have been starker. Then, Andrew Strauss had rested up for sterner challenges, handing Alastair Cook his first crack at the captaincy, while the two Tests were played on the flattest of tracks. England won both. Bangladesh went into this series without a Test for 15 months but, unlike six years earlier, their ambition was brazen, their plan clear. As the captain, Mushfiqur Rahim, said after the Second Test: "We planned to make wickets that last three to four days. They would help our spinners and trouble the English batsmen." Cook was magnanimous: "They decided they wanted to be brave and try to win - and why wouldn't you?"

Both pitches turned extravagantly, but were not identical. In Chittagong, on a surface drier than the England players had ever seen, the hosts picked two seamers and a smorgasbord of spinners, and it turned from the word go. Thanks to a remarkable all-round effort from Ben Stokes, England left with a stomach-tightening 22-run win. In Mirpur, the pitch was darker and damper, but again produced English jitters. Bangladesh left out a medium-pacer and squeezed in another spinner; their one seamer, Kamrul Islam, sent down 18 balls and scored seven runs. In effect, Bangladesh levelled the series with ten men.

They looked a less brittle side than those England had faced before. At the 2015 World Cup (before they knocked England out in Adelaide), Chandika Hathurusinghe, their tough Sri Lankan coach, had been shocked to see his team celebrating victory over Afghanistan as if they had won the tournament, and handed out a rollicking. In 20 months, he had guided them to a bigger cause for celebration. If, like England, they suffered maddening collapses - nine for 49 and six for 58 in the Second Test alone - they dusted off the disappointment of Chittagong, and created history. Bangladesh's lack of Test cricket created some startling discrepancies.

Before the First Test, where Cook became England's most capped player, Mushfiqur observed: "He debuted after me and he's playing his 134th Test. I've got 48!" Cook had even led England in more Tests than Mushfiqur had played, yet Mushfiqur was the most capped player in his squad. Still, this represented perhaps the most promising side in the captain's 11-year career. Mehedi was one of three debutants, while another, Sabbir Rahman, looked to the manner born, relishing his duel with Stokes in Mirpur.

The emergence of Mehedi, who bowled with no great frills or variation in taking 19 wickets, the most by a Bangladeshi in a Test series, was thrilling, while Tamim Iqbal, the senior pro, challenged him for the series award. The Mirpur win was underpinned by his third century against England (and the only one of the series), while he took over in the field during the series-ending capitulation, even with Mushfiqur still out there. The other key players were Mehedi's fellow twirlers: left-arm spinners Shakib Al Hasan, though harebrained with the bat, and Taijul Islam.

Bangladesh's victory was cheered with added vigour, given that the tour might not have happened at all. Following the cafe attack on July 1, Bangladesh looked set to follow Pakistan into nomadism. Australia had already withdrawn from a scheduled visit in 2015, and refused to send a side to the Under-19 World Cup four months later. But Dickason and David Leatherdale, the PCA chief executive, travelled to Bangladesh in August, and declared it safe to tour.

Despite that, Morgan, the white-ball captain, and opener Hales - who would have been dropped from the Test side anyway - could not be persuaded, which cast a shadow over the build-up. Some journalists and supporters seemed to equate their withdrawal with treason; as a leader (or perhaps as an Irishman) Morgan attracted particular vitriol. England's management made it clear they respected personal choice, while expressing their disappointment, but the players backed their comrades. The Barmy Army, less certain about safety, also stayed at home, though a hardy band of around 30 fans watched the Tests.

The threat of terror in Bangladesh was real enough for expats to leave home only for work. Dickason's approach was to "take a driver on a par three"- he was taking no chances. In Dhaka, 2,000 security personnel were involved in the convoy transporting the touring party from hotel to ground, while a 1km blockade was enforced around the stadium, covered for the first time by CCTV.

Players, officials and media were treated like royalty, but the constant presence of police, soldiers, rifles and even an armoured tank created a unique environment. "Even for those of us who have been around for a while, it's been quite a daunting trip," said England's assistant coach Paul Farbrace, who like coach Trevor Bayliss had been in the Sri Lankan team bus attacked by terrorists in Lahore in 2009. Still, the closest thing to a security breach came when three old ladies on a tuk-tuk slipped into the convoy en route to the one day warm-up at Fatullah. By the end of the tour, Dickason had become an unlikely Bangladeshi hero.

Both Tests gave England plenty to ponder as they left for India. They struggled to bat against spin, and struggled to bowl it. Cook was left to admit - bluntly but not unfairly - that he had no world-class slow bowler at his disposal. The closest was the ever-evolving Moeen Ali, who bowled with pace, turn and drift, especially from around the wicket to Bangladesh's left-handers. Yet there were still too many poor deliveries, and Ali's modesty summed up England's travails. After picking up only his second Test five-for, in Mirpur, he ascribed his wickets to luck. "I'm nowhere near where I want to be as a spinner," he said. "I don't really have much success."

The Surrey pair of Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari played a Test each. Batty's, in Chittagong, was his first in 11 years and, while he bowled with trademark fervour, he looked unlikely to run through Bangladesh. For Mirpur, Ansari came in, so he would not be uncapped if required in India; he struggled on the first morning, then improved. Meanwhile, the summer's two most successful English spinners, Jack Leach of Somerset and Middlesex's Ollie Rayner, wintered with the Lions.

However, Cook's quest to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear was hampered by some peculiarly defensive fields. The captain betrayed his mistrust of Adil Rashid by ignoring his leg-spin for much of the vital third morning in Mirpur; when he eventually bowled, he burgled four wickets, though he never offered control. The reverse swing of Stokes, the man of the tour, and Broad masked the spinners' shortcomings in Chittagong, but an absurd schedule of seven Tests in 62 days meant Broad was rested for Mirpur, with 99 caps to his name.

In a topsy-turvy series in which the slow bowlers opened the attack to take the shine off the new ball, allowing the quicker ones to exploit reverse swing, it was to seam, not spin, that Cook turned. The batting was just as shaky. Conditions were unrelenting, and especially alien for those at the top of the order: Cook admitted they were the toughest he had known. Having dashed back to Chittagong following the birth of his second daughter, he was partnered by Ben Duckett, rather than another greenhorn, Haseeb Hameed; Duckett looked out of his depth before throwing off the shackles in his final innings. Gary Ballance suffered most, managing just 24 runs, and was dropped in India. England had no tail, but five left-handers in their top six, and their dependence on a middle-order raft of allrounders was exposed in Mirpur, where Ali, Stokes and Jonny Bairstow all failed. Only Chris Woakes averaged more than 32, and no one passed 50 more than once.

Also a mess was the umpiring. The surfaces, inept batting, and new DRS regulations - that required the ball to hit less of the stumps to be given out on review - combined to produce a record 26 reviews in the First Test alone. Kumar Dharmasena had a particularly difficult series: 27 of his decisions during the Tests were challenged, and 13 overturned.

The Tests followed three magnificent one-day games. Bangladesh had won their previous six 50-over series at home, but threw away a strong position in the opening match - before England did the same in the second, when tempers flared. Jos Buttler, their captain in Morgan's stead, was furious to receive a send-off, before Stokes clashed with Tamim, who had barged Bairstow and ranted at Jason Roy. The sanctions - fines for Bangladesh captain Mashrafe bin Mortaza and his team-mate Sabbir, but only a reprimand for Buttler - and Tamim's end-of-series apology to Roy were instructive. By the time the teams shared a charter flight to Chittagong, where England won the decider, the ruckus had calmed.

"What we have achieved here should not be underestimated," said Buttler, who batted brilliantly and overcame his struggles with the extra duty of captaincy. His deputy, Stokes, also revelled in his new responsibility, and it was his rallying cry that inspired England's opening victory: Bangladesh lost six for 17 to go down by 21 runs. Earlier in the day, he had scored his maiden one-day international century, proof of his improvement against spin.

Buttler was right. With Roy injured, Root rested, and Hales and Morgan absent, England won the third game without any of their first-choice top four. While Farbrace said the absentees would return in India, he suggested it was "probably even a good thing that some didn't come". England learned plenty: Buttler and Stokes were long-term leaders, while Duckett and Sam Billings thrived with the bat. Jake Ball became the first Englishman to take a five-for on ODI debut, and Rashid's ten wickets were the joint-most by a spinner in a three-match one-day series. As Buttler collected the trophy, a crowd of Bangladesh fans - so partisan during the game - stayed back to chant "England, thank you". That was the motif of a remarkable tour, during which the depth of gratitude was as heartwarming as the cricket.

Match reports for

Tour Match: BCB Select XI v England XI at Fatullah, Oct 4, 2016
Report | Scorecard

1st ODI: Bangladesh v England at Dhaka, Oct 7, 2016
Report | Scorecard

2nd ODI: Bangladesh v England at Dhaka, Oct 9, 2016
Report | Scorecard

3rd ODI: Bangladesh v England at Chattogram, Oct 12, 2016
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Bangladesh Cricket Board XI v England XI at Chattogram, Oct 14-15, 2016
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Bangladesh Cricket Board XI v England XI at Chattogram, Oct 16-17, 2016
Report | Scorecard

1st Test: Bangladesh v England at Chattogram, Oct 20-24, 2016
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: Bangladesh v England at Dhaka, Oct 28-30, 2016
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co