Stokes Shines as England Survive Major Shock

Ben Stokes’ stellar all round performance proved pivotal with England eventually overcoming a highly spirited Bangladesh side in Chittagong this week, in the first of two Test matches.

Arguably his best all round performance in an England shirt saw Stokes take six wickets in the match, including the two final wickets on the fifth morning, and score a total of 103 runs, thus staking a claim to be the best all rounder in the world and the catalyst in England’s narrow 22 run victory.

It was an extremely absorbing Test match and a great advert for the longer format at a time it’s under threat through drops in attendances and the continued growth of T20 cricket.

Bangladesh, having staggeringly not played a Test match for fifteen months, more than played their part in what was a Test match that will live long in the memory.

Though the match fell to defeat, the future looks increasingly bright for Bangladesh, the traditional Test minnow, with two young players on debut: off spinner Mehedi Hasan and batsman Sabir Rahmann, both helping to get their team closer to beating one of the top Test sides Bangladesh have ever been.

As well as Bangladesh played, the fact that, chasing 286 for victory on a pitch turning square, they got so close to victory highlighted once again the clear deficiencies England have.

The three spinners, Moeen Ali, Gareth Batty and Adil Rashid, should have gone through that Bangladesh line up on that wicket, but in the end captain Alistair Cook ended up turning to his seam bowlers to get England out of trouble.

A damning indictment of England’s spinners arrived at the end of the fourth day when Bangladesh needed only 33 to win. The umpires deemed the light too poor for the seamers to bowl, but good enough for the spinners. Nevertheless the players were forced off until the next morning once the seam bowlers could bowl again.

On a wicket that spun big from ball one of the Test, the fact that Cook couldn’t trust his spinners to finish the job does not bode well for the five Test matches to come in India this winter. If England’s spinners bowl that poorly in India, a 5-0 defeat is a more than distinct possibility.

Day one saw the tourists win the toss and elect to bat, but to their surprise the new ball turned square immediately resulting in considerable panic in the England top order. Eighteen-year-old Mehedi Hasan quickly restricted England to 21-3, which became 83-4 after Joe Root’s free flowing innings came to end prematurely.

A rebuilding job, something England are very accustomed to these days, was required and came in the form of Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow. England finished the day on a much more respectable 258-7, with Moeen top scoring with a gritty 68 which saw him survive no less than five decisions that went to review.

England were eventually bowled out for a par score of 293 the next morning and set about making inroads into the Bangladesh batting line up. Moeen, bowling noticeably quicker than the other spinners on show, struck twice in his first over on the brink of lunch to leave the hosts 29-2.

A rebuilding partnership between Tamin Iqbal and Mahmudullah ended in the last over before the tea break, leaving Bangladesh 119-3 and the match finely poised. Bangladesh continued to battle and finished the day on 222-5, with go-to man Stokes picking up the crucial wicket of captain Musfiqur Rahim just before the close of play to leave the Test neck and neck.

Day three couldn’t have started much better for England, picking up the final five wickets for just 26 runs, but their fortunes were to change abruptly. Once again the England top order struggled against the spinning new ball, and fell to 46-4, effectively 91-4 with a first innings lead of 45.

But, once again, England’s lower order bailed them out of a considerable hole as Stokes hit a stellar 85, and the ever-present Jonny Bairstow provided a more than handy 47, breaking the record for the number of Test runs by a wicketkeeper in a year in the process.

England were ultimately dismissed on the morning of day four for 240, but with an imposing lead of 285 on a wicket turning square. After a poor morning with the ball, the tourists’ spinners had chipped away throughout the afternoon session to restrict Bangladesh to 140-5.

A superb partnership of 86, however, between Mushfiqur and debutant Sabir Rahmann left things on a knife-edge. An unplayable Gareth Batty delivery accounted for Mushiqur, but by that stage the equation had come down to the home side needing 59 with four wickets left.

Step up Stuart Broad. The Nottinghamshire seamer produced an inspired spell 10 over spell, picking up two wickets to leave England favourites. With 33 still required, Cook, unable to bowl Broad and Stokes because of diminishing light, elected to go off, leaving us all on tenterhooks going into the final morning.

A final morning which, in the end, only lasted twenty minutes as man-of-the-match Stokes picked up the final two wickets to give England an amazing 22 run victory.

It was perhaps fitting that both these wickets were put to the third umpire, after a record 26 decisions were reviewed throughout the five days. The images of Stuart Broad and Joe Root attempting to console an unbeaten Sabir at the end will come to reflect this utterly enthralling Test match for years to come. Test cricket is alive and kicking.

Joe Robinson

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