When Bangladesh slipped from 171-1 to 220 all out in the first innings of its second test match against England, nobody would have guessed that the English batting unit would come away from Dhaka licking its wounds. An unprecedented collapse from 100-0 to 161 all out in the second innings led to Bangladesh’s first ever test match victory over England. The win was made that much more momentous by a final score margin of 108 runs.
This historic victory for Bangladesh left the two-match series, the first in tests since 2010, tied at 1-1 after England took the spoils in a dramatic match in Chittagong. England won the toss and wisely elected to bat first on a minefield of a pitch. Bangladesh opened with spin, not for the last time in the series, and 19-year-old off spinner Mehedi Hassan took six wickets on debut as England was bowled out for 293, a strong recovery from 21-3.
Bangladesh made 248 in reply, with Ben Stokes taking four wickets in a devastating spell of reverse swing bowling. This left England with a 45-run lead heading into the second innings. The team extended the lead to 285 following another strong showing from Ben Stokes, who made 80 on a fast deteriorating pitch. Next, Johnny Bairstow made 47, and England was bowled out for 240. This left Bangladesh with an unlikely looking target of 286 early on day four, and with no chance of a draw, victory looked to be heading in the visitor’s favour. Despite the best efforts of a determined Bangladeshi batting outfit, England won by a nerve-jangling 22 runs.
England lost the toss on a similarly difficult pitch the first morning in Dhaka, and Bangladesh elected to bat as expected. The visitors were wayward in the first session, and Bangladesh reached 170-1 after a brilliant century from opener Tamim Iqbal. Following his dismissal on 104 and that of Mominul Haque, who scored 66, Bangladesh could only add another 30 runs before it was dismissed for 220 with off-spinner Moeen Ali taking his first test five-wicket haul. England made 244 in reply, with the lower order again rescuing the team, this time from 69-5, and giving them a narrow lead of 24 runs.
This lead did not prove to be enough: Bangladesh made 296 in its second innings, setting England a difficult target of 272 by the end of day two. England started strong, with openers Alastair Cook and Ben Duckett putting on 100 for the first wicket. This, however, was when the problems began. Mehedi Hasan ripped through the batting order, taking six wickets. He was ably supported by left arm orthodox bowler Shakib Al Hasan, who took four wickets, including three in four deliveries. England was bowled out for 161 within a session of play, and Bangladesh won by 108 runs. While England’s capitulation was unprecedented, some may say that it was not unexpected.
England has had a fairly strong year in test cricket, winning six out of the twelve test matches played so far, but the team’s batting, especially in the top order, has looked anything but solid. In 20 innings this year, England lost its first four wickets and was four down for less than 100 runs in 11 innings. The team made over 200 runs for the first four wickets only four times. Even when chasing a minuscule total of 74 in the third test against South Africa in January, England was three down when it reached its target. All of this points to serious issues at the top of the current English batting order. Indeed, it has taken stellar showings from the middle order to rescue England in recent matches – wicketkeeper Johnny Bairstow is averaging 56 in 2016.
In the two tests in Bangladesh, England failed to reach 300 runs at any point. This was, albeit, on pitches which were turning square, but Bangladesh is the ninth-ranked test team compared to England’s fourth. Taking nothing away from Bangladesh, England should have dominated even in these severe and alien conditions.
With a five test series in India (currently the top ranked test team) on the horizon, what are the prospects for England? According to former England captain Michael Vaughan, not good. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “If they perform like they did against Bangladesh, it’ll be 5-0 [against India].”
So, what needs to change?
Obviously, the first issue that needs addressing is batting. It was a surprise to many when Ben Duckett was selected to open batting in the absence of Alex Hales. Haseeb Hameed was the more logical choice, as he scored over 1,000 runs this summer in first-class cricket for Lancashire. It would be even more surprising if Hameed was not chosen to open alongside Cook in India because his batting style seems more suited to navigating the difficult conditions England will now encounter than Duckett’s aggressive style. It is unlikely, however, that there will be a straight swap between Duckett and Hameed in India, since Duckett made a strong showing in the second innings in Dhaka. Duckett will likely move down to number four in the line-up to replace the struggling Gary Ballance, with Hameed coming in at the top of the order. Ballance has struggled in test cricket. He returned in the summer following the forced retirement of James Taylor. It seems unlikely that Ballance will keep his place in India. He has averaged just 20 since his return to the side, and Michael Vaughan said that he “looks shot for game plan. He’s had his technique questioned. As soon as the ball swings or spins, his technique doesn’t look like it’s going to give him any whereabouts of how to survive long enough.”
The alternative to moving Duckett down the order is bringing in Jos Buttler. Although Buttler is in good one day form, he has only played one first class game in 2016. It would be unlike England to pick a player with so little recent red ball cricket. Buttler’s style of batting also seems completely opposite to what England needs in its upper middle order in India. England requires solidity, both at the top and lower down the order, and while Buttler is one of the finest attacking batsmen in the world, he is not someone you would want to bat for your life on a spinning pitch. I expect that Duckett will move to four to replace Ballance, with Hameed opening alongside Cook. The first test against India began yesterday in Rajkot. England will hope to reinforce its batting line-up for that game, but with no warm-up matches in the interim, who can truly predict what the England side will take to the field? The team’s formidable opponents are unbeaten in 13 tests since 2015, and they were thoroughly dominant in all forms against New Zealand.