Jake Ball defied cramp and sapping humidity to mark his one-day debut with record figures of 5 for 51, as England snatched an extraordinary 21-run victory in the first ODI against Bangladesh at Mirpur.
Powered by a brilliant century from Imrul Kayes, and with Shakib Al Hasan providing experienced support in a fifth-wicket stand of 118, Bangladesh appeared to be marching up a mountainous run-chase of 310, and living up to their newly minted reputation as a tough nut to crack in one-day cricket.
But then, with victory in sight, Bangladesh suffered a throwback to their fragile old days to squander their last six wickets for 17 runs in 39 balls. The collapse of their resolve mirrored that of the atmosphere at the National Stadium in Mirpur, where thousands of fans had put aside the inconvenience of a kilometre-wide exclusion zone to cheer on a side that has not lost a home ODI series for two years and counting.
For more than 91 overs of the 97.5 in the match, the mood in the ground had been akin to a national celebration, as Imrul confirmed the richness of his current form with an astounding display of clean hitting, particularly through the leg side, to take command of what looked certain to be their highest successful run-chase against a senior Test nation.
His first scoring shot was the most startling statement of intent of the whole match – a murderous second-ball pull over midwicket off Chris Woakes that embedded itself so deep in an advertising hoarding that an BCB official had to reach through the hole to retrieve it. On his watch, there could be only one winner, as he brought up his hundred from 105 balls with his 11th four, before passing the baton to Shakib, whose volley of five fours and six in 12 balls seemed to have torched the asking-rate.
But then, with the requirement a trifling 39 from 52 balls with six wickets still in hand, Shakib suffered a debilitating bout of cramp in his fingers, and, in a jolt of realism that popped the fans’ party mood in a trice, Ball capitalised to stunning effort. The very delivery after receiving treatment from the physio, Shakib miscued a pull to David Willey at midwicket to depart for 79 – and one ball later, the stands were in full panic mode as Mosaddek Hossain was bowled off the splice by a perfect lifting nipbacker.
Imrul was still in situ at this stage, but having also cramped up late in his innings, he urgently needed someone else to stay with him and keep the boundaries coming. The captain, Mashrafe Mortaza, was unable to be that man – he guiltily grazed a loose cut to the keeper as Adil Rashid ripped an illegible legbreak out of the rough, moments after planting a seed of doubt with his googly, and the game was as good as over in Rashid’s next over, when Imrul charged out of his crease in desperate need of a boundary, and was stumped off a wide as Rashid speared the ball out of his reach.
Next to go was Shafiul Islam – the hero of Bangladesh’s two-wicket win in the 2011 World Cup – who was run out without scoring, and victory was duly sealed from the penultimate ball of Ball’s spell, as Taskin Ahmed grazed an edge through to Jos Buttler, England’s stand-in captain, whose typically powerful 63 from 38 balls had earlier lifted his side to an imposing total of 309 for 8.
Ball himself could barely stand by the end of the match, and he was rightly named as Man of the Match after becoming the first England bowler to claim five wickets on debut. However, the foundations of England’s victory were laid by Ben Stokes, who anchored their innings with his maiden ODI hundred, and Ben Duckett, the day’s second debutant, whose 60 from 78 balls was a vital and mature contribution to an agenda-setting stand of 153.
Stokes made 101 from exactly 100 balls – a performance that might pale statistically compared to some of the masterful feats of run-making in England’s ranks in recent months. However, given the brutality of the conditions – the humidity was measured at one stage at 90% – and his previous fallibility against spin, most notably on the tour of Sri Lanka in 2014, it was a formidable performance.
It also began in some adversity, as he and Duckett came together following a collapse of 3 for 21 in 31 balls. James Vince had once again looked fluent without entirely convincing in his 16 from 20 balls, and when Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow departed in quick succession, the latter to a third-ball run-out, England were 63 for 3 in the 13th over and in need of some shoring-up.
Bangladesh used seven bowlers in all, with the third seamer, Taskin Ahmed, held back until the second half of the innings as Mashrafe leaned heavily and predictably on his quartet of slow men. Aside from their drip-drip accuracy, the speed with which they burned through their overs was especially telling. There was little opportunity to think between deliveries, but Stokes was in the mood to trust his instinct, particularly on the reverse sweep, with which he picked off four of his eight fours.
Duckett, meanwhile, was quite content to play the anchorman. After his eye-popping scoring feats for Northamptonshire and the Lions this summer, this was all about bedding into the international arena, and he passed his first test with aplomb.
His five fours were timely pressure releases, including one cute scoop over the wicketkeeper’s head off a Taskin short ball, but after reaching his half-century from 63 balls, his battery visibly went flat in the final minutes of his stay. He managed one run from his last nine deliveries before missing a leg-stump full-toss to be bowled round his pads.
By the end of their fielding stint, however, Bangladesh were visibly tetchy after letting several crucial chances slip through their fingers – most tellingly, two lives in the space of five balls to Stokes, on 69 and 71 respectively – a low drill to mid-on and an ugly skew to deep cover.
Inevitably, the man best placed to cash in in such a moment was Buttler, who arrived at the crease with eight overs remaining and a licence to go loco, but it was a tribute to the efforts of his team-mates higher up the order that he was initially forced to rein in his aggression.
In fact, it wasn’t until the back end of the 47th over that Buttler flicked on the Beast Mode. After 25 runs, including a solitary boundary, from his first 26 deliveries, he signalled his change of tempo with consecutive sixes off Shakib, before two more fours and an inside-out six over extra cover off Shafiul completed a startling 33-ball fifty, which became 63 from 38 balls all told.
It wasn’t apparent then, but that switch of tempo would prove to be the difference between the sides in the final analysis. That, of course, and the temperament required just to get the job done, come what may. Bangladesh have come a long, long way in the past couple of years, and their proud home record is still intact for now. But, much as was the case in their devastating collapse against India at the World T20, there remains a fragility at their core that can crack in an instant.
2015 Kashmir Despatch