Bangladesh battle onwards

Resuming overnight from 269 for 3, England made solid progress in the first hour of the morning session as Ian Bell and Graham Thorpe, nurdlers and touch players at either end of the age spectrum, allied to extend their nascent fourth-wicket liason. Early progress was sedate as both batsmen were content to find the gaps and collect singles as Bell neared a maiden Test century in only his third innings.

The milestone was duly chaulked up as the half-way point of the session neared, a flick off his pads taking him into three figures for the first time in his short career to date. The history made, the shackles were removed as both batsmen opened their shoulders and played an increasing array of shots on all sides of the wicket. Bangladesh spread their field but to no avail as, confidence rapidly growing, Bell in particular speared the ball toward the unpatrolled sections of the boundary.

The intrigue in the latter part of the session centred upon whether Bell would be able to clear the Chester-le-Street boundary – a goal seemingly delivered to the batsman by England’s twelfth man alongside a statement of Michael Vaughan’s declaration intent. Bell’s acceleration to meet the gauntlet set down proved such that not only did he strike the six in question (violently slog-swept off Aftab Ahmed’s penultimate delivery of the session) but with the very same delivery became the first Englishman to score 100 runs before lunch in a Test since Les Ames, at the Oval against South Africa, seventy years before.

England added 178 unbeaten runs in the morning session before declaring at lunch on 447 for 3, 343 runs ahead of the Bangladeshis. England fans, pundits and players will have expected a comfortable triumph, probably before stumps, but the Tigers were to thwart the English attack in the most comfortable way they had all summer. As the pitch flattened and slowed, England’s seam attack were treated with a confidence not seen before in the series.

Javed Omar again led from the top of the order as their players finally resolved to get themselves into line with – and behind the line of – the fast bowlers. Nafis Iqbal was unlucky to be sent back by umpire Tony Hill when TV replays suggested that his outside edge off Andrew Flintoff hadn’t carried to Geraint Jones behind the stumps but Rajin Saleh, promoted to three, had no such complaints as he fended airily at Flintoff to Strauss at second slip.

Mohammad Ashraful’s dreadful series continued as he was reprieved by Daryl Harper despite being hit in front of the wicket by Flintoff, and was then dropped by Geraint Jones as the wicketkeeper launched himself at a gloved bouncer, only to fingertip it towards third man at full extension. Javed, meanwhile, continued in an assured manner as he struck boundaries on both sides of the wicket – making his way to his sixth Test fifty before Ashraful got himself out in one of the most brain-dead pieces of cricket of the summer.

Gareth Batty’s eight pre-tea overs of honest toil had brought reasonable turn but little penetration until Ashraful’s smear-cum-hoick looped lazily skywards to Matthew Hoggard at deep mid-on. Javed moved on to 71 before a well directed bouncer from Steve Harmison – significantly down on pace – found the openers’ gloves to become Jones’ eighth catch of the match before Habibul Bashar finally showed English fans what he was capable of with a stroke-filled innings. The visiting captain equalled Javed Omar’s boundary count with 11 fours, including four in one Simon Jones over, as he cantered to a rapid half-century with Khaled Mashud, despite one lax let-off as Gareth Batty spilled a regulation chance at short extra cover, providing a reliable foil at the other end.

It took Andrew Flintoff another burst to remove Bashar, nipping the ball back into the top of the right-hander’s pads, umpire Harper assenting and Hawkeye confirming the trajectory would have terminated at the top of off stump. Nonetheless, the Tigers seemed certain to prolong the game into a third day – until Matthew Hoggard, ineffectual up to the dying scheduled overs of the day, intervened. First, a nip-backer hit Khaled Mashud flush in front of middle stump before – in what was set to be the final over of the day’s play – Mohammad Rafique offered a footworkless waft to a delivery that was to cannon into the top of off stump and triggered the extra half hour as England strove to complete a two-day triumph.

Anwar Hossain became the third wicket to fall in quick succession as he turned Hoggard straight into Graham Thorpe’s midriff at forward short leg, where the veteran hung on. Aftab Ahmed, meanwhile, hooked Flintoff to the backward square boundary to bring up both his highest Test score and his country’s best against England, eclipsing their 255 at Dhaka in October 2003. Aftab was then seemingly caught behind, appearing to feather an edged hook to Geraint Jones only for nobody on the English team to appeal.

Ahmed recorded his maiden Test half-century with another hook, sending Flintoff into the backward square leg stands before leaning back and scoop-cutting the Lancastrian’s next ball over backward point and lacing an off-drive back past the bowler, before sticking it out with Tapash Baisya until stumps and avoiding the ignominy of Bangladesh’s first ever two-day defeat.

It’s not going to take long tomorrow, though.

Bangladesh 104
Javed Omar 37, Khaled Mashud 22
Steve Harmison 5-38, Matthew Hoggard 3-24

England 447-3
Ian Bell 162*, Marcus Trescothick 151
Mashrafe Mortaza 2-91, Aftab Ahmed 1-56

Bangladesh 296-8
Javed Omar 71, Aftab Ahmed 67*
Andrew Flintoff 3-56, Matthew Hoggard 3-63

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