Saturday, January 14, 2017

In the steps of Bradman

I have had my what-do-they-expect piece for the end of this test match written in my head for a few days. In summary, it goes: what do they expect if they don’t give Bangladesh an overseas tour for two years, if they only give them two tests in 2016, and if they put them into a test series with no first-class cricket in preparation. It was when the 300 partnership for Bangladesh’s fifth wicket came up that I finally decided to consign that piece to the trash folder of the mind.

Cricket is at its best when it surprises. Today was one of the most astonishing days I have seen; when the match began yesterday it was an outcome that could not have been conceived of. I bet that at no stage of the preparation did Bangladesh give any thought to what their declaration strategy would be if they were put in.

The day began with Bangladesh 154 for three; they ended it at 542 for seven. It was dominated by that fifth-wicket partnership of 359 between Shakab Al Hasan (217) and Mushfiqur Rahim (159).

A recycling plant could be built just to deal with the records shredded during the day. Highlights include the following:

·        Shakab’s 217 was the highest ever made by a Bangladeshi batsman

·        It was a record for any wicket for Bangladesh

·        It was a record for the fifth wicket for any test in New Zealand.

The partnership began with the early dismissal of Mahmudullah with the ball of the day, which Southee got the ball to spit and move to produce a caught behind. That was as much life as the pitch showed all day. It didn’t so much sleep as ease into extinction.

Shakib’s was the more adventurous innings, though this perception may be because when batting he uses his feet to stop him falling down and not much more. Batsmen with minimalist footwork tend to look as if they are flailing around a bit. Mushfiqur presented as the more restrained and orthodox of the two, yet it was him who hit the only six of the partnership and who attempted the only dilscoops. Both batsmen excelled at matching the shot to the delivery, though one sensed that this was more of a temperamental challenge to Shakib than Mushfiqur.

Shakib’s progress was more even; at one point Mushfiqur caught up with him but was fifty behind when the partnership ended. Like hair fashion Mushfiqur had a bad eighties, becoming as edgy as a Swedish detective drama. He became angstful in nineties, which he navigated as if a river full of crocodiles, not the tickled trout that the New Zealand attack now resembled.

The luck went with the two batsmen, but that was a fair reward for the relative quality of performance of the two teams. Shakib was missed four times, starting on the first evening on just four when Santner failed to see a ball coming straight at him at mid-wicket until it was too late. I’ll resurrect a pet theory from a couple of years ago: the flowers of the pohutukawas that grace the eastern side of the ground at this time of year are cricket-ball red, which makes it fearfully difficult to spot an actual ball as it emerges from the crimson foliage.

On 132 Watling at first appeared to have made good ground to have caught a gloved pull, only for the second replay to reveal that he spilled it on impact with the ground. On 172 he should have been run out but Santner failed to pick the ball up, then on 189 Taylor dropped a diving effort at backward point.

Well over half the partnership’s runs came behind square, which says a lot about the inconsistency of line of the New Zealand bowlers. Early in the day, Southee tried to throw down the stumps having collected a return hit from Shakib, only to hit batsman, who had retreated a metre wide of the stumps. The bowler’s plea that it was unintentional gained credibility as the day wore on and it became clear that it represented one of Southee’s better attempts to locate the stumps ball-in-hand.

Boult troubled Mushfiqur from round the wicket during one spell, but was otherwise uncharacteristically off song, but without the galeforce excuse of the first day. Wagner continued to bustle in without stint, and was again the most economical bowler, but as Richard Petrie said on the radio, if you bowl three balls an over short and wide it massages the statistics in this respect. Santner and de Grandhomme were both unthreatening. Jeetan Patel would have been a useful resource for Williamson here.

An off day for the New Zealand attack on a flat track, but that should not diminish the achievement; the partnership was made against an attack that included bowlers currently ranked at Nos 11, 12 and 13 in the rankings.

Shakib and Mushfiqur accelerated their way up the fifth-wicket partnership list until they were behind only Laxman/Dravid, Waugh S/Blewett and Barnes/Bradman, but when they had put on 359 Mushfiqur pushed tiredly and edged a catch to Watling. Shakib played on to Wagner a little later.

As he left the field the New Zealand players all shook his hand, some running a distance to do so. The applause was generous and sincere, and was acknowledged with humility. It made one be glad to be at the cricket.

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