Sunday, January 15, 2017

Latham's day at the Basin

To have astonishing days like yesterday there must be routine days against which to measure them. This is not to say that day three was mundane or boring—345 runs in a day can’t be that—just that it proceeded much as expected.

Bangladesh batted on for an hour so. They looked in no trouble at all, despite losing Taskin caught at slip and having Sabbir dropped at mid-on by Latham (in a way that sustains my crackpot theory that fielders lose the ball against the pohutukawa flowers at this time of year). The declaration came at 595 for eight, Bangladesh’s second-highest test score.

The Bangladesh pace attack is one of the least experienced in test history with one career wicket show between the three of them, so it was little surprise that off spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz was handed the new ball, even though he is just 19 and playing in only his third test. Mehedi took 19 wickets in the recent two-match series against England who responded to the challenges he presented in the manner of an infant class trying to solve The Times crossword.

Of course, conditions at the Basin were very different to what he is used to, with plenty of bounce but no discernible turn. A Bangladeshi commenter on CricInfo looked forward to Mehedi making use of the pitch as it broke up, in which case he should check back around Easter.

Mehedi bowled 26 overs for 82 runs but no wickets, but he bowled very few “four” balls and did not allow batsmen to dominate. It was a commendable performance in the circumstances.

With Shakib not bowling much after his batting heroics, it was up to the fast-bowling novitiate to make the breakthrough. Jeet Raval was dropped at second slip off Subashis, but hung out his bat to the first ball bowled by Kamral Islam Rabbi (a name that encompasses cricket’s ability to heal divides).

This brought in Kane Williamson who batted with ease of a man at the peak of his profession. Any ball even marginally deficient in line of length was politely assisted between the fielders to the rope. A leg glance took him to a half-century at just under a run a ball. A batting master class seemed in prospect and there was foolish talk of a tilt at McCullum’s 302.

But the next ball from debutant Taskin Ahmed was the ball of the day, hitting a perfect upright seam and finding the edge as it moved away. It was his first test wicket, and taken with a ball that deserved to get a fine player.

Ross Taylor was next, and was in as good touch as Williamson. His footwork was would not have disgraced Darcey Bussell. On 40 he got a long hop from Kamrul and the crowd was collectively asking itself “four or six?”. Instead he drilled it straight to mid-wicket.

Meanwhile, Kent’s Tom Latham was working his way to his sixth test century in 27 tests, a decent ratio. He has quietly established himself as the junior member of the triumvirate that sustains New Zealand’s currently fragile batting. Particularly strong in the arc from third man to extra cover, his shot selection was faultless, and he is never hurried, never worried. Like Williamson and Taylor he has the skill, but what is more important, the temperament too.

As expected, the pace attack was unthreatening and brought to mind Trevor Bailey’s remark about the England attack of the late eighties, that the captain could change the bowler but not the bowling. All three of them are right-arm amiable pace, but they stuck at it along with Mehedi with occasional contributions from Shakib, and did not get taken apart. Indeed, the batting was at its most contained in the last hour of the day, which says something about their stamina and concentration.

At the end of the third day the course of the rest of the match looks as predictable as a Mills and Boon plot, but we can hope for an infusion of Agatha Christie and any poisoner would do well to start with the pitch.

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