As usual, bails flew on the first day of the Basin test, but this time it was not because of the usual St Patrick’s Day celebration of a pitch, but rather a Genghis Khan of a northwesterly that, among other detritus, swept Umpire Marais Erasmus’s hat from his head to the boundary and made the task of removing the covers akin to that of lowering the sails on an America’s Cup yacht.
As usual, pre-match reports suggested that the pitch was hiding in plain sight by being the same colour as the rest of the square, but when it was unveiled this morning it was less green than usual. Kane Williamson won the toss—an improvement on his predecessor’s somewhat sorry record in this area—and put Bangladesh in. It was the twenty-first time in a row that the winning captain has chosen to field in a test in New Zealand, but for once on the first morning at the Basin the ball did not seam like Coco Chanel.
Bangladesh have not played a test overseas for more than two years, and played only two at home in 2016, the recent drawn series against England. This may explain why Tamim Iqbal’s approach to opening the batting appeared not to take account of the fact that he was wearing white clothing. He was off the mark in the first over with a flash over the slips for four, and continued to attack at any opportunity, as well as running a series of short singles.
Another explanation is that Tamim had a season of T20 with Wellington four years ago, so knows that the best approach at the Basin is to get it done before your body shuts down from the cold.
Imrul Kayes tried a similarly aggressive approach to opening the innings but with less success, being caught at long leg by Boult off Southee for one, an unusual way for the first wicket of a test to fall.
Mominul Haque was more circumspect in his support of Tamim, who continued to attack, but with intelligence and judiciousness.
Tamim survived a fielding side DRS review for lbw from de Grandhomme in the ninth over on an umpire’s call. Though it was close, that de Grandhomme was bowling round the wicket wide of the crease made a successful outcome unlikely. The bowler’s response next ball was a bouncer, which at his pace presented more of a threat to his own toes than the batsman.
Tamim’s aggression resulted in something that I have not seen the like of before. When Tamim pulled de Grandhomme to mid-wicket for four in the twelfth over he took Bangladesh to 52, of which his contribution was 49. Has one player ever made as many of a test team’s first fifty runs?
Tamim brought up his own half century next over, from 48 balls, but did not survive a second DRS review, which clarified that the ball had hit the pad just before it came into contact with the bat. He made 56 and was out with the score at 60.
Mahmudullah now joined Mominul Haque and either side of a lengthy weather break put on an attractive and well-judged 85 for the third wicket. Mominal was particularly strong through the off side.
The weather affected the home side more than the visitors. Being a northwesterly it blew across the pitch from wide mid on when the bowling was from the northern end. This made bowling with it more difficult than bowling into it; almost exactly double as many runs were made from the bowling at the northern end than at the southern. As fine a bowler as Trent Boult had his compass misaligned to the extent that his opening spell was terminated after just three overs, something that I cannot remember happening to him before.
Tim Southee was a model of precision into the wind (his first 16 balls were scoreless), but profligate with it (sort of) behind him.
Part of the reason for the parsimony of the southern end was that it was from here that Neil Wagner bowled. Of course he did; if ever a bowler was born to bowl into the wind it is Wagner, whose whole-hearted effort has made him a favourite of the locals. Today he conceded a run-and-a-half less than any of the other three bowlers. He was rewarded with a wicket from one of the worst balls he bowled, when Mahmudullah chased a wide one to be caught behind. But it often isn’t the ball that the batsman gets out to that takes the wicket; it’s all the other good ones that went before that do it.
Bangladesh finished the day on 154 for three from 40.2 overs. They were impressive and attractive in difficult conditions. So far on this tour they have been whitewashed in three ODIs and three T20s. In each game there was a point where they looked on top, but could never maintain the quality for a whole innings. That is their challenge tomorrow.