England battle back as Mehedi stars on debut

England 258 for 7 (Moeen 68, Bairstow 52, Mehedi 5-64) v Bangladesh
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

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Will Cook find his perfect partner in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh’s teenage offspinner, Mehedi Hasan, claimed figures of 5 for 64 on his first day of international cricket, as England were forced to dig deep into their batting reserves in the first Test at Chittagong. After stumbling to 21 for 3 in the first hour of the contest, England recovered their poise through the efforts of Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow, who rode their luck to compile a pair of half-centuries, and on a surface offering both turn and variable bounce in abundance, it is possible that, in reaching the close on 258 for 7, they are not too far short of a very competitive total.

Nevertheless, through the efforts of the 18-year-old Mehedi, who was handed the new ball in a strong show of faith and wheeled his way through 33 overs in a formidable day’s work, Bangladesh gave a strong indication that their recent upsurge in limited-overs cricket will be replicated in the longest form, notwithstanding the fact that this was their first day’s Test cricket in more than 14 months.

With Shakib Al Hasan excelling in his role as senior pro, and picking off two big wickets including the prize scalp of Alastair Cook, Bangladesh confirmed that this leg of England’s winter will be a challenge in its own right – never mind a harbinger of trials by spin to come later this winter, with Ravi Ashwin and India awaiting for five Tests in six weeks from next month.

But, if there had been any temptation to dismiss these opening contests as a warm-up act for the main event, then today’s exploits were a timely reminder to focus on the here and now.

Mehedi, a star of Bangladesh’s exploits in the recent Under-19 World Cup but a bowler with just 12 first-class appearances to his name before this match, had been named as one of three debutants in Bangladesh’s ranks, alongside the batsman Sabbir Rahman, and Kamrul Islam Rabbi, a quick bowler. Bowling with purpose and purchase, he was thrown the ball for the second over of the match and responded to the responsibility with three wickets in his first 11 overs of international cricket.

First in his sights was his fellow newcomer, Ben Duckett – Cook’s ninth opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss four years ago -whose form in last week’s ODI series, as well as a strong showing in England’s warm-up matches earlier this week, had earned him his opportunity ahead of the more traditionally moulded Haseeb Hameed.

However, Duckett was skittish from the outset as he looked to translate his natural belligerence to the longer form. Mehedi might have bowled him twice in his first nine deliveries as he slid a pair of well-disguised arm balls slid past his off stump. But in the end it was the one that gripped that did for him, as he offered too much room in defence and lost his off stump for 14.

Then, in his very next over, Mehedi’s slider did for Gary Ballance as well. With only a fractional change in action, he first ripped a big offbreak past Ballance’s outside edge, then pinned him on the pad two balls later with one that ghosted in without spinning. The initial appeal was turned down, but at this stage of the day at least, Mushfiqur Rahim’s judgement of a review was spot on as the ball was shown to have been demolishing middle and leg.

And in between whiles, Shakib struck with his second delivery of the match to land the big one. Cook had initially looked his usual unflustered self as he bedded into his first competitive innings of the trip, having missed the warm-ups to attend the birth of his second daughter. But facing up to Shakib in the 11th over of the innings, he dropped to one knee to sweep from outside leg, but was beaten by some extra turn and bounce. The ball looped off his forearm and crashed into his stumps as he over-balanced and, as the bails hit the turf, so too did his backside. It was an undignified departure for a man playing a record-breaking 134th Test, but Bangladesh were rightly cockahoop to have seen off the man who made 173 on this very ground six years ago.

Joe Root, counter-punching with typical nerveless, launched England’s fightback by reaching lunch on 38 not out, but before he could build on his start, he too had fallen to Mehedi’s wiles – caught at slip two balls into his afternoon’s work as he too was suckered by the one that skidded straight on. Ben Stokes, the hero of the one-day series, resisted for a while but never looked anything like as comfortable against the spinners as Shakib ripped one through his gate to bowl him for 18, and at 106 for 5, Bangladesh were circling for the kill.

Moeen and Bairstow, however, had other ideas – gradually finding their feet in a sixth-wicket stand of 88 that, given the conditions, hauled England somewhere close to the ascendancy. But Moeen, in particular, used up an entire reservoir of good fortune in the course of his 170-ball stay. He would have been sent on his way for 1 (and England would have been 34 for 4) had Bangladesh opted to review an early pad-strike from Mehedi , and with that precedent set, he went on to survive no fewer than five trials by DRS, including three successfully overturned lbws in the space of six balls either side of lunch.

Shakib was the unlucky recipient of umpire Kumar Dharmasena’s itchy finger on all three occasions: first, Moeen managed to get a splinter of bat on a bottom-edged sweep, before his second life was shown to be missing leg stump and the third struck his pad outside the line. And, having already encouraged Bangladesh to use one of their own reviews earlier in his innings, he survived their second attempt on 29, when Mehedi’s lbw appeal was shown to have pitched outside leg.

Bairstow, too, had a massive moment of good fortune on 13, when he was dropped at slip after pushed uncertainly forward against the left-arm spin of Taijul Islam. But he continued what has been a stellar year in Test cricket by moving along to his eighth half-century in 2016, and when he was finally prised from the crease by Mehedi – deceived, like so many of his team-mates, by the non-spinner to be bowled for 52 – he was within striking distance of Andy Flower’s record number of runs by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year. With a maximum of 13 innings to come this winter, he will be out of sight by January.

Moeen, by this stage, had also succumbed – outfoxed by another superbly skilful piece of bowling from Mehedi, who found flight, dip, grip and bounce to take the edge through to the keeper – leaving Chris Woakes to marshall England’s fortunes in the closing overs with 36 not out. But, having read the conditions correctly and selecting their own three-pronged spin attack, including a recall for Gareth Batty for the first time in 11 years, England will be confident of turning their own screw when Bangladesh come out to bat.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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