Ben Stokes swings Test England’s way

Ben Stokes contribution with both ball and bat was vital for England in Chittagong yesterday. Photograph: A M Ahad/AP
Ben Stokes contribution with both ball and bat was vital for England in Chittagong yesterday. Photograph: A M Ahad/AP
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By iain fletcher

It is not one to be considered complacently. The living environment, heat, dust and playing conditions of pitch and ground are so different that almost a whole new set of skills are needed by players to prosper.

For example, England followed the Bangladeshis with opening the bowling with a spinner. That might occasionally happen in the third or fourth innings of a match but rarely the first and second.

For English batsmen that means much less need to concern themselves over a swinging ball and steep bounce designed to take edges through to the slip cordon and a trial by forensic examination of spin with a host of predatory fielders lurking a yard or two from the bat. It is much more claustrophobic and for batters used to scoring using the pace on the ball, much harder to score.

That is why it is so compelling and what a joy it has been to watch Bangladesh demonstrate they are a worthy Test nation, even if it is mostly only on home soil.

If finances and the will were present for a much better developed first-class structure, Bangladesh could be a powerhouse of world cricket. The passion and talent is certainly there as proved by the excellent performances of Tamim Iqbal and Mehdi Masan.

But it was an Englishman who dominated yesterday though and the most classic of northern strong men in Stokes. He is a no-nonsense character, uncomplicated but possesses a very shrewd cricket brain. He grasps the moment to attack and does so completely.

The Cumbrian started by destroying the Bangladesh tail end with a vicious spell of fast reverse swing bowling punctuated by the odd bouncer. He clattered Sabbir Rahman on the helmet but mostly attacked the stumps and was rewarded with four wickets.

It gave England a decent lead of 45 that soon became crucial as England slumped to 28-3.

Alastair Cook, Ben Duckett and Joe Root went swiftly to the spin of Mehdi and Shakib al Hasan and were soon followed by Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali, both caught round the corner attempting to sweep.

At effectively 107-5 England were behind and needed some calm solidity to stem the flow of wickets. Survival would not be enough on its own, but runs would come, possibly slowly, as long as two batters stayed together. Stokes found an adhesive partner in Bairstow and they added a match-changing 127 in 34 overs. Both attacked the short ball aggressively when the spinners erred and were content to compile with nudges. It was a test of patience and technique and these two swashbucklers adjusted their games accordingly.

Slowly, to begin with, and then at an increasingly faster tempo they wrestled the initiative of the match back to England before leaving the scene with dominance assured.

It was frustrating for Bangladesh but they did little wrong. The spin was negated by excellent batting.

It was a shame that Bairstow perished just short of a half-century but his role should not be underestimated. At close of play the lead was 273 and Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad and Gareth Batty will hope to eke that north of 300. That should be enough, although New Zealand did successfully chase 317 at this ground in 2008.

The difference is England can attack with spin but also via Stokes’ skill with reverse swing, with an older ball. The damage he wreaked yesterday morning will be difficult for the Bangladesh lower order to overcome.

It will be a test of Cook’s captaincy though. He was defensive in the first innings, protecting boundaries and gifting too many easy singles. This time round he can be bolder, restrict the easy nudged runs and demand the batters play big shots .