Clarke seizes opportunity as top order stutter again

England 237-4 v Bangladesh
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The Independent Online

After picking up a £2,750 fine on his Test debut for using foul and abusive language to an opponent, Rikki Clarke decided to allow his bat to make an impression on the first day of the second Test. And it was just as well the Surrey all-rounder did show the selectors there was more to his game than hot air. Because when Clarke arrived at the crease England were once again in trouble against a limited but disciplined Bangladesh attack.

By the close, Clarke, who scored his maiden half-century in Test cricket, and Nasser Hussain had gone some way towards repairing the damage caused by the wanton attitude of England's top order with an unbeaten partnership of 103. However, the pair will need to show the same restraint and concentration today if they are to place their side in the position Michael Vaughan would have been hoping for following his opening partnership of 126 with Marcus Trescothick.

During their three-hour vigil, Clarke and Hussain had some good fortune and but for this, and the inability of the Bangladeshi fielders to hold on to two chances given by the former captain when he was on 36 and 40, England would have had an embarrassing opening day to this Test.

Clarke is becoming used to such predicaments. In Dhaka England's top four batsmen fell for the addition of only 38 runs but yesterday's collapse after being invited to bat was far more dramatic. In the space of five overs England lost Trescothick, Vaughan (on his 29th birthday) and Graham Thorpe to careless strokes, and Mark Butcher to a weak defensive prod at a ball he should have played forward to, while just eight runs were added to the score.

Faced with this situation for the first time, Clarke barely raised his bat in anger during a painstaking innings of 14 that took 93 balls. And although yesterday's unbeaten 53 off 137 balls was hardly in the mould of Andrew Flintoff, the man whose place in the side he currently fills, it did prove he can remain calm in a crisis and play a few quality strokes of his own.

That 42 of his first 50 runs came through the leg side was more due to the defensive off-side fields set by the Bangladeshi captain than the limit of his stroke-play. Rather than lose his wicket carelessly attempting to blast the ball through it Clarke, like Trescothick, waited for the spinners or seamers to drop short before pulling them away.

The 22-year-old accepts that he is only keeping Flintoff's seat warm but it is his aim during this Test match, and the one-day internationals which follow, to put the selectors under pressure to pick the two of them.

Clarke put his more assertive approach down to a chat he had with his captain at the conclusion of England's victory in Dhaka. "Vaughny told me there was no pressure on me at all," Clarke said. "He told me to play my own game, to be aggressive and to do what I do best."

During the three and a quarter hours he spent in the middle Clarke was fortunate to have Hussain guiding him along. "It was great to have someone with Nasser's experience up the other end," he said. "His advice kept me going and we kept talking at the end of every over. He just told me to be watchful and to keep batting the way I was."

When their innings ends England will have another cricketer who is desperately trying to make the most of an unexpected opportunity. Following the superb bowling of Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard in the first Test, Martin Saggers would have given himself little hope of playing for England before he returned home to Kent at the conclusion of this Test.

However, the withdrawal of Harmison with a back injury - the Durham paceman travels back home today for scans on his back but expects to be fit for the Test series against Sri Lanka in December - and the decision of the selectors to play a third seamer has given the 31-year-old possibly one Test match to show what he can do.

Saggers travelled to Bangladesh to bolster the bowling after the withdrawal of Flintoff and he will be aware that the Lancashire all-rounder along with James Anderson and James Kirtley, who are all in Dhaka preparing for the one-day series which follows, want their place in the team back.


First day; Bangladesh won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings
M E Trescothick c Mushfiqur Rahman b Khaled Mahmud 60
M P Vaughan c Khaled Mashud b Mashrafe Mortaza 54
M A Butcher b Mohammad Rafique 6
N Hussain not out 47
G P Thorpe b Mashrafe Mortaza 0
R Clarke not out 53
Extras (b6 lb2 w5 nb4) 17
Total (for 4, 362 min, 90 overs) 237

Fall: 1-126 (Trescothick), 2-133 (Butcher), 3-134 (Vaughan), 4-134 (Thorpe).

To bat: C M W Read, A F Giles, R L Johnson, M J Hoggard, M J Saggers.

Bowling: Mashrafe Mortaza 16-4-39-2 (nb2 w2) (6-3-10-0, 2-0-10-0, 4-0-10-2, 4-1-9-0); Mushfiqur Rahman 9-1-38-0 (4-0-16-0, 2-0-12-0, 1-0-6-0, 2-1-4-0); Khaled Mahmud 18-8-29-1 (w3) (6-4-5-0, 5-1-12-1, 7-3-12-0); Mohammad Rafique 27-11-44-1 (4-1-12-0, 3-2-3-0, 8-3-17-1, 11-5-11-0, 1-0-1-0); Enamul Haque Jnr 14-0-66-0 (nb2) 7-0-41-0, 4-0-15-0, 3-0-10-0); Alok Kapali 4-0-12-0; Rajin Saleh 2-1-1-0 (one spell each).

Progress: First day: 50: 77 min, 18.4 overs. Lunch: 88-0 (Trescothick 33, Vaughan 50) 30 overs. 100: 138 min, 35.3 overs. 150: 202 min, 49.5 overs. Tea: 188-4 (Hussain 21, Clarke 33) 62 overs. 200 in 282 min, 73 overs. New ball taken after 83.2 overs at 222-4.

Trescothick's 50: 143 min, 111 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes.

Vaughan's 50: 119 min, 95 balls, 10 fours.

Clarke's 50: 153 min, 109 balls, 8 fours.

BANGLADESH: Hannan Sarkar, Javed Omar, Habibul Bashar, Rajin Saleh, Alok Kapali, Mushfiqur Rahman, ÝKhaled Mashud, *Khaled Mahmud, Mohammad Rafique, Mashrafe Mortaza, Enamul Haque Jnr.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and E A R de Silva (S Lanka).

TV Replay Umpire: Mahbubur Rahman.

Match Referee: Wasim Raja.