For long enough yesterday, Test cricket was cheapened. There was a veritable feast of England runs and Bangladesh wickets, both offered up as if on a golden platter. The tourists could hardly avoid gorging themselves and it was enough to induce a distinctly queasy feeling in anybody watching the second day of the First Test. It was far too much of a bad thing.
Only in the evening did Bangladesh compete briefly on anything approaching level terms. It was then that Tamim Iqbal, with a racy 81 not out, and Mahmudullah, presenting himself at the crease as a Test batsman should, supplied reasons not to issue a writ against the International Cricket Council, challenging their temerity in calling this a Test as part of the Future Tours Programme.
In most places where it is played, the longest and purest form of the game is fighting for its existence and unless something is done shortly it may be too late. This match was a travesty for most of its opening two days and anybody watching who had popped in from an Indian Premier League match would have wondered what all the fuss was about. The cricket was as dire as T20 at its worst without the bonus of dancing girls.
England finished the day 445 runs ahead. In their total of 599 for 6 declared, Alastair Cook took his overnight 158 to a career-best Test score of 173, Paul Collingwood scored his 10th Test hundred at will and Ian Bell did pretty much as he pleased in making 84. They will never score easier runs unless it is in Dhaka during the Second Test later this week.
Bangladesh were haplessly reduced to 51 for 3 by playing the short ball with the inadequacy of men dodging an assault from their wife's handbag. By the close they reached 154 for 5.
The crowd grew throughout the day – the local population virtually ignores 9.30am starts – and it is to their credit that they are so entranced by the status of their side as a Test-playing nation that they tend to ignore the reality of their standards. England's fans, who made up around 20 per cent, might have known what to expect.
The game is littered with discrepancies between the sides: England and everybody else were bounced from pillar to post by West Indies through the 1970s and 1980s and were then led a merry dance by Australia. But Bangladesh have been playing what is purported to be Test cricket for nearly 10 years now and have demonstrated no discernible progress.
True, they gave India a contest for half the match at this ground in January but they ended up losing by 113 runs. True, they scored 408 in response to New Zealand's 553 in Hamilton in February but they lost that match by 121 runs as well.
It is probably too far down the road for them to be deprived of an elevation that was too easily won and there is no doubting that it fills this country with pride. Sometimes that seems to be the sole point of it. Maybe it is enough. But their first mistake here was plain stupid. Having won the toss on a surface which is so rarely lively, they decided to bowl. It was a suicide note. There was a minuscule amount in the pitch to start with and Bangladesh did not have the seam bowling to exploit it. The spinners, four of them, posed almost no threat.
If the players are fed up, they show little sign of it. The hosts keep going, their fielding yesterday improved in parts. There was a certain coyness about England, however, and they did not bat as they would have done against anybody else.
Cook, who must have fancied going on to 200 and beyond, was out making a hash of a pull against a rank long-hop. By then Collingwood was cruising along and in time he changed gears, sashaying down the wicket and driving straighter than he often does.
Bell was more measured, though his timing was usually impeccable, and he unleashed the reverse sweep often, as if he knew this was the opportunity to hone it. Collingwood and Bell put on 184 for the fifth wicket. Having had his fill Collingwood, whose first Test hundred it was for a year and 20 innings, holed out to long off.
Eschewing the opportunity of a hundred, Bell did something similar and England called it a day. They had stuffed themselves and they must have worried about being able to move.
But Stuart Broad unleashed the bouncer almost immediately. First Imrul Kayes top-edged a hook, cramped for space and never in position, and then Junaid Siddique got himself into a terrible tangle to a lifter, which went lamely back to the bowler. When England ask Graeme Swann to bowl, it is almost like ordering a wicket on demand. Again, he struck in his first over (for the 12th time), having Aftab Ahmed snaffled off a paddle at backward short-leg.
Relief came through Tamim who batted with enviable freedom against attacking fields, cutting, clipping and pulling ferociously. It also came through the introduction to the attack of debutant fast bowler, Steve Finn, who conceded a glanced four off his first ball in Test matches and four more in his first three overs.
The fourth-wicket partnership reached 94 before Mahmudullah, until then rectitude personified, misjudged a sweep and was caught at slip. In the final over, Shakib Al Hasan gave Swann his third wicket when he played a grotesque smear and was bowled. Shakib is 23, he bowls most of the overs, he bats with a flourish at six. It must all get too much sometimes.
Bangladesh won toss
England – First innings (Overnight 374-3)
*A N Cook c & b Mahmudullah (283 balls, 410 min, 16 fours, 2 sixes) 173
P D Collingwood c Tamin Iqbal b Abdur Razzak (188 balls, 293 min, 10 fours, 4 sixes) 145
I R Bell c Rubel Hossain b Shakib Al Hasan (105 balls, 147 min, 9 fours) 84
†M J Prior not out (3 balls, 9 min) 0
Extras (b6 lb9 w3 nb11) 29
Total (for 6 dec, 138.3 overs) 599
Fall (cont): 4-412 (Cook), 5-596 (Collingwood), 6-599 (Bell).
Did not bat: S C J Broad, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, S T Finn.
Bowling: Shahadat Hossain 17-2-73-0; Rubel Hossain 19-0-96-1; Shakib Al Hasan 34.3-4-133-1; Naeem Islam 12-1-43-0; Mahmudullah 23-1-78-2; Abdur Razzak 31-1-157-2; Aftab Ahmed 1-0-2-0; Tamim Iqbal 1-0-2-0.
Bangladesh – First innings
Tamin Iqbal not out (115 balls, 170 min, 13 fours, 1 six) 81
Imrul Kayes c Prior b Broad (9 balls, 10 min, 1 four) 4
Junaid Siddique c & b Broad (17 balls, 17 min, 1 four) 7
Aftab Ahmed c Bell b Swann (6 balls, 20 min) 1
Mahmudallah c Collingwood b Swann (64 balls, 80 min, 7 fours, 1 six) 51
*Shakib Al Hasan b Swann (20 balls, 28 min) 1
Shahadat Hossain not out (4 balls, 12 min) 0
Extras (lb7 w1 nb1) 9
Total (for 5, 39 overs) 154
Fall: 1-13 (Imrul Kayes), 2-27 (Junaid Siddique), 3-51 (Aftab Ahmed), 4-145 ( Mahmudallah), 5-149 (Shakib Al Hasan).
Still to bat: †Mushfiqur Rahim, Naeem Islam, Abdur Razzak, Rubel Hossain.
Bowling: Broad 10-1-30-2; Bresnan 10-1-47-0; Swann 14-5-40-3; Finn 5-1-30-0.
Umpires: A L Hill (NZ) and R J Tucker (Aus).
Third umpire: Enamul Haque.
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).