Harmison embraces challenge as England seize early advantage

Bangladesh 24-2 v England
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Bangladesh do not deal in half measures. Whether it be the heat, the traffic, the poverty, or the rain that restricted the first day of England's inaugural Test here to just 15 overs, this balmy corner of Asia gives its all.

However, in the two abbreviated periods of play that were possible at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, England were able to dismiss the only two Bangladesh batsmen playing in this match who have scored Test hundreds. Stephen Harmison took both wickets in a hostile opening spell of fast bowling.

Watching the diminutive Bangladesh top-order struggling to cope with the pace and bounce the Durham speedster was extracting from this docile pitch would have raised optimism in the England camp.

Following a 35-minute downpour that turned the already soggy outfield into a quagmire, it was something of a miracle that any play was possible in the afternoon. When the heavens opened, Bangladesh had faced four searching overs from Matthew Hoggard and Harmison and were 1 for 0.

After an hour in the dressing-room watching the ground-staff attempting to remove the water from the covers with plastic dustpans and the "whales" - machines used to take puddles of water from the outfield - England's cricketers returned to the team hotel to relax. At this stage they had given up hope of any further play on the first day.

Following an inspection from the umpires at 2.45pm, Michael Vaughan's side were stung into action when it was announced that play would restart at 4.15pm with 19 overs to be bowled. In the end, only 11 overs were bowled before play was suspended due to bad light, but there was time enough for Harmison to give the home side a taste of things to come.

Before this Test match Harmison had a little moan about the fact that he felt his contribution to the England side over the last 18 months had not received the recognition it deserved. If he continues to bowl as he did in yesterday's twilight session Harmison will be the first name on Vaughan's team-sheet for some time to come.

With England deciding to go into the match with two spinners and two specialist fast bowlers, Harmison would have realised that the pressure was on him here to make his overs count. In a three- or four-pronged pace attack one fast bowler having a bad day can be accommodated - but when there is only you and one other, you need to perform.

England may be competing against the weakest side in Test cricket, but winning here is far from straightforward. In Asia you play in unique conditions which can often neutralise mismatches. To be fair to Harmison, he rose to the challenge on this occasion.

Taking wickets with the new ball is vital and Javed Omer was the first to go in the 10th over when he received a brute of a ball that lifted sharply from just short of a length. He looked on helplessly as the ball struck the shoulder of his bat and lobbed softly to gully where Rikki Clarke - who along with Worcestershire's Gareth Batty was making his debut for England - pinched a simple catch in front of Ashley Giles. If Clarke had dropped the catch, which was Giles', he would have taken some awful flak but it was reassuring to see a young man taking responsibility.

England were in control on a pitch that had been juiced up after spending several hours under a plastic sheet - without the hessian sheet that is normally put over the surface first to stop it sweating. With the ball nipping about, Vaughan must have wondered whether it was the right decision to leave out Richard Johnson. However, this had to be weighed up against the fact that England may have been batting in these difficult conditions after losing the toss on an overcast morning.

Harmison's second wicket, that of Habibul Bashar, was the one England wanted most. With two hundreds and a Test average of 50 this year, Habibul is Bangladesh's best batsman. But he and the 10,000 who stayed to watch an historic day's cricket will be disappointed with the carve that flew to Marcus Trescothick at first slip.


Bangladesh won the toss

BANGLADESH - First innings
Hannan Sarkar not out 18
Javed Omar c Clarke b Harmison 3
Habibul Bashar c Trescothick b Harmison 2
Rajin Saleh not out 0
Extras (b1) 1
Total (for 2, 65 mins, 15 overs) 24

Fall: 1-12 (Javed Omar), 2-24 (Habibul Bashar).

To bat: Alok Kapali, Khaled Mahmud, Khaled Mashud, Mushfiqur Rahman, Mohammad Rafique, Mashrafe Mortaza, Emanul Haque Jnr.

Bowling: Hoggard 8-3-14-0, Harmison 7-3-9-2 (one spell each).

Progress: First day: rain stopped play 9.48am to 4.14pm 1-0 (Hannan Sarkar 0, Javed Omar 1) 4 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.02pm.

England: M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, R Clarke, C M W Read, G J Batty, A F Giles, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard.

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

TV Replay Umpire: A F M Akhtaruddin

Match Referee: Wasim Raj (Pak).