I do love a good bit of declaration bowling.
It's a scenario that recreational cricketers know all too well: the team batting first in a friendly game has used up half the time available, is short of runs but has plenty of wickets in hand. The fielding skipper does the decent thing - he calls for his grenadiers. Long hops, full tosses and half volleys are lobbed up in the hope that the batsmen charge out their trenches in a shot-making frenzy, thus hastening the inevitable declaration.
By and large, international skippers don't have occasion to employ such tactics, but shortly before lunch yesterday, Alastair Cook did, albeit in a slightly different type of situation. With little chance of a result in England's three-day tour match against Bangladesh A, Cook wanted to ensure his team got a decent number of overs of batting practice in their second innings. The hosts didn't have much of a lead and were creeping along at two-and-a-bit per over, so Cook decided to serve up a bit of a buffet to spice things up.
And what a buffet it was!
In 9 overs of Michael Carberry's "off-spin" and Cook's own "right arm slow," the Bangladeshis helped themselves to 189 runs. Cook's figures were 0 for 111 off 5 overs, Carberry's 0 for 78 off 4.
Let's just think about that for a minute.
189 off 9 overs is exactly 21 runs per over. At that rate, a side would concede 420 in 20 overs, or 1050 in 50.
I have tried, without success, to find a ball-by-ball record of the scoring online. It appears the scorers at the ground struggled to keep up, as there is no record of what the score was at the point when Saghir Hossain retired out. The man who replaced Hossain at the crease, Dolar Mahmud, scored 66 off 16 balls. At the other end, Shuvagato Hom made 91 off 30. Together they hit 17 fours and 14 sixes and needed to resort to running between the wickets on only five occasions. Actually, Hom didn't run at all as he had a runner out there with him; why he got the the poor bloke to come out and stand around in the sun, I do not know.
There has no doubt been much spectacular plundering of declaration bowling over the centuries, but yesterday's carnage in Chittagong was surely pretty special. From Cook's point of view, the strategy paid off: Bangladesh A declared at lunchtime and England got 52 more overs of batting practice.
Bravo Captain Cook. You entertain me.
NOTE: If cricket matches had feelings, this one would be pretty dejected right now. It began life thinking it was going to be a serious fixture but over the course of three days has been robbed first of its first-class status (after both sides substituted players) and then of its dignity.