England win, but batting work needed

England duly prevailed in a match that was critical to remaining in meaningful contention for the World Cup but the margin was narrow, and the batting is a serious cause for concern.

Since eliminating India and defeating South Africa, Bangladesh have proved they are no pushovers and England contrived to lose six wickets chasing a modest 144. A battery of slow left-armers led by Abdur Razzak and Mohammed Rafique did the damage, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen failed for once, and Michael Vaughan top scored with 30. Rafique caused more consternation when Andrew Flintoff and Ravi Bopara were bowled but the two Pauls, Collingwood and Nixon, saw England home.

Bangladesh were put in on the quickest track encountered in the tournament so far, and had no answer as England’s pace attack destroyed the top order. Perhaps Prince Harry’s pre-match pep talk did the trick but, whatever the catalyst, by the 16th over Bangladesh had slid to 65-6 and did well to recover thereafter. Good pace, bounce and carry were the chief factors and the bowlers used the conditions to seize an initiative they never relinquished.

Tamim Iqbal was surprised by one that climbed off the shoulder of his bat in Sajid Mahmood’s first over then the captain Habibul Bashar departed in remarkable fashion after Shariar Nafees lofted a simple catch to Vaughan. The England captain somehow dropped it, flinging the ball in disgust in the vague direction of the stumps where Nixon collected it to run out Bashar by yards. The wicketkeeper then palmed a Nafees edge to Andrew Strauss at second slip via Nixon’s gloves and Flintoff fired a full length delivery through Mushfiqur Rahim’s defence.

In spite of a growing complement of Barmy Army crew, the revamped Kensington Oval was barely half full and few locals were evident. The atmosphere was muted, but a beauty from Jimmy Anderson which bounced and moved away fractionally accounted for Mohammed Ashraful, and Nixon held a tumbling catch to remove Aftab Ahmed. Shakib Al Hasan, meanwhile, strove to fill the breach, slashing Flintoff over backward point for six and driving him for two fours through extra cover. Respite was all too brief though in a stand of 47 with Mashrafe Mortaza before Monty Panesar cleaned up the tail.

■RUGBY UNION A ‘‘European club rugby tournament’’ will take place next season despite the boycott agreed by leading English and French clubs. Shareholders of European Rugby Cup, which organises the Heineken Cup, agreed to hold a tournament in 2007-08 at a meeting in Dublin on Wednesday. It will include teams from all six of the current participating nations – England, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. The meeting was attended by representatives from the six unions, plus English and Italian clubs and a regional representative from Wales.

At present, England’s Guinness Premiership clubs and leading French sides will not play in the Heineken Cup or European Challenge Cup next term. They withdrew last week, blaming the Rugby Football Union’s refusal to hand English clubs half its shares in ERC. If they stick to the boycott, teams from National League One will probably provide English representation next season.

■TENNIS Great Britain have been handed the toughest draw possible after being pitted against number one seeds Croatia in the Davis Cup World Group play-offs. Britain are bidding to reclaim their place in the elite World Group but face a difficult task at home to the 2005 Cup winners on the weekend of September 21-23 at a venue yet to be fixed.

The winners of each of the eight ties will progress to the top tier of 16, while the losers will begin 2008 in Group One. Captain John Lloyd’s side earned their place in the draw with a 4-1 victory over the Netherlands this month.

Lloyd admitted it was a tough draw, but pointed to the possible absence of Croatia’s star player Ivan Ljubicic, which would enhance the prospects of Britain, led by Andy Murray and Tim Henman.

Lloyd said: ‘‘After his last Davis Cup match Ljubicic announced his retirement – we don’t know what to make of that yet, but if he keeps to that it gives a slightly different perspective. They still have good players but if a guy who is in the top 10 in the world is missing it is a different matter. Even so, I’d back our guys against anyone.’’

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