The Black Caps have been buoyed in the first test against Bangladesh by the spin bowling of a short-form batting star. But not the one most had expected.
With Rachin Ravindra watching from the sidelines, denied the chance to build on his World Cup heroics, it was Glenn Phillips’ turn to seize an opportunity and put his side in a strong position.
Bangladesh coped well enough against the rest of the tourists’ attack, ending the opening day in Sylhet on 310-9 last night. But in New Zealand’s first game of the new World Test Championship cycle, the brightest start was made by the man with a golden arm.
Surprisingly preferred to Ravindra in the role of third spinner, Phillips proved an astute selection while snaring career-best figures of 4-53, outshining frontline tweakers Ajaz Patel (2-76) and Ish Sodhi (2-71).
Phillips owed some success to his victims, with three batters falling to preventable dismissals, but he consistently put the ball in probing areas and cannily utilised flight to tease shots the hosts would regret.
While Ravindra was capturing attention with three tons at the World Cup, Phillips enjoyed a lower-key breakout of his own. The 26-year-old took six wickets at the tournament to double his ODI tally, after working diligently on his offbreak as a means to break into the test team.
The gambit worked and, having played a solitary test against Australia in January 2020, Phillips was likely viewed as a valuable addition in spinning the ball away from Bangladesh’s left-handed batters.
Indeed, the allrounder removed two in the hosts’ top four, proceeding to grab four wickets for only the second time in first-class cricket. And as in the ODI tournament in India, he had a knack of striking at the right time.
After being asked to bowl on what was regarded as the best batting ground in the country, the Black Caps allowed Bangladesh to recover from an early stumble and reach a promising position on 180-2 late in the second session.
The hosts were missing as many as four of their first-choice XI, including injured captain Shakib Al Hasan, but Mahmudul Hasan Joy sparked plenty of that emotion in the first few hours.
The opener received no help from partner Zakir Hasan, undone in the 13th over by a beauty from Patel that ripped around the batter’s defences and clipped the top of off. Stand-in skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto (37 off 35) also offered little assistance, blasting Patel out of the attack before top-edging a full toss from Phillips’ second over.
But Bangladesh were probably the happier side on 104-2 at lunch, Joy having begun the rebuild. And when he joined Mominul Haque in blunting the attack after the break, it looked like the tourists could be facing a long afternoon in the field.
Enter Phillips, who snagged his second test wicket to snap an 88-run stand, inducing a bottom edge from Mominul’s cut attempt that Blundell snaffled well behind the stumps.
Four balls later and Sodhi capitalised on a rare lapse in concentration from Joy (86), enticing the batter into a defensive prod that caught an edge and found Daryl Mitchell at slip.
Bangladesh limped to tea on 185-4, and after Mushfiqur Rahim survived consecutive lbw shouts from Patel, the spinner got his man to charge and chip straight to mid-off.
Kyle Jamieson (2-52) then took his first test wicket in almost 18 months — having earned selection ahead of Neil Wagner to complete a return from injury — and the towering quick added a second with the second new ball late in the day.
That was once Phillips had claimed another couple, gratefully accepting a gift as Shahadat Hossain came down the track and chipped to midwicket before Nurul Hasan was strangled down the legside by another fine catch from Blundell.
Bad light would end play early, delaying Phillips’ bid for a five-wicket bag but leaving the Black Caps nicely poised in search of a first test victory in Bangladesh since 2008.