I’ll come clean. I follow cricket closely – I’ve been writing this blog since 2009 – but even I don’t have a clue what to expect from the hosts in this week’s first test. Although we’ve seen them up close in the ODIs (and they looked very competitive), the limited overs stuff is so very different. Bangladesh haven’t played a test match for over a year so the form guide is basically blank. It’s a step into the unknown for just about everyone.
I’m not going to pretend there aren’t question marks about England’s batting and spin bowling, but our team looks relatively settled in comparison to Bangladesh likely XI. Their main problem is the absence of their three most penetrative seam bowlers. Mashrafe Mortaza, Mustafizur Rahman and Taskin Ahmed have either retired from test cricket, are injured, or have been excluded. Alastair Cook might well bat for three days straight. It’s hard to see how anyone will dismiss him on what’s expected to be a flat pitch. Joe Root might well fill his boots too – unless he gets bored and scoops a catch to deep midwicket.
England will hope, of course, that this series is a handy warm-up for the India tour. Bangladesh have a couple of decent spinners – well, they’ve got Shakib anyway – but unfortunately they don’t have anyone in Ravi Ashwin’s class. There’s Shuvagata Hom, who I’ve never seen bowl, and Medehi Hasan, an off spinner who apparently looked good playing for Bangladesh U19 – which is hardly the best endorsement. When the Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha said last week “don’t expect us to do miracles straight away” he may have had a point.
In terms of the home team’s batting, one imagines they’re rely heavily on mainstays Tamin Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Shakib and Mushfiqur Rahim. However, the guy I’m looking forward to watching is young Mominul Haque, who has four test centuries and averages over 50 in his seventeen tests to date. They’ll need big contributions from these five players if they want to post competitive totals.
As for England, I’m intrigued to know what our final XI will be. Most people seem to think that Hameed is a dead cert to open with Cook but I still think Ben Duckett has a chance. Both made patient half centuries in the first innings of the warm-up match against the Bangladesh Cricket Board. Bayliss has long tried to shoehorn a positive foil for Cook into the side. Perhaps he’s a secret Duckett man?
The intriguing thing for me is that Jos Buttler batted at 5, ahead of Gary Ballance, Stokes, Ansari and Moeen. This was something of a shock because many predicted that Mo would bat up the order this winter. Once again, the management seem determined to give Jos every opportunity to establish himself as a test player, despite the fact that he doesn’t really move his feet and seems far more adept at limited overs stuff (also see Hales, Alex).
I’ve lost count of the number of times either Bayliss, Farbrace, or one of the selectors, has backed Buttler to become a good test player. Farbrace was at it again last week. Personally I don’t believe Jos should be on the tour because he’s played so little first class cricket in the last year, has a modest first-class record anyway, and isn’t much of an improvement over Bairstow behind the stumps. I would’ve taken Ben Foakes, who played a whole season for Surrey and impressed with both bat and ball.
When it comes to the bowlers, the star of the show thus far has been Zafar Ansari. He took 4-68 with his slow-left armers in the Bangladesh Board XI’s first innings. If the England selectors are going to stick with Mo, I’d rather Ansari play ahead of Batty because I don’t see any point whatsoever in having two orthodox off-spinners (plus Joe Root) in the same side.
There’s also Adil Rashid, of course, who hasn’t bowled in the match so far. I’d love to see Rashid become a viable test leggie but he’ll need to show more consistency than he did in the ODI series. He still bowls too many loose deliveries. Kohli and Co will be licking their lips until he heeds Yoda’s advice: “control, control, you must learn control”.
So what do you think? Will England steamroller Bangladesh and go to India full of (false?) confidence, or will the hosts put up a fight and give England’s management something to think about? It’s all very well having plenty of options – and the selectors have certainly given Bayliss and Cook that – but I wonder whether there’s enough time to ascertain what the best options are. Sometimes a surfeit of alternatives, and low intensity fourteen-a-side games, can confuse a team’s thinking.