It’s time to don those bulletproof vests and brave that ring of steel. England start their ODI series against Bangladesh today at Dhaka and it could prove a rather interesting series. The Bangladeshis are no longer the whipping boys of international cricket, at least not in the one-day arena, and England are missing three very important players: established opener Alex Hales, boy wonder Joe Root and captain Eoin Morgan.
Although England have metamorphosed into a decent 50 over outfit since the last World Cup (especially at home) Bangladesh actually have a better recent home record that us. Our hosts have lost just three of their last 20 ODIs on home soil whereas England have lost five. In fact, Bangladesh haven’t lost a one-day series at home for two years, and during that time they’ve beaten South Africa 2-1 and whitewashed Pakistan 3-0. It wasn’t so long ago that they whitewashed New Zealand at home too. That puts the size of our task into perspective.
I’m glad that the pundits recognise it will be a tricky tour too. Whenever England play relative minnows there’s often an assumption that victory is guaranteed. Of course, it doesn’t always end up that way. In the video above, which is sponsored by Betway, Simon Hughes makes some good points that are as relevant today as they’ve always been. England often struggle on slow pitches when the spinners put the squeeze on. It’s naïve to think that our new team, despite the good progress they’ve made, will suddenly start scoring 350 odd in the subcontinent. In fact, Hughes predicts that Bangladesh will win the series 2-1. That’s not an unreasonable prediction in my opinion.
The security concerns might also play on our players’ minds. Every time they look around the dressing room, Hales and Morgan will be conspicuous by their absence. What’s more, it can’t be fun knowing you’re a potential target and need to be guarded by tanks, snipers and half the Bangladeshi army. I severely doubt they’ll be 100% focused on the cricket.
In pure cricketing terms, it will be difficult to overcome the absence of three senior batsmen. James Vince is an attractive player with plenty of ability but what are the odds that he looks good but then suddenly gets out randomly at an important time? What’s more, although Ben Duckett is supremely talented, it’s always hard for rookies to make an immediately impact – especially in alien conditions. It’s not easy to replace a player as dominant as Joe Root.
Finally we come to Jonny Bairstow who has been chomping on the bit for an opportunity in one-day cricket. We all know he’s a fine test player these days but how will he fare against Bangladesh’s spinners when the pressure’s on? Jonny has never struck me as a particularly natural player of spin so he’s got something to prove. It’s not beyond him by an means – he’s improved so much in recent times and looks full of confidence – but I don’t think success is guaranteed.
When it comes to the bowling, our seamers might find the going somewhat tough too. Chris Woakes had an excellent summer but it’s bound to be tougher away from home. Just ask Jimmy Anderson. Meanwhile, the likes of Liam Plunkett won’t be happy if the pitches are particularly slow.
As always in this part of the world, the spinners will be key. Moeen Ali usually does a reasonable job in one-day cricket but the man I’ll be watching with interest is Adil Rashid. Can he adapt to conditions, keep things tight and simultaneously pick up wickets? Unless England can post big totals, Bangladesh might milk him and then put away the loose deliveries when they inevitably come.
Having said all that, victory isn’t beyond England of course. We still have some match-winners – not least the new captain, a certain Jos Buttler, who might fancy the job permanently. There’s also the interesting prospect of Ben Stokes taking on the Bangladeshi bowlers. England’s best chance is to be positive, take calculated risks, and above all don’t let the spinners create a stranglehold.