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February 26, 2010
Jamie Siddons, Bangladesh's coach, hopes that England's complacent team selection will "bite them on the bum" in the three-match one-day series that gets underway in Mirpur on Sunday, and believes that the decision to rest Andrew Strauss, coupled with the prospect of a slow and low spin-friendly surface, will help his young side claim the scalp of the one international team to have eluded them in their ten years as a top-flight nation.
It's a remarkable statistic, given England's haphazard attitude towards one-day cricket, but nobody else in the world can boast a 100% record in all international fixtures against Bangladesh. Since their first meeting at Nairobi in October 2000, England have racked up four Test victories and eight in ODIs, but Siddons is confident that, after a 12-month period of steady consolation, his players are ready to complete the set this week.
"At the start of this year, we knew we had to play the better teams in the world, and I think we've fared pretty well," said Siddons. "In our conditions we play really well, we're a developing team and growing in confidence. England need to be at their best to beat us, but they've left a couple of key players behind. I'm thinking that could be the difference, but we'll have to wait and see."
Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh's captain, offered a respectful "no comment" when quizzed on the thorny issue of Strauss's absence from this tour, but his coach was unapologetically forthright. "People have their own choices to make, and organisations have their choices to make, about whether they come here or not," he said. "But my thoughts are that I hope it bites them on the bum at the end of the series. And that we can say 'don't come here next time as well'."
Regardless of Siddons' optimism, England remain favourites for the series after a rare run of success in ODIs, encompassing a maiden series win in South Africa, following on from a semi-final appearance in the Champions Trophy. Nevertheless, Alastair Cook is virtually untested as a leader, while the positive attitude that he displayed in the two warm-up matches in Fatullah cannot disguise the fact that he has not opened in a 50-over international since November 2008.
"I hope that the opener that they've brought in isn't good enough, and that they fail at that part of the game," added Siddons. It wasn't entirely clear whether he was referring to Cook or his probable batting partner Craig Kieswetter, who warmed up for his debut with a hard-hitting 143 on Tuesday, but the sentiment could easily have been applied to both.
"We know very little about Kieswetter, apart from what we've seen this week," said Siddons. "We don't know a lot, but we're hoping the conditions out here will bring him undone. Our strength is our strength, so we're not worried about the opposition. We'll bowl and bat as well as we can, and see what the outcome can be."
Whatever transpires, Siddons is certain that his team is on an upward trajectory after far too many years of languishing near the foot of the world rankings. In July 2009, they won their first Test series against a senior Test nation, albeit an unrecognisable West Indies side in the throes of an industrial dispute, while more recently they competed hard in a tri-series against India and Sri Lanka before suffering a set-back on their tour of New Zealand. But even that trip had its notable moments, as Bangladesh posted 408 in their first innings thanks to a maiden century from Mahmudullah, before Shakib's second-innings 100 took them improbably close in their run-chase.
"In every game, I don't look for wins, I look for performances and achievements from our players and I'm getting that more and more with every series," said Siddons. "Most of the guys will say we had a bad series in New Zealand. But I look at the three hundreds we scored and the two five-fors we took, and the way we played out the fifth day of the Test. With one good session, we'd have won the game, and if we'd taken our chances, we might even have won one or maybe two ODIs.
"The achievements every day are what I look for, and that's why I love this job," he added. "Turning up every day, I'm waiting for someone to perform and do something we've been working on. Our boys are 22-23 years old, and you look around the world, most good players at that age are in and out of a team and not performing. I've got a team full of those types of player, and I can see England coming here when they are 26, and people saying you haven't got a chance. Unless they improve a lot."
Before succeeding Dav Whatmore in the summer of 2007, Siddons spent three years in the Australian set-up including a spell as assistant coach to John Buchanan, but the challenge of fine-tuning a team of world-beaters offered nothing like the same job satisfaction as his current role.
"It's a lot tougher in that you go to the games and you're not sure how you'll perform, but it's what makes me turn up to work every day," he said. "I love that part of the game, and that part of coaching, developing players. And [a developing team] is what this team still is. I wouldn't say we are improving every series - we're still a team of 22-23 years old so we're still quite capable of a little slip in a session, or a 5-10 over block where teams exploit us - but we're getting better at not having those bad patches."
With Tamim Iqbal emerging as a fully fledged talent, alongside the maturing Mahmudullah and Shakib, whom Siddons referred to as the "second-best spinner in the world, and the best allrounder", Bangladesh have a side with the raw materials to cause an upset. But one man who won't be taking part is Mohammad Ashraful, who mustered 62 runs in six innings in New Zealand, and has requested - and been granted - a break from the front line.
"I spoke to Ash at the end of the New Zealand series," said Siddons. "He said he wanted a rest and I thought I'd talked him out of it, so I'm not sure what's happened in last three or four days. But he's made his decision and I respect it, but I'd love to have him at 3 and 4 in our Test and ODI teams. He's the little diamond in the rough we are looking for, that we need to step up along with Tamim, Mushfiq [Rahim] and Shakib. Those guys have really stepped up, so if Ash can fill the gap, we're a formidable batting team."
Sunday's first ODI could also see a return to the fray for Bangladesh's leading fast bowler, Mashrafe Mortaza, who has been out of action since July following knee surgery. He got through eight overs in England's second warm-up in Fatullah, and Siddons is ready to put his faith in the medical bulletins, and his own observations from Friday's nets session.
"I saw him running, I wouldn't say he's 100% fit but he's pretty close," he said. "He was bowling beautifully, and saw a little footage of him from the other day and he looked quite good with the new ball. My only concern is how he comes back in the middle overs, but he's a key part of our side when he's fit. So we'll probably roll the dice a bit and give him a game, and hope he comes up trumps with the new ball."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.Feeds: Andrew Miller
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge