Michael Carberry and James Tredwell set for debuts
Michael Carberry and James Tredwell are set to make their Test debuts at Chittagong on Friday, and there could yet be a third new cap in the Middlesex seamer, Steven Finn, after England's captain, Alastair Cook, hinted that his first match in charge would involve a twin spin attack and a full complement of six specialist batsmen.
At the conclusion of England's three-day warm-up against Bangladesh A on Tuesday, England had appeared to be leaning towards a five-bowler option, with Finn the quiet front-runner to join Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad, if he regains fitness, in a three-prong pace attack. However, concerns about the form of Kevin Pietersen, coupled with a genuine respect for the quality of Bangladesh's spin bowlers, looks to have convinced the selectors to take the safety-first option.
Bangladesh's captain, Shakib Al Hasan, is expected to link up with his fellow left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak, as well as the offspinning allrounder Mahmudullah, in a slow-bowling attack that has the potential to keep England's batsmen under wraps, as they demonstrated in the second ODI at Mirpur last week, when it required a performance of rare quality from Eoin Morgan to guide England to a nerve-racking two-wicket win.
"In their home conditions, Bangladesh are a very competitive side and that second one-dayer went very close to the wire," said Cook. "Their spinners will be a huge threat, and for us to take them lightly would be a cardinal sin. We all know about the sub-continent and the need to play spin well for a long period of time, because games can tend to take a lot of time to get going and then change very quickly in a short time. The playing of spin is a huge issue and the England side over the last four years has made a huge effort to improve."
The expectation that spin will be the dominant feature of the Test may well have encouraged England to believe that three seamers will be surplus to requirements, especially given the success that the uncapped Tredwell enjoyed against Bangladesh A this week, claiming eight wickets in the match, five of which came in an unbroken 27-over spell in the first innings. What is more, they have in Graeme Swann one of the form bowlers in the world game - a man at No. 5 in the ICC rankings, and fresh from a Man-of-the-Series performance in South Africa.
"Obviously spin will play a huge part so they'll obviously bowl the bulk of the overs," said Cook, although he did backtrack slightly on that assertion. "There's a high possibility we'll play two spinners, but we have not ruled out playing three seamers either. The key is also to reverse-swing the ball which we obviously have done well over the last year. Hopefully we can bowl well with it because in these conditions, if we don't get the ball moving, it becomes a lot easier. We'll need to look at the pitch, because we've got to make sure over the next 24 hours we get the balance of our side right."
If England do choose to go in with four bowlers, then the indefatigable Bresnan is sure to be one of the seam-bowling options, having impressed with his stamina and improved accuracy since being elevated to the full Test squad. The management would dearly love the other man to be Broad, who looked to be getting back to his best following last week's back spasm as he cranked up his pace for ten overs in the nets, albeit while wearing a back brace. But with Graham Onions officially ruled out of selection, the final decision on Broad will be taken as late as possible.
"It's definitely not ideal that Broad has not bowled [competitively]," said Cook. "With a back spasm it could come back very quickly, so today's a massive day with his fitness. I think he bowled nine overs yesterday and two heavy spells today so we'll see how he does. That's another one of the selection issues we'll need to play by ear and we'll see how he is tomorrow morning."
If Broad fails to come through his fitness test, then the temptation could well be to go with Finn, even though he has been in the country for less than a week. He picked up three wickets in 18 overs during the warm-up match and impressed all onlookers with his pace, bounce and accuracy.
"Steven flew in the day before and then played," said Cook. "I was very impressed by him. I've seen him a lot for Middlesex when I was playing for Essex so knew what he could do. But I was very impressed by how he reacted to the conditions which are different to the English pitches. He adapted very quickly and that's the hallmark of an international cricketer. He has a huge future."
Whether Cook opens on Friday alongside Jonathan Trott or, as now expected, Carberry, he is unfazed at the prospect of being the senior partner, and seeing as he batted impressively in the one-dayers with two fifties and a thirty in three innings, he has plenty reason to be confident. "It makes my job different, but we all know batting," he said. "It can be a very individual game as well. However you bat you try and build a partnership, but that can change anyway if you lose a wicket at the other end. It's always down to the individual as a batter to make sure that he takes on that responsibility himself."
One way or another, the permutations have given Cook plenty to ponder as he prepares to become the 79th player to captain England in a Test match. "I will be nervous but also proud that not many people have done what I'm about to do," he said. "Hopefully I can do a good job. I'm genuinely excited but feel a bit more settled now, though for me it's a huge challenge as captain. We've come here to win both one-dayers and Tests and we've done the first job very well. We've got the second part now and I know the lads want to come back here and win the Tests."
"Andy [Flower]'s been exceptional alongside me," Cook added. "He's taken a lot on and he's trying to take a lot of pressure off me as a captain as he can. He's tried to keep me away from decisions away from cricket, and he's been superb like that. But over the next 48 hours we will sit down and chat to get a crucial balance to the side. I've enjoyed the extra responsibility and making those decisions alongside Andy Flower. I've enjoyed making those decisions and so far we've made the right ones.
"But if we take Bangladesh lightly we're going to come unstuck," he added. "We all know their spinners are excellent bowlers and we've seen a guy [Raqibul Hasan] got a hundred here in the three-day game, and in Tamim [Iqbal] they have some very dangerous players. It's our job as a side not to take them lightly, and play cricket as well as we did in the one-dayers."
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.