Mike Holmans October 6, 2008

No respite for Bangladesh

Even when they bowled well enough to restrict Australia to a sub-200 total, a feat which would give most teams a pretty fair chance of winning, they lost by a huge margin

Are you ready for the historic series which starts on Thursday? No, not that one, the other one. The ODI series between Bangladesh and New Zealand will be the first in which the batsmen can disrupt the fielding captain’s plans by demanding a Powerplay.

This rule change opens up tactical challenges for both sides. Fielding captains will have to at least consider holding certain bowlers in reserve until the batsmen’s Powerplay is taken, and the batsmen will be seeking to take the Powerplay at the most advantageous point. It remains to be seen whether it will make much difference.

Under the previous dispensation, it was uncommon for fielding captains to deviate from using the first 20 overs as Powerplay. It is entirely possible that batsmen will decide that the best time to take the Powerplay is almost always going to be immediately following the mandatory ball change, with the consequence that ODIs adopt a different but still predictable rhythm.

Even so, we are unlikely to get any useful intelligence about it from Bangladesh v New Zealand.

When Bangladesh visited Australia last month, the Australians looked short of cricket and were weakened by the absence of two or three key players, yet Bangladesh were incinerated. Even when they bowled well enough to restrict Australia to a sub-200 total, a feat which would give most teams a pretty fair chance of winning, they lost by a huge margin. Against the Black Caps, another massacre is extremely likely.

Daniel Vettori made more than the usual ritual noises about taking Bangladesh seriously as his team left NZ. He knows enough history to sympathise with Bangladesh’s plight, recalling that it had taken 26 years for New Zealand to register their first Test win, and saying that the experience of playing against better opposition was central to a team’s development.

The trouble is that this is a partial reading of history.

The value of New Zealand’s early tours to England was not to be found in three gala Test matches where the tourists could sometimes scrape a draw in the allotted three days but in nearly thirty matches against the counties and invitational sides like MCC or HDG Leveson Gower’s XI, which were usually genuinely competitive.

Though counties might rest their premier fast bowler, especially in the later stages of the season when his energy was better preserved for the Championship, they would generally be at full strength. Top teams like Yorkshire and Lancashire would beat them while weak ones like Somerset and Northants would usually lose; thus the tourists would be able, in the modern jargon, to take plenty of positives from the tour even though they had largely failed in the Tests.

No such educational opportunity now exists for Bangladesh, but without one, they seemed doomed to wander the international circuit getting thrashed, thereby acquiring the dubious skill of losing cricket matches and having it drummed into them that they are not good enough to compete at the international level.

One could open up, though, if the various promoters of Twenty20 competitions had the imagination. I think I would back Middlesex to beat them, but I’d only make that a 60% chance compared to the 99.5% chance of a major national team winning. A three-way between the Stanford 20/20 winners, the English Twenty20 winners and Bangladesh would be unpredictable, nor do we really know how well Bangladesh would do if invited to the Champions League when it expands.

Admittedly, this would not give them the experience of competitive first-class cricket I believe they require if they are ever to make a decent fist of Test cricket, but it would be a start.