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October 28, 2003
Sidelined: the injured Stephen Harmison surveys the Chittagong skyline
© Getty Images
Chittagong is a breath of fresh air - in the most literal sense. As Bangladesh's second city, it exudes the same chaotic charm as Dhaka, but with a fraction of the smog and barely a quarter of the population. In this town, nowhere is further than a bicycle-rickshaw ride away, and what few traffic jams are encountered (generally to be found in the winding lanes of the central bazaar) are a relative pleasure - all tinkling bells and jostling colour, and only the merest hint of exhaust fumes.
After three intense weeks of commuting from the centre of Dhaka, a change will be as good as a rest for England. That is just as well, because Bangladesh's purposeful showing in the first Test has put paid to the prospect of any genuine relaxation in the coming days. Instead, England had just Monday evening in which to unpack their belongings and settle into the luxurious Hotel Agrabad, and then it is straight back into the thick of things, with a 9am roll-call for an important net session today, before the match starts tomorrow.
Chittagong's cricket ground - the MA Aziz Stadium - is a two-kilometre bus ride and a hop across the railway line. It is situated halfway up the first hill that England will have encountered in their time in the country, although there were plenty of unforeseen mountains at the Bangabandhu Stadium last week. Not everything in Bangladesh is as flat and unchallenging as the guide-books and form-books would have you believe.
In appearance, the stadium is a far cry from the community centre of the Bangabandhu - it is more of a concrete mock-up of England's own Old Trafford, with a pavilion situated to the side of the wicket, looking towards a solitary double-decker protruding from a low ring of stands. Behind the bowler's arms are a pair of petite press-boxes, while four imposing floodlights complete the scene. The Manchester weather even dropped in for a brief visit as well, as Chittagong was drenched by more of those rains with which England are now so familiar. But the sun returned to boil away the worst of the downpour, and a prompt start is expected tomorrow.
With a day of preparation remaining, the pitch (either of two being put together by the groundsman) has something for everyone - an even, sunbaked surface for the batsmen, a generous covering of grass for the seamers, and one or two inviting canyons on a spinner's length as well. It seems designed to increase England's anxieties about their bowling line-up, which was the butt of all criticisms of Saturday's hard-fought victory.
Talking of hard-fought victories, it was another edgy England triumph - that of the all-conquering rugby team - that dominated the weekend sports coverage. Their unforeseen difficulties against Samoa, however, were manna from Melbourne for England's coach Duncan Fletcher, whose inexperienced side are in nothing approaching the class of Clive Woodward's ensemble. "That match proves you can't take anyone lightly," said Fletcher. "Unlike most people, we never underestimated the Bangladeshis. If we'd just flown in and treated these matches as a warm-up [for Sri Lanka], we'd have been in for a fright."
Nevertheless, England are sure to have half an eye on the Sri Lankan leg of the tour when they ponder their options for this match. Bangladesh's unease against raw pace and probing outswing was all too apparent as Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard shared 16 wickets and several stiff limbs at Dhaka.
It was, therefore, a hammer blow when Harmison was ruled out of the side today with a recurrence of an old back injury, which flared up during the delayed 45-minute flight from Dhaka. Either Richard Johnson or Martin Saggers will deputise - and in fact both of them could play. Bangladesh's relative certainty against England's spinners at Dhaka carried them to the brink of an unlikely upset. And for that reason the least impressive of the two slow men - Ashley Giles - may be sacrificed in favour of an extra fast bowler.
In an ideal world, England would prefer to give Giles and Gareth Batty another chance to cement their partnership ahead of their crucial roles in Sri Lanka next month. But, happily for the reputation of Test cricket, Bangladesh (who have named an unchanged side) just aren't going to let it happen that way.
Bangladesh (from): 1 Hannan Sarkar, 2 Javed Omar, 3 Habibul Bashar, 4 Rajin Saleh, 5 Alok Kapali, 6 Mushfiqur Rahman, 7 Khaled Mashud (wk), 8 Khaled Mahmud (capt), 9 Mohammad Rafique, 10 Mashrafe Mortaza, 11 Enamul Haque jnr, 12 Mohammad Moniruzzaman.
England (from): 1 Marcus Trescothick, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Mark Butcher, 4 Nasser Hussain, 5 Graham Thorpe, 6 Rikki Clarke, 7 Chris Read (wk), 8 Gareth Batty, 9 Richard Johnson, 10 Matthew Hoggard, 11 Martin Saggers, 12 Ashley Giles.