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May 28, 2004
On paper, the St Lucia Test and the series should be a cakewalk for West Indies. But given how inconsistent and poor they have been in recent times, it could well be a banana skin. Bangladesh are unrecognisable from the rabble that disgraced themselves, the game and their fans during last year's World Cup, thanks in no small measure to the coaching of Dav Whatmore, while West Indies are just coming off a Test series where they were annihilated by England.
The one-day series might have ended 3-0 in West Indies' favour, but at least two of those games - especially the nail-biting opener - could have gone either way. And though Bangladesh didn't do themselves justice in the three-day match that followed, they have enough ability in their side to punish any complacency from the West Indies.
With the exception of the Antigua Test match against England - a dead rubber, with nothing at stake but pride and averages - it's been a while since West Indies batted with any real conviction. Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan are still maddeningly inconsistent, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul veers between limpet-like adhesion - runs are almost incidental - and a cavalier approach. For Dwayne Smith, this two-Test series is a perfect opportunity to ease himself into the international groove. Steve Harmison and friends - who he will encounter in England in July - will certainly pose far more difficult questions than Tapash Baisya and his cohorts.
It looks altogether more promising on the bowling front. Jermaine Lawson is back, hopefully without that obvious kink in his action, while Fidel Edwards and Tino Best impressed in patches against England when they relied on intelligence rather than bluster.
Bangladesh's chances will once again revolve around the batting of Habibul Bashar, Mohammad Ashraful and Rajin Saleh. Bashar had a marvellous series in Pakistan last year, but the responsibilities of captaincy have weighed him down in recent times. And while both Saleh and Ashraful have the potential to compete against the very best, neither has yet shown the levels of concentration required to change the course of a Test match.
Baisya, who generates decent pace despite possessing a frail frame, is the pick of the pace bowlers, though the star performer could well be Manjural Islam Rana, the left-arm spinner who has caught the eye since coming into the side. West Indies have a long history of being vulnerable to spin, and his guile could be just what Bangladesh need to tear up the form book.
This though is a team that has yet to master the art of winning. The fact that they have come far closer to that goal in recent times is testament to the work that Whatmore has done. But the journey is nowhere near complete, and that lack of familiarity with the winning habit should ensure that West Indies salvage something from a desperately disappointing home season.
West Indies 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Devon Smith, 3 Brian Lara (capt), 4 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Dwayne Smith, 7 Ridley Jacobs (wk), 8 Tino Best, 9 Fidel Edwards, 10 Jermaine Lawson, 11 Pedro Collins.
Bangladesh 1 Habibul Bashar (capt), 2 Rajin Saleh, 3 Hannan Sarkar, 4 Shahriar Hossain, 5 Mohammad Ashraful, 6 Alok Kapali, 7 Mushfiqur Rahman, 8 Khaled Mahmud, 9 Khaled Mashud (wk), 10 Mohammad Rafique, 11 Manjural Islam Rana, 12 Faisal Hossain, 13 Tapash Baisya, 14 Tareq Aziz, 15 Abdur Razzaq.
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