England hope wet balls avoid slips
Whenever England head to this part of the world, someone is sure to be whistling the tune to their subcontinental homesick blues. A sense memory of dusty wickets, searing heat and the swarming menace of spin gives rise to the instinctive conclusion that they will struggle. An unconvincing display on slow, turning pitches in the Caribbean in the weeks prior to the World T20 has reinforced that view but England were preoccupied with another local phenomenon ahead of their game against New Zealand.
Rather than a dry, crumbly strip, there is expected to be a little more pace and bounce in the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury surface. The problem of dew in the evening making it hard for the bowlers to grip will likely be a factor on Saturday, with the match scheduled for 7.30pm local time. Bangladesh's Al-Amin Hossain noted the problem it presented in their game against Nepal in Chittagong on Tuesday and England have come up with a rough-and-ready way to prepare for the worst.
While the batsmen have been training with skinny "half-bats" to hone the ability to middle their shots, a bucket of water is all that will be required to implement the latest brainwave - allowing England to practice throwing and bowling with a wet ball during Friday's training session. The fixture against New Zealand, an in-form team with several dangerous hitters, could also be a slippery encounter but England have been sure to take dew care and attention.
"It looks quite obvious dew is going to play a part," England's captain, Stuart Broad, said. "We're practising today with wet balls, getting the spinners bowling with wet balls, fielding with wet balls. It's not something you do very often - I can't think I've ever done it."
Recalling England's World Cup defeat against Bangladesh on the same ground in 2011, after which Graeme Swann was fined for using insulting language, Broad said that he had been in touch with Swann to ask about difficulties with gripping the ball. "It's something we have to take into consideration because if you go in with three spinners and they can't bowl you've stuffed yourself a bit," he said.
Broad, who was "very confident" of playing in the first game and throughout the tournament after a period resting his troublesome knee, was due to bowl two spells during England's afternoon net session, when the fast bowlers would also attempt to master their cutters and slower deliveries - step forward Jade Dernbach - with a wet ball. Like his New Zealand counterpart, Brendon McCullum, Broad was encouraged by what he had seen during the qualifying round of the pitch, which has been kept fresh by passing storms over the last few days.
"The wicket has gone through a lot better than I thought it would as a quick bowler, so the bouncer may well be a really good ball to bowl," he said. "We've picked up some good information from the ground but we're still not quite sure how much effect the dew will take so we'll have to think on our feet tomorrow night."
Sri Lanka, who play South Africa in the afternoon fixture, are favourites to win Group 1 because of their comfort with the local conditions - they have spent the best part of two months here on tour and playing in the Asia Cup - and the legerdemain practised by Ajantha Mendis, Sachithra Senanayake and Rangana Herath. However, if the ball skids on under lights rather than turns, hunter may become hunted, with Broad suggesting the batsman could look to target the spinners.
Broad said England's habit of starting badly overseas had been discussed - in Australia over the winter, their beginning, middle and end were all pretty bad - and was keen that each member of the XI selected knew their brief in order to adapt quickly, something England failed to do at the previous World T20 in Sri Lanka. Resting his knee due to the effects of patellar tendonitis also allowed Broad a different perspective on England's indifferent recent form.
"You do see things differently when you watch from the stands," he said. "You see how things work, how players like to operate with different fields. It has been good for me to have the three games sat watching and learning, to get really clear on the roles I'd like guys to play."
Aside from a poor run, including heavy T20 series defeats against Australia and West Indies, the lack of someone in the top order to provide muscle comparable to the likes of Aaron Finch, Chris Gayle or even McCullum has been another reason for some to discount England. Having watched Virat Kohli's more subtle dissection of the bowling at first hand during England's second warm-up match against India - Kohli scored 74 off 48 balls with only eight fours - Broad suggested brawn was not the only guarantor of success.
"Twenty20 cricket isn't all about power, it's about skilful placement of the ball and we've got players who can do that," he said. "You'd say Eoin Morgan is up there as one of the best in the world at that, okay he's not got a huge amount of runs in the past two weeks but the tournament is ahead of us and World Cups are made for big players, who like to perform on the biggest stage. Morgs is one of them and we've got some players who can thrive on that."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here