Realistic Siddons prepares for English challenge
Bangladesh's coach, Jamie Siddons, is determined to keep the expectations on his young team to an absolute minimum, as they build towards a daunting Test series in England's unfamiliar early-season conditions.
The Bangladesh squad slipped into the country with no fanfare whatsoever late last week, following their group-stage elimination from the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, and on Tuesday they completed a draw in their opening three-day fixture against Surrey at a chilly Oval. But despite their spirited showing against England in home conditions in March, Siddons knows that the forthcoming tour will be a step into the unknown for the majority of the players in the party.
"This is a very tough tour," said Siddons. "The cold over here is ridiculous, and coming from 36 degree heat to that [at The Oval], they found it hard. It's a tough time of year for anyone to cope with the weather, let alone guys used to 36 degrees. It's tricky to find the motivation to go out there, and to get the body going."
Bangladesh acclimatised reasonably well against a weakened Surrey opposition. Jahurul Islam pencilled himself into the Test side with an impressive 159, and the perpetually frustrating Mohammad Ashraful found some timely form with 89 from 141 balls. But the final day of the fixture was one-way traffic as Usman Afzaal carried Surrey to 313 for 3 declared in their second innings, and Siddons admitted that his team would be "smashed" if they didn't learn quickly about bowling in English conditions.
"We spoke about it beforehand, but our bowlers bowled a bit short," said Siddons. "We tried to bang it in and get wickets instead of being patient, and at our pace we can't afford to try to chase wickets, we have to wait for them to make a mistake. All of the boys were pretty excited, both indoors and outdoors, about the swing that's available over here, so I'm not sure why they tried to bang it in."
With further warm-ups against Essex and England Lions to follow, Bangladesh have time enough to tighten their lines and lengths, but despite the encouraging efforts of Jahurul and Ashraful, it is their batting that will be the cause for greatest concern come the Tests - especially given that their star opener, Tamim Iqbal, is struggling to prove his fitness after a wrist injury that limited his participation in the World Twenty20 to a single ineffective appearance against Pakistan.
Tamim is due to visit a London specialist on Wednesday, but if, as Siddons fears, the prognosis is not good, he is likely to be sent home to make room for a replacement opener. And if that happens, the focus will shift ever more squarely onto the senior batsman Ashraful, who missed England's recent visit due to a debilitating loss of form. With a Test average of 22.78 from 53 Tests, his underachievement is plain to see, and Siddons admits he is at a loss to explain Ashraful's failure to develop from the teenage wonder-boy of a decade ago.
"I've given up thinking it's his attitude," said Siddons. "He's always trying, but he gets impatient too easily, and tries to slog the ball when there's an easy single on offer. He always comes back [to the dressing-room] saying 'sorry, sorry', but that's not an answer. We're going to play seven batsmen, so he'll fit in somewhere, but in 30 out of 31 innings, he'll fail, and that's not good stats.
"But I definitely won't put expectations on him," Siddons added. "Right now, he's No. 4 or 5 in terms of contributions - Tamim, Mushfiqur [Rahim], Shakib [Al Hasan] and [Mahmudullah] Riyad are all contributing way more than him, so I'll expect them to carry the burden, and we'll take from Ash whatever he gives us. But we've got young kids like Jahurul who should be allowed to come in at No. 5 and 6, they shouldn't have to go in early to protect the senior guys. My thoughts are that if the senior player is not good enough you don't give them a game, you bring some kids in."
When Bangladesh last toured England in 2005, they were cruelly exposed on seam-friendly wickets by a motivated opposition with their focus squarely on the forthcoming Ashes series. Siddons is hopeful that his team can put up a better fight than their counterparts from that trip, but he's realistic enough to recognise that there's still a yawning gulf between the teams.
"We can't look at beating the best teams in the world," he said. "We can't expect to knock them over - if they play at their best and we play at our best, everything says that they will win, but if we play well and they play really badly, then yes, we'll beat them. The pitches won't be green with grass knee high, because it's a Test match, but all it takes is seven bad shots or seven good balls, and all your batters are gone."