England v Bangladesh, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street June 2, 2005

Bangladesh prepare for daunting task



Matthew Hoggard prepares under the watchful eye of Troy Cooley © Getty Images
It's grim up north, as Southerners are wont to say, but few prospects can have been grimmer than the one facing the Bangladeshis, as they geared up for the second Test at Chester-le-Street on Friday. Under overcast skies - which looked leaden enough to make the new ball sing on a fresh Riverside wicket, but not quite sufficient to cause any much-needed rain delays to aid their cause - Bangladesh prepared for the unpalatable task of salvaging their pride after a desperate first Test.

It will not be an easy task. The most disappointing aspect of the Lord's debacle was not the size of the defeat - in alien conditions, that much had been anticipated long in advance. What was more depressing was the manner of the capitulation. England, by their own admission, bowled woefully in the first hour and yet were gifted a succession of wickets by batsmen who believed they had won the lottery overnight. From Allan Border to Andrew Strauss, many of the most successful cricketers in the game have made a virtue of batting within their limitations - not, as Habibul Bashar demonstrated, by swinging wildly at anything dropped a fraction short or wide.

Bangladesh, like England, have resisted the urge to ring the changes - at least those in the Lord's XI now know what is about to hit them. They will make a late decision on their 16-year-old Mushfiqur Rahim, who sprained his ankle on a flight of stairs, while the seamer, Tapash Baisya, has been added the reckoning after missing the first match with an Achilles injury.

Bangladesh's coach, Dav Whatmore, sounded a warning to his players and the public earlier in the week, when he expressed his concerns about the challenge that awaited at Chester-le-Street. Today, however, he was bullish once again, and scoffed at suggestions that Bangladesh should be stripped of their Test status. "We are a full Test match nation," he said. "That's where we belong and where we will stay,"

The quest for respect is a double-edged sword, however, and the more that Bangladesh demand to be accepted on this tour, the harder they are likely to be slapped back into place. For Michael Vaughan and England, the temptation to experiment with their batting order must be great, seeing as key personnel such as Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones did not get any time in the middle at Lord's.

But instead they have named the same XI, including the redundant Gareth Batty ahead of the seamer Jon Lewis, who would have revelled in these conditions just as Richard Johnson did in 2003 (6 for 33 on debut against Zimbabwe). With the Australians due to arrive midway through the match, now is hardly the time for England to step on what Michael Vaughan metaphysically described as "a potential banana skin".

"You want players to get time in the middle," Vaughan told reporters at Chester-le-Street, "but you've got to be respectful of the game as well. As soon as you start being clever it comes back and bites you." Nevertheless, with Andrew Flintoff fit and firing on all cylinders again after his ankle surgery, the outlook is bleak for Bangladesh. Even his apparently half-pace workout at Lord's last week resulted in five wickets from 14.5 overs.

"It was a huge bonus having him bowl in the first Test," said Vaughan, "and it's an even bigger bonus knowing we can use him just that little bit more now. I wasn't expecting him to be bowling again until maybe halfway through the one-day games, so it just shows how hard he's worked on his rehab and how well the medical staff have done to get him back playing again."

Sadly, it will take more than medical staff to put Bangladesh back together again if this Test follows the same pattern as the first Test. "Given the weather we have had the pitch might be more difficult to negotiate than Lord's," Whatmore reiterated. All he, and the cricket-loving public as a whole, can hope for is that they can put up a fight, however futile.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo