England taking nothing for granted
After what feels like the longest phoney war in history, England's summer finally gets underway for real tomorrow, when two confident and competitive teams come head to head in a must-win clash in Nottingham. Trent Bridge is the venue for the first of three floodlit matches in the NatWest Series, and the stakes could not be higher for England and ... err ... Bangladesh ...?
It's been a surreal and eye-catching week for cricket. Australia's astonishing run of defeats, which reached its nadir at Cardiff on Saturday, has been compulsive viewing, with incessant exposure on both the front and back pages of every newspaper in England. It is a measure of how badly they have stumbled that Sunday's loss to the Poms was widely regarded as a hugely improved performance.
Nobody truly doubts that the Aussies will rise again before the series, let alone the Ashes, are out, but for the moment their wobble has turned a disgracefully mismatched tournament into the most enthralling one-day jamboree in years. Call it schadenfreude if you will, but until this tour, the so-called lottery version of the game might as well have been sponsored by Camelot - because the odds of an Australian defeat, like the jackpot, were roughly 14 million-to-1.
Consequently, Bangladesh's rollover at Cardiff has provided an improbable spice to tomorrow's encounter at Trent Bridge. During the Test series, Michael Vaughan was fond of referring to "potential banana skins" when trying to be polite about the challenge posed by Bangladesh, but on Saturday night, "no comment" was the best, and wisest, words he could come up with. With rain in the air (and the capricious prospect of batting under lights, should his form at the toss fail him), Vaughan will be unexpectedly wary of the side whom England trounced by ten wickets at The Oval last week.
Nothing is unthinkable anymore, but it is not merely stating the obvious to suggest that a repeat performance is improbable. Bangladesh have thrived on their diminished expectations in this tournament - and when the sun shone at Sophia Gardens they soared - but it has taken twenty years for their victories tally to reach double-figures. Two in four days would be stretching fantasy to its limits.
What is more, they are up against the team that has been giving them short shrift all season. Vaughan's men have been careful to maintain a professional ruthlessness without veering towards complacency, but the weekend's events will have been a timely reminder that nothing in this game can ever be taken for granted.
The only error England made in their first match against Bangladesh was to lose their focus at 76 for 6, and allow the tail to recover to a competitive total of 190. It was a similar mindset to the one that led Ricky Ponting to bat first in juicy conditions at Cardiff, but it didn't prove nearly so ruinous. Should Vaughan win the toss tomorrow, he would be ill-advised to field first in a bid to wrap things up nice and quickly.
England do, nevertheless, have a few issues to resolve, not least the lack of time in the middle that Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones have enjoyed so far this summer. Neither lasted long on Sunday, nor at the Rose Bowl during the Twenty20, so there may be some temptation to tinker with the order and allow them a hit from Nos. 3 and 4 respectively. With Pietersen and his 162-run average lurking in the middle of the innings, England do have the most enviable of failsafes.
The return of Ashley Giles is a boon as well. His pivotal presence at No. 8 hasn't yet been missed, but his restrictive bowling spells certainly have - it has been more through luck than judgment that the part-timers, Paul Collingwood and Michael Vaughan, have not been better exploited. Assuming his dodgy hip doesn't suffer a late relapse, he should return to the side in place of Vikram Solanki.
But for Bangladesh, the afterglow of the Australia triumph will live on long, regardless of what happens tomorrow. "There will be no mental block in the next game," promised Habibul Bashar, one of the architects of their victory. "We are really confident now." England have been forewarned. The momentum of their summer demands that there can be no slip-up.
England (probable) 1 Marcus Trescothick, 2 Andrew Strauss, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt), 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Andrew Flintoff, 6 Kevin Pietersen, 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Ashley Giles, 9 Jon Lewis, 10 Darren Gough, 11 Steve Harmison.
Bangladesh (probable) 1 Nafees Iqbal, 2 Javed Omar, 3 Tushar Imran, 4 Mohammad Ashraful, 5 Habibul Bashar (capt), 6 Aftab Ahmed, 7 Mohammad Rafique, 8 Khaled Mashud (wk), 9 Mashrafe Mortaza, 10 Tapash Baisya, 11 Nazmul Hossain.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo