Friday March 12, 2010
Start time 9.30am (03.30GMT)
It's been so far, so good for England in Bangladesh, albeit with the occasional fright along the way in the one-day series and a troublesome list of injuries to their quick bowlers. Even though their strike power has been reduced they should still have too much class for the home side over this short series, but it's unlikely that success will come in the form of three-day thrashings.
The problem for Bangladesh in Test cricket has been sustaining a level of performance throughout the duration of a game. They can bowl well for a session or two, a batsman can hit a flowing fifty (or even a hundred) and they can have the opposition sweating, but the killer blow almost never arrives.
There were prime examples in the recent series against India when Shahadat Hossain's pace rocked India in the first Test before the hosts were eventually overpowered. In the second Tamim Iqbal hit a sparkling 151 but by then Bangladesh were so far adrift in the match it couldn't save them.
However, as Jamie Siddons is often at pains to point out, he doesn't count success in the wins/losses column, but more in the development he can witness in the team. In the likes of Tamim, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and the in-form Mahmudullah there is the core of a useful team which certainly has the ability to cause England some uncomfortable moments. But life in Bangladesh cricket is never simple and Raqibul Hasan's walkout two days before the match was far from ideal preparation.
As in the one-day series, England are in the tricky position of not really being able to gain too much. If they lose it will be classed as a major embarrassment (and even a drawn Test would be a disappointment) while victory will be followed with the "it's only Bangladesh" statements.
In a sense, then, the injuries to the pace attack have injected some added interested to this match. It is a chance to see what the bench strength is like - how much has Tim Bresnan improved? Is Steven Finn the tall quickie they have been yearning for? Is Michael Carberry the rightful reserve batsman? How about James Tredwell's offspin? All four of those names could play and Alastair Cook hinted Carberry and Tredwell were both very close to debuts.
Again, as with whatever success the team has, individual achievements will be downgraded in some quarters due to the opposition. However, that is assuming England do manage to complete the expected victory. Everything suggests they will, but you never quite know.
Form guide (last five completed matches)
Watch out for...
Alastair Cook has made a promising impression on his first tour as captain, managing to overcome some tricky situations in the one-day series and also maintaining his form with the bat which suggests he is managing to balance his workload. Test matches, though, stretch a captain to his limits, especially in foreign conditions and even more so without a full-strength attack. Will he be inventive, proactive or reactive? If England do spend a long time in the field how will his batting react? The next few days will be an interesting time for Cook.
Bangladesh think they have the wood on Kevin Pietersen and it will be fascinating to see Shakib Al Hasan's tactics when the England batsman walks out. There are good odds that the Bangladesh captain will bring himself on to bowl straight away to exploit Pietersen's bizarre weakness against left-arm spin. However, beyond that head-to-head Shakib is vital for Bangladesh. With both bat and ball he is a stand-out performer and registered his maiden Test century against New Zealand last month. Leading Bangladesh at the age of 22 is a huge task, but so far it hasn't affected Shakib's performances.
Bangladesh's plans were hit a severe blow when Raqibul Hasan stunned the team by announcing his retirement after practice on Wednesday. His place in the squad has gone to Jahurul Islam, who scored 117 and 59 in the final of their domestic competition last week, but Aftab Ahmed will take over at No. 4 in the final XI. Mahmudullah, who impressed with a series of fine performances at No. 8 in New Zealand last month, moves up to No. 5, with Shadahat Hossain replacing Shafiul Islam as Rubel Hossain's new-ball partner. With four spinners to rotate, however, neither man is likely to do much more than take the shine off the ball.
Bangladesh 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Imrul Kayes, 3 Junaid Siddique, 4 Aftab Ahmed, Mahmudullah, 6 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 7 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 8 Naeem Islam, 9 Abdur Razzak, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Shadahat Hossain
Six batsman, four bowlers? Five batsmen, five bowlers? Two seamers, two spinners? Three quicks, two spinners? Or just one spinner? There are plenty of permutations for England to consider, but Cook hinted towards the first and a duel spin attack. That would mean debuts for Carberry and Tredwell, but it would be a huge gamble to have just two frontline seamers if one of those is Broad who recently suffered back spasms. His recent nets sessions have been encouraging, however, and England seem set to take the gamble.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Michael Carberry, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Tim Bresnan, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Tredwell
Pitch and conditions
Everyone expects the pitch to turn, especially as it tends to take a bunsen of the most raging variety before England consider two spinners. The bounce in Bangladesh tends to be on low side, however, so it will be hard work for the pacemen and a case of batsmen cashing in during the first innings.
Stats and Trivia
Bangladesh have played seven Tests at the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, losing six and drawing one, a rain-affected clash against India in 2007
Their record includes a huge 465-run defeat against Sri Lanka in 2009, the fifth-largest defeat in terms of runs in Test history
Alastair Cook will become the 79th England captain and the fifth-youngest
"If he struggles against left-armers, he's got two bloody good ones against him."
Bangladesh's coach, Jamie Siddons, looks forward to testing Kevin Pietersen's mettle against slow bowling
"Their spinners will be a huge threat, and for us to take them lightly would be a cardinal sin."
England's captain, Alastair Cook, is guarded against complacency