There was a time you could predict England's tactics.

You knew that the new ball would be taken by Stuart Broad and James Anderson - it was that way for the best part of eight years. You knew that Graeme Swann would come on just before lunch and you knew that he and Anderson would bowl in tandem at the start of many sessions. Even the field - two slips and a gully - was predictable. England had experienced players and they were - personality clashes notwithstanding - pretty easy to captain.

Those days are gone. England had a new opening batsman in Chittagong - Alastair Cook;s ninth opening partner since Andrew Strauss' retirement - and, in the second innings, opened the bowling with two spinners. For this tour, at least, every habit and convention has been shelved.

This has made life a challenge for Cook. While he has the substantial benefit of a team containing three decent all-rounders - you could make a decent argument to suggest both Mike Brearley and Michael Vaughan owe some of their captaincy reputation to the presence of fine all-rounders within their teams - he also has three relatively inexperienced spinners in his side. That means he has to captain as never before.

True, he led England to success in India in 2012 as the captain of a spin-led attack. But he did so with two highly experienced, highly proficient spinners. While it would be an exaggeration to state he could just throw them the ball and let them go about their work, they certainly required a great deal less care than the trio he will have in Mirpur.

Confirmation that Zafar Ansari will join Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in the side for the second Test (Steven Finn also replaces the rested Stuart Broad) means Cook will have three relatively inexperienced spinners to captain. While Ansari, who Cook compared to Ravindra Jadeja on Thursday, tends to bowl wicket-to-wicket, none of them can offer the holding role their captain requires.

This means that Cook has to approach matters in a different way. He has to use his seamers - admirably fit and reliable as they are - to retain control in the way that other captains might use their spinners. He will also turn to his seamers if there is any chance at all the ball will reverse. While Bangladesh look set to play just one seamer, England look more comfortable with three. It's not the conventional way to win in Asia, but it's their way and it probably represents their best chance.

Ansari is an interesting selection. As a left-arm spinner, he will take the ball away from the right-handers which, with India having a top-order containing only one left-hander, could be crucial. Cook was his maiden first-class wicket - "he tried to reverse sweep me and dragged on," Ansari recalled on Thursday. "It wasn't a magical moment." - and, had it not been for cricket, he reckons he would have tried to gain a PHD. Modern sportsmen don't say that very often. He has a great opportunity to stake a claim for long-term selection here.

England, and Cook in particular, learned plenty from Chittagong. In the first innings, England spent the best part of 50 overs trying to look after the ball with a view to find conventional swing. In the second innings, after opening with spin from both ends, they were happy to scuff up the ball as soon as possible to accelerate the process where reverse was achievable.

Cook will also have learned a little about how to get a little bit more from his spinners. With the ball turning sharply, Moeen was asked to bowl, at times, with a 6-3 or even a 7-2 field. That made sense, too.

But Moeen doesn't have a huge amount of experience of bowling in such conditions. He rarely played on turning surfaces for Worcestershire - certainly not at New Road - and when he did, he was rarely the first spinner for his captain. So the pressure of bowling to a sparsely populated off-side field may have played on his mind a little and resulted in him bowling just a little bit more leg-side than was ideal. While he bowled several unplayable deliveries, he also bowled quite a few loose ones and conceded more runs per over than any other spinner in the match.

The answer? England may well utilise one more fielder on the off-side for Moeen in Mirpur. He won't see much of the ball in the covers, but he will give Moeen the confidence to bowl the off-stump line required and help him optimise the value of his spin. It's not ideal, but England aren't in an ideal situation and there is little point expecting their spinners to be the finished articles they might have been a decade or so ago.

There were times in Chittagong when Cook attempted to give Rashid confidence by bowling him without a deep point as cover for the first time in his Test career. Once again, though, it seems to have persuaded Rashid to bowl further on the leg-side. Rashid has many qualities, not least an ability to turn the ball both ways in circumstances in which none of his colleagues can turn it at all, but it seems optimistic to believe he will ever be a tight bowler. As part of a three-man spin attack, he can be an asset, but captaining him is a significant challenge.

It was noticeable in Chittagong that, with the game coming to its climax, Cook turned to his seamers. He was right, too. In Ben Stokes and Broad, Cook knew he had bowlers who would concede runs slowly and backed them to create the chances required to win.

This does not reflect too well on the spinners. They are the ones who are meant to clinch the game in such circumstances. It was the fourth-innings of a game in which the ball had turned from the start on a fifth-day pitch. It was exactly the scenario spinners are meant to dream about.

But Cook was right. He knew that, if he utilised Moeen or Rashid, they could leak 12 in an over. And he knew that, if he utilised Gareth Batty, batsmen reared on such bowling might look to attack him. So he played to England's strengths and trusted in his seamers and reverse swing.

That does not meant he got every decision right in Chittagong. Perhaps Batty was removed from the attack for too long on the basis that he was less dangerous against right-handers. Perhaps, in protecting the boundaries, he allowed too many opportunities for singles.

But Cook isn't operating with a handful of aces on this tour. He has some talented but flawed spinners at his disposal. There's no point blaming him every time one of them bowls a full-toss or long-hop. He has to nurse them through spells. He has to juggle and protect. He can't trust them in the way he once trusted Swann and Panesar.

Cook has probably never gained the respect he deserves as a Test captain. But if he can cajole his talented but imperfect side to success over the next few weeks, it will be a truly great achievement.