Bangladesh's coach, Jamie Siddons, is braced for the likelihood of a return to form for Kevin Pietersen at some stage during the two-Test series against England, which gets underway at Chittagong on Friday, but believes that his team has the bowlers to keep his attacking instincts at bay.
Pietersen's alarming form slump has been the story of England's tour to date, with just 69 runs from seven innings in all contests since arriving in Dhaka at the end of last month. Moreover, he has been dismissed by spin in each of his last five innings, and having named a squad packed with slow bowlers, including three left-armers in Shakib Al Hasan, Abdur Razzak and Enamul Haque Jr, Bangladesh intends to extend his lean spell for as long as they possibly can.
"I think he'll come out and try to play some shots, which will be good," Siddons told Cricinfo. "He'll either get us or we'll get him early, which would be nice, but I hope he keeps failing because it'll be one less batsman to worry about. It's difficult when you're out of form, as a right-hander in these conditions. Very difficult."
Pietersen's single biggest weakness is against left-arm spin. With the ball turning away from the bat, and with the knowledge of a series of notable dismissals undermining his otherwise unshakeable confidence, he now appears to be in two minds when playing his favourite sweeps and leg-side flicks. In the one-day series he fell to that form of bowling in each of his three innings, and he also succumbed to the part-timer, Mehrab Hossain Jr, in the first innings of the warm-up game at Chittagong.
Siddons confirmed that Razzak, who claimed Pietersen's scalp in two of those ODIs, was the likeliest candidate to partner the captain, Shakib, with Bangladesh's second allrounder, Mahmudullah, set to complete a three-pronged spin attack with his offbreaks. "If he struggles against left-armers, he's got two bloody good ones against him," said Siddons. "He's a great player, there's no doubt about it, at some point in the next four innings he'll have a performance, but hopefully it won't hurt us. We've got to get through all eleven of England's batsmen. KP is just one of them."
Bangladesh have been preparing for the Test series at the National Stadium in Mirpur for the past week, a situation that left Siddons less than impressed with the scheduling, seeing as their opponents have been familiarising themselves with the Chittagong conditions ever since the third ODI on March 5. Nevertheless, he has reported a clean bill of health within the squad, and confirmed that Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain will spearhead the pace attack, just as they did during the one-dayers.
Raqibul Hasan, who starred in the England warm-up with a century and a fifty in consecutive innings, is slated to come in at No. 4, with Junaid Siddique and Aftab Ahmed likely to flank him at 3 and 5 respectively, unless the selectors take a punt and promote the star of the recent New Zealand series, Mahmudullah, from his current No. 8 berth to the top order, in which case Naeem Islam will come in to balance the side.
Either way, there is no place in the set-up for the country's most experienced batsman, Mohammad Ashraful, whose omission from the squad was confirmed shortly after he was bowled for 30 in his second innings of the England warm-up. "At the start of that match it was between Raqibul and Ash, but Raq stood up and made it an easy decision," said Siddons. "Most of us want Ash in the team, but only if he's making runs. We're definitely a better team with him in there making hundreds, and he's had a lot of chances, but unfortunately he can't find his form."
With 53 appearances from a Bangladesh total of 64 Tests, Ashraful is by some distance the country's senior batsman, but Siddons was not worried about the void his absence has created, even though the next most capped player in the starting XI is likely to be the wicketkeeper, Mushfiqur Rahim, with 19. "Experience doesn't count unless you're performing," Siddons said. "Ash's stats just aren't stacking up."
Bangladesh have achieved just three Test victories since their elevation in November 2000, and all of those have come against weak opponents. They start the series as massive outsiders, but Siddons reiterated that performances are more important to him than results.
"Each game is different, each challenge is different," he said. "Our matches are now going five days which is a great start, but for me it's about improvement day by day, game by game, and ironing out our weaknesses. These days, it's not just the one particular thing that is costing us games, we're not playing rash shots anymore, we're getting out fighting which is a good thing.
"But we worry about ourselves," he added. "England are having their ups and downs with new guys coming in from the one-day team. They are trying to find their feet, and our attack is different from the ones they've been playing. If we'll bowl a ball in the right areas, they'll get out. And hopefully they'll get out for less than we make."
Probable Bangladesh team 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Imrul Kayes, 3 Junaid Siddique, 4 Raqibul Hasan, 5 Aftab Ahmed, 6 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 7 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 8 Mahmudullah, 9 Abdur Razzak, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Shafiul Islam.