Welcome action amid chaos

The Indian Premier League may be cricket's centrifugal force, pulling in eyes, money and attention, but Pakistan and Bangladesh will wait just a bit longer than others before they too are inevitably sucked in. A five-match ODI series awaits, hastily arranged and lacking glamour, but valuable for both nevertheless.

Bangladesh were last in Pakistan, what their management called "a brotherly country", five years ago. They were whitewashed in both the Tests and ODIs, though having pushed Pakistan in the Tests many thought a corner had been turned. That as many people still argue that the corner has yet to be reached indicates perhaps that due progress has not been made. The focus, still, is on what will be rather than what is.

"We are playing well but we are a young side," Mohammad Ashraful, one of the older members of the side, told reporters in Karachi. "We need time, we need a couple of years. If we play [with] the same team for the next 1-2 years we will have a good team." There is merit in those words, especially if you take into account the scare they gave South Africa in a Test match a month ago and the occasional ODI wins they have chalked up in the last two years.

The problem, as coach Jamie Siddons acknowledges, is that wins and performances are only occasional. South Africa recovered to fully wallop them in the remaining Test and ODI series. "Working with Australia, we had 11 world class players there. At Bangladesh have two to three right now and the rest all have the potential to be world class players, so we have a good mix. But I'm looking forward to the next few years. We will be a good side by then. We're looking right now for consistency. Everyone says we are inconsistent but we would like to prove that wrong in this series."

Against Pakistan, they have been consistent, but consistently poor, as only one win in 18 ODIs emphatically asserts. That statistic, however, makes no difference to Siddons, though not in the way many might think. "We get beaten by most sides above us regularly. We have no illusions about ourselves. Pakistan are one of the better teams and every day we play against them we will learn."

Pakistan on the other hand will be pleased to do anything other than washing dirty linen in public, as they have been doing. A series against Uganda, you suspect, would be a welcome distraction from the current circus, as well as relief in an incredibly barren calendar.

The routine pre-series question asked of any visitor these days is what impact the absence of Shoaib Akhtar will have on the opponents. Graeme Smith answered it most perceptively last year, asking whether his absence would suit South Africa or Pakistan. Siddons and Ashraful chose the path of indifference, one that's least likely to make another headline.

"Pakistan are ranked 5th right now and we are 9th so the discrepancy is massive," said Siddons. "We've got to stick to our gameplans. If Pakistan slip up, we'll jump on them. So whoever plays for them, we'll play our own game - it doesn't really matter to us." Ashraful was equally unperturbed. "He has not been in the side a lot for the last few years and they still have quality bowlers in the side. If we play good cricket we can beat any team."

Indeed they can, only they haven't done it often enough. Pakistan is currently a nervy, jittery side, unsure of itself and its natural game. If there is a time for Bangladesh to disprove many a notion, this is as good as any, though the tourists' mood is cautious. "Pakistan were looking for some competitive games," Siddons ended, "and we are here. But results don't matter that much to us, because we'll get a lot out of the series anyway."