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Left-arm spin test awaits England's top order in powerplay

Buttler says England could even shuffle the batting order by promoting Dawid Malan or Moeen Ali

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
You're an international captain walking out to the field hoping to limit the damage against two of the world's most destructive T20 openers: Jason Roy is on strike, with Jos Buttler at the bowler's end. Who do you throw the ball to?
Increasingly, captains are settling on the same answer: a left-arm spinner. Roy and Buttler have opened together in 12 T20Is in the last 18 months and teams have opened the bowling with slow left-arm spin in seven of those innings, looking to turn the ball away from the outside edge and denying them pace on the ball in the powerplay.
That run was extended in England's opening T20 World Cup fixture against West Indies on Saturday night, with Akeal Hosein taking the new ball and bowling four overs off the reel. On Wednesday they play Bangladesh, who fielded two left-arm spinners in Nasum Ahmed and Shakib Al Hasan in their first Super 12s game against Sri Lanka; given Nasum's first-over wicket in that game - and Bangladesh's obsessive focus on match-ups - England have been preparing for another early test.
"We prepare specifically for the opposition and also for the conditions we face," Buttler said on Tuesday ahead of England's optional training session at the ICC Academy in Dubai. "I think spin is obviously going to play a huge part in this tournament, and of course Bangladesh have a couple of left-arm spinners, so we've been practising against that lots in the nets and trying to get some plans in place.
"I think it's something we'll see throughout this tournament, spin playing a prevalent part of the powerplay. Of course the challenge is the ball spinning away from the bat - it's a good match-up in T20 cricket. Obviously with the new ball, some can skid on with the angle, and potentially there may be a little bit of spin as well."
Both batters have worked hard on their method against left-arm spin - particularly Roy, who displayed his range by thumping Hosein over extra cover for six on Saturday night - and their strike rates facing it in the first six overs are almost identical. Buttler's is 136.13 (in all T20s since the last World Cup), a shade below Roy's 136.32; the difference is that Buttler has averaged 54 against it, compared to Roy's 26.84.
"It's about trying to be really clinical picking length and looking to be positive with that option," Buttler explained, while leaving open the idea that another batter - potentially Dawid Malan or Moeen Ali - could shuffle up the order if England struggle against left-arm spin early on. "I think one strength of our team is the flexibility of our order," he said. "If that became the trend, I guess we could try to counter that with a change of order as well."
Bizarrely, Wednesday's fixture will be the first time England and Bangladesh will meet in T20Is, after 21 ODIs and 10 Test matches between them. Buttler said that England were fully aware of the "spin-heavy" side that they were coming up against but that their main focus was on themselves.
"We know the challenges they'll pose," he said. "We've played against them lots in 50-over cricket and they're a dangerous side. They've got a lot of experience in T20 cricket as well, some very good players, playing quite a specific style which is unique to them. We're focused obviously on trying to plan for the opposition but at the same time we're focused on ourselves, trying to get our level of intensity to the place it needs to be.
"Generally they are a spin-heavy side and have a lot of fingerspinners with great experience such as Shakib Al Hasan who has played a huge number of T20 games all around the world. Generally their batsmen, as a rule, tend to be very strong square of the wicket, and players such as Shakib, Mushfiqur [Rahim] and Mahmudullah, they've been around for a long while.
"Mustafizur [Rahman] is a threat with his left-arm bowling and excellent slower balls. They're a team full of match winners. They're a strong team and in the last few years, especially at home, they have had a lot of success in T20 cricket. Coming to conditions here, it will be quite familiar to the players in terms of what they face at home, so we are expecting a tough challenge."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98