Strange as it may sound, both Bangladesh and Pakistan have reason to look forward to the third Test at Multan, which starts on Wednesday (Sept 3). Pakistan's young players have taken the opportunity of getting used to international cricket against the easiest opposition they could face at this level. Bangladesh's cricketers, meanwhile, have shown more gumption that they have displayed in the past. Multan is an opportunity for them to journey further along those respective roads.

For Pakistan, Yasir Hameed and Mohammad Hafeez have made impressive centuries, while Shabbir Ahmed and Umar Gul have gained in confidence while picking up some easy wickets. Inzamam-ul-Haq hasn't taken the easy pickings on offer - yet - but with the rest of the Pakistan batsmen firing, his contribution is not as vital as it would be against any other team.

Bangladesh have fought harder in this series than in recent memory. They even grabbed a first-innings lead in the second Test but, as in the first, they faded in the second half of the match, allowing Pakistan an easy victory. Javed Omar, Hannan Sarkar, Habibul Bashar, Mohammad Ashraful and Rajin Saleh have all batted with application and discipline, though their bowling hasn't yet shown the promise of taking 20 wickets in a Test.

They will be motivated. The Bangladesh team was made to travel to Multan in economy class, while the Pakistan team sat in executive class. The Bangladeshis bristled at what they perceived to be an affront. They do not take kindly to being treated like a second-class cricketing nation, and Rashid Latif's patronising comments about the forthcoming Test would not have helped either.

"I don't want to interfere in their planning," said Latif, "but if Bangladesh does not play positive cricket they will not learn and improve. We allowed them to perform in the first two Tests but here we will try our best to finish it off early."

It is unlikely that Bangladesh will express much gratitude for this kindness. Dav Whatmore, their coach, remained focussed on the task at hand. "I am trying to make sure that the boys do not lose confidence after their slump in the Peshawar Test," he said. "We need to guard the areas of improvement."

It does not help to have a morose captain, though. Khaled Mahmud, under criticism for his allround non-performance, admitted, "After the series I will sit down with the Board's officials and will review my career." It wasn't all defeatism, though. He also said, "When someone criticises our Test status we feel hurt because the improvement is definitely there."

Bangladesh have lost 17 Tests in a row. The momentum seems overwhelming, but somewhere, someday they will stem the rot. Will it be at Multan?

Probable teams

Pakistan 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Yasir Hameed, 4 Inzamam-ul-Haq, 5 Yousuf Youhana, 6 Younis Khan, 7 Rashid Latif (capt and wk), 8 Shoaib Akhtar, 9 Danish Kaneria, 10 Shabbir Ahmed, 11 Umar Gul.

Bangladesh 1 Hannan Sarkar, 2 Javed Omar, 3 Habibul Bashar, 4 Mohammad Ashraful, 5 Rajin Saleh, 6 Alok Kapali, 7 Khaled Mashud (wk), 8 Khaled Mahmud (capt), 9 Mohammad Rafique, 10 Manjural Islam, 11 Mashrafe Mortaza.