Friday sees the England team back in action after a break that scarcely warrants the term. To put it into context, they begin the ODI series in Bangladesh on October 7th. In 2017, they will finish their home international season on 29th September. It’s been pointed out before that England’s schedule is beyond ridiculous, and irrespective of all the other matters around whether England were to tour at all, it would be unsurprising if some within the England camp were hoping for it to be cancelled for no other reason than to provide a more meaningful break.
Some players are missing anyway of course, Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan deciding not to tour, while James Anderson is injured, and in so being thoroughly justifying the medical team once again who advised so firmly against his selection during the English summer. If this series feels like a warm up for the India tour, it’s not helped by the lack of any scheduled preparatory matches before the first Test in Rajkot; the implication that Bangladesh will provide what is needed is hard to avoid. Nevertheless, despite the debates over the security issues, Bangladesh as a cricket nation desperately needed it to go ahead. If England had not agreed to go, the likelihood of other countries visiting would take a big hit. There may be lots of criticism about how deserving Bangladesh have been over their Test status in the last decade, but losing home matches would be a body blow to the prospects of the game there. Cricket is not in the healthiest state it could be, and while Pakistan reaching the number one ranking (since overtaken by India) while playing in exile might be a notable achievement, it doesn’t mean it’s a template for others to follow.
This series comprises three one day internationals and two Tests, but few in England will be excited about it. That isn’t the point though, and while it is easy to play a game of whataboutery, whether it be concerning Ireland’s treatment or the actions of the ICC, for the game to have any chance, the weaker and poorer members of the international firmament need to play against the rest, and play at home. On my recent travels I had the opportunity to talk to a number of people from Bangladesh, hoteliers, ground handlers and so forth, and while this cricket tour is not something from which they expect to see any business, the very fact that it is happening at all was clearly uppermost in their thoughts. In difficult times even the most peripheral action can have an impact on the future and on the degree of confidence in the future. They need this, and they need it badly.
England will expect to win, and although Bangladesh’s progress is uneven, they are even more hampered by having not played international cricket since March’s World T20. In a time when the ECB are heavily criticised for grinding their players into the dust in an attempt to extract the maximum financial return, it is easy to forget that other countries might regard that as a nice problem to have.
This tour will be low key on the field, and all hopes are that it will be equally low key off it. Yet for England fans the selections of Zafar Ansari and Ben Duckett will be of interest, as will the performance of some of the bowlers given the challenges ahead. Chris Woakes has had the kind of summer he would have dreamed about, but rising to the challenge of sub-continental pitches will be something new to deal with. How he does that, particularly in the absence of Anderson, will provide an indication as to how competitive England will be in India. The same can be said of the spin attack – the recall of Gareth Batty doesn’t inspire great confidence in the potential amongst the younger players, but dealing with the here and now rather than chasing a future that never arrives is perhaps something England haven’t done enough of in recent times.
However it turns out on the field, this tour says more than just about cricket, and perhaps that is the most important thing. The debate about the rights and wrongs of players going, not going, how the ECB handled that, how the cricketing press responded to that has been done and not too many came out of it with a great deal of credit. The matches themselves can at least provide a respite from that.