Why The Phantom Menace. It’s a prequel to the best ones, innit?
There’s something about the commencement of a winter test tour that gets the old fires burning in DmitriWorld. It has long been a tradition of tuning into matches at ungodly hours, or waking up to news of either stirring deeds or abject failure. Of trying to piece together what might have gone on from the overnight score to the score at the time I rise from my pit. In short, it’s a bit of bloody good fun. Unless you have to write about it!
However, as is rapidly becoming apparent, the world of cricket is changing, and tests are crammed into increasingly shrinking windows. In the space of just over two months, England will play SEVEN test matches, in very hot conditions, on alien pitches to our way of playing, and with the evident possibility that we face challenges we cannot match. While this test is going on, West Indies will be playing Pakistan, Zimbabwe will commence against Sri Lanka, in a few weeks Australia face South Africa, then we meet with India not far into the future. It’s compression of the schedule and it is going to diminish the sport. Context? You don’t even have enough time to digest the last test match before one is on you like a flash.
But enough of that. England face an intriguing challenge from Bangladesh in a two test series that a cynic might say is being used as preparation for the series against India in a few weeks time. While Bangladesh still have a laughable test record, there are definite signs of improvement. Whether this is enough to mean England will have a great fight on their hand is for debate. What won’t help is that, astonishingly, this is the first test Bangladesh have played in 14 months. If Alastair Cook is worried about a lack of practice and sharpness, Bangladesh have one up on him!
So to Captain Cook, leader of the troops, taking the battle to the oppo, leading from the front. This will be his 134th test, passing Alec Stewart for the England record. It’s been a long and distinguished career, but as Cooky doesn’t like talking about personal milestones, I won’t bother either.
Cook is clearly the key man. From the team that played last in Bangladesh, only Cook and Broad remain. Cook’s record in the sub-continent (and including UAE) is a really good one, and his experience is going to be vital. Without him making runs, one fears for England. This tour will expose our two key weaknesses; the spin bowling has been getting the most attention, but our middle order probably is more concerning. Joe Root missed the ODI tour and didn’t seem to get much time in the middle in the practice matches. One hopes it will be alright on the night. Gary Ballance looks to be locked in at number 4, something that would have seemed unthinkable after the last series (but this was really Gary B being Gary B – because he’s not elegant, he has a technique only his mother could love, and well, he’s Gary B he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt the dashers get). At 5 is possibly Moeen, possibly Stoke, possibly Bairstow, and there will be times when we need them to keep us afloat. This is a big tour for Stokes. He showed in the ODIs that he came to terms with slower wickets, but this is test cricket. A good start in Bangladesh seems necessary, because I think he’s a confidence player.
Which leads me to the opener slot. Ben Duckett looks like getting the nod. That’s interesting. I wonder if it is the fear that Hameed will be a sort of Compton to Cook, and make our captain think he has to play a different game to his norm because the other opener might be a bit pedestrian. If that’s the reason, it’s a shame. Attrition and stickability are going to be keys in the next seven tests. Now that’s not to say I don’t want Duckett getting a go, because he looks middle order material to me in the times I’ve seen him (and I know he opens for Northants). I wish him well, like every debutant, and he’s certainly an exciting, talented prospect.
Bowling looks to be three spinners (Ansari missing out, it seems) and three seamers (Broad, Woakes and Stokes). Seriously, that could go any way you like. Broad doesn’t have a great record on sub-continent wickets, Woakes is going to be really tested, and Stokes? The spin is going to be “hands over eyes” stuff.
If England are in any way complacent, one should look at the last test played at Chittagong.
South Africa were far from having matters their own way in this match. Rain washed out the last two days of play with the test fascinatingly poised.
England’s last visit to Chittagong produced this match:
Kevin Pietersen made 99, only the second England player to make that score this century. Without looking at Statsguru, a pat on the back if you can name the other. In that match Lovejoy took 10 wickets, Mushfiqur Rahim was a right royal pain, and Junaid Siddique made a century.
Rahim made his runs from 8 in that match, whereas tomorrow he might line up at 5 or 6. Tamim and Imrul have made decent impressions in their most recent tests, and Mahmadullah always look a decent player to me. Shakib is a canny old customer. These aren’t the muppets of yesteryear. They may not be a formidable force, but they appear on the upward path. I hope we see two really good games of cricket in their own right, and not as some Jar Jar Binks warm up act for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Ravi Ashwin and Virat Kohli.
Enjoy the test match winter (which ends at Christmas with England) and feel free to fire away as per usual. Because when you do, you put a skip in my step and the sun in my heart.
Comments on Day 1 below.