Bangladesh vs England: First Test Preview

October 20-24, 4am GMT

After clinching a narrow 2-1 win in an enthralling ODI Series, England go into their two-Test series against Bangladesh as strong favourites; some UK bookies are offering odds as long as 9/1 for the home side to win the series.

However, question marks remain over the visitors.

With at least two changes to their top six guaranteed, and the likely inclusion of three spinners rather than the solitary twirler seen against Pakistan this summer, England are far from a settled side.

History is firmly on the side of the visitors, who have won all four of their Test matches in Bangladesh. But the most recent series between the sides was in 2010, when England were beginning their rise to the top of the Test rankings, and the Tigers have improved massively since then.

Regrettably for fans of Test cricket in the country, Bangladesh have not played a Test for fifteen months, with their focus very much on white-ball cricket due to this year’s Asia Cup and World T20. However, they have only lost one Test match in the past 24 months, and a settled batting line-up means that England’s inexperienced spin trio will need to be at its best.

The hosts will line up with the same top six as the one that faced South Africa in a rain-affected drawn series last July.

That means that Tamim Iqbal, the explosive left-hander, will have the opportunity to build on his excellent record against England. He averages 63.12 against this opposition, including a Lord’s hundred in 2010.

He will likely open with Imrul Kayes, and Mominul Haque looks set to bat three. All-rounders Mahmadullah and Shakib Al Hasan will be in the middle-order, and Test skipper Mushfiqur Rahim will keep wicket at come in at six.

The bowling attack lacks the experience found in the batting line-up, with the five-pronged attack likely to feature three debutants in Sabbir Rahman, Mehedi Hasan and Kamrul Islam Rabbi. The other two bowlers, Taijul Islam and Shafiul Islam have only 14 caps between them.

However, it is clear that the hosts will pack their XI with spinners. If the side is expected, there will be two fast bowlers and as many as five spin options.

Thus, how England play spin will be of the utmost importance.

It is for this reason, along with a reluctance to play a slow-scoring opener alongside Alastair Cook at the top of the order, that Ben Duckett is likely to make his Test bow opening the batting, whilst Gary Ballance is set to retain his spot in the middle order ahead of Haseeb Hameed.

It may seem harsh on Hameed that after an excellent domestic season and a fifty in the most recent warm-up match he is likely to find himself carrying drinks.

But Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace have always put a strong emphasis on playing an attacking brand of cricket, and with a career strike rate of 38.6, it is hard to see how Hameed fits into that.

Furthermore, it is not only a choice between Hameed and Duckett, but also between Hameed and Gary Ballance. Before Wednesday’s telling nets session, it seemed probable that Duckett would bat four with Hameed opening and Ballance omitted.

However, it is clear that Ballance’s experience, and his doughty resilience against the spin of Yasir Shah this summer, has won over. If England are to prevail in India – and the Bangladesh series could be viewed cynically as a glorified warm-up for that tour – then they may well need some solidity in a fast-scoring middle-order, and evidently the selectors believe the Zimbabwe-born left-hander offers that.

The lower-middle-order of Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes effectively picks itself, and Stuart Broad and Adil Rashid are must-haves with the ball in this series.

The only other question mark then, is whether the 39-year-old Gareth Batty beats his Surrey team-mate Zafar Ansari to the third spinner’s berth, or if one of Steven Finn, Jake Ball or Jos Buttler plays to change the balance of the side.

After a strong set of performances in the warm-ups for this series, it looks as though Batty is the most likely man to play. Even if he goes wicketless, the Surrey captain is a master at holding down an end, a talent that English spinners in the post-Graeme Swann era have lacked.

Tomorrow will also be an historic day for Alastair Cook, who will overtake Alec Stewart and become England’s most-capped player. It is a mark of his commitment to the team’s cause that he flew straight to Bangladesh just over 24 hours after his wife gave birth to the couple’s third son; ‘Chef’ lets nothing come between him and his role as skipper.

Likely XIs:

Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Mominul Haque, Mahmadullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim (c, wk), Sabbir Rahman, Mehedi Hasan, Shafiul Islam, Taijul Islam, Kamrul Islam Rabbi.

England: Alastair Cook (c), Ben Duckett, Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty, Stuart Broad.