England in Bangladesh: First Test Preview

After a fantastic, well-fought ODI series, Bangladesh and England are preparing for the first test match of a two-match series, which starts on Thursday. Ahead of that game, a number of questions over Alastair Cook’s side remain unanswered. With Alex Hales electing not to travel, James Vince being left out of the test squad, and Gary Ballance failing to convince, the likes of Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed, and Gareth Batty will be hoping they get the chance to impress.

Below, I offer my choice for Thursday’s test. It’s hardly a controversial XI, but one that offers three uncapped players their debut tests.

1. Alastair Cook (c). Easy choice. Very little needs to be said about the England captain. His record with both the bat and as captain for England speaks for itself, and I expect him to lead from the front this series, too. Some have raised doubts over his preparations; he missed England’s final warm up game after flying home for the birth of his second child. Cook, however, is so experienced in sub-continental conditions, that this is unlikely to pose a problem.

2. Haseeb Hameed. Much of the talk in the build up to this game was centred around Alastair Cook’s prospective batting partner. Hameed has seemingly been in competition with Ben Duckett for the number two spot, but I’ve gone with the Lancastrian at the top of the order, with Duckett lower down. Hameed opened the batting in Division One last year, and hit 1198 runs, including four hundreds. That experience against the best bowling attacks in domestic cricket will serve him well and, should all go to plan, Hameed has many years ahead of him as an England opener.

3. Joe Root. Again, not a lot needs to be said. He’s one of the world’s best players, and could stake his claim as the very best in the world if he has a successful winter. Many will point to Virat Kholi as the current number one, but if Root can prove his ability to score runs in all conditions, then it would be hard to favour the Indian.

4. Ben Duckett. The second of the test debutants is Northamptonshire’s Ben Duckett. With Vince missing out, Duckett should directly replace the former number four. He has proven that he can score runs at international level, making two half-centuries in his first three ODIs. Although he spent last season opening the batting in red ball domestic cricket, he batted at three and four in one-day matches. Granted, the two formats are very different, perhaps moreso these days than ever before. That said, one of Duckett’s strengths is playing against spin, and batting at four should suit him well for that reason; there is a high probability that spin will be on at both ends when he walks out to the middle for the first time. He gets the nod ahead of Gary Ballance for me. While Ballance usually does alright for England, Duckett has the potential to do much more than that. Ballance didn’t even have a particularly successful domestic season with Yorkshire – I’m not sure I’d have picked him for the Pakistan series, either!

5. Jonny Bairstow (w). The wicketkeeper’s form with the bat over the past 12 months has been outstanding. Thus, he should have few problems batting a little higher up the order to accommodate an extra bowler. He bats at five ahead of Ben Stokes, who is best suited coming in with a few runs on the board. If Bairstow can continue his recent form, then he is definitely good enough to play for his country as a batsman alone. Doing five in this series should be a good indicator as to whether he can bat there in the immediate and more distant future.

6. Ben Stokes. Stokes does six, and looks set to play a vital role in the series. His counter-attacking style with the bat will hopefully be able to turn a dull session into a positive one for the visitors, while his contributions with the ball will also be key. He can swing the ball both ways, and so might be able to extract a bit of reverse during the middle overs. Stokes will play his first series as the “third seamer”, and he should be able to step up. His aggression and ability to lift the team will drag England through the tougher sessions, while his personality should also keep the team’s focus and energy levels high.

7. Moeen Ali. A very useful cricketer in such conditions, Ali is more than good enough to bat at seven. The only concern with him is his bowling. He has a very useful nack of picking up wickets, but he also bowls a number of loose balls. In Bangladesh and India this winter, he’ll have to be more consistent. The way sub-continental players bat against spin means that those looser balls will go for four, while those in the right area will be less likely to get through. If he struggles in Bangladesh, the England selectors might just be scratching their heads ahead of the India tour. Ali needs to assert himself this series and pick up wickets. He did alright in the ODIs, but he needs to do better in the red-ball game.

8. Chris Woakes. What a summer he had. With Anderson not playing due to injury, Woakes will open the bowling with Stuart Broad, and I fully expect him to perform. It is testimony to Woakes that this side contains three spinners. Were he not in the form he is, Steven Finn or Jake Ball might expect to get their chance. The way Woakes has been playing over the past year allows England to pick him as the second seamer, with Ben Stokes as the third. A long batting line up might also be important in such testing away conditions, and Woakes is arguably good enough to bat higher than eight. When Anderson becomes fit, it will be difficult to drop the Warwickshire star, and the selectors will have a difficult decision to make. Anderson should definitely play against India, but playing three spinners might mean that one of three seamers is very unlucky.

9. Zafar Ansari. Many have tipped Gareth Batty to be selected for the third spinner’s spot. Ansari’s age in comparison to Batty’s, though, gives him an advantage. If Batty is picked, then I have few doubts that he will do well; he is an excellent off-spinner. England need to look to the future, though, and Ansari offers something different as a left-armer. Turning the ball away from the bat can bring a lot of success in the sub-continent, and the Surrey all-rounder should find the conditions helpful. Batty might be a safer option, but I see the Bangladesh tour as an excellent opportunity to give Ansari a go. If he fails, then Batty will still be there, will still be just as experienced, and just as safe an option.

10. Adil Rashid. His performances will have a major impact on how successful England’s winter is. Like Ali, he does tend to bowl loose deliveries. Once again, these need to be cut out. It’s perfectly acceptable for leg spinners to bowl the odd half-tracker, but Rashid rarely lands six balls on the same spot. If he can do that, then he will pick up wickets. He turns the ball, has an excellent googly, and has unquestionable potential. His ability with the bat also adds another string to his bow, and he has the potential to be very successful for England this winter.

11. Stuart Broad. With James Anderson missing out, Broad will be England’s best and most senior bowler, and will need to lead the attack. Last winter, in the UAE, he went at around 2 an over. If he can repeat that feat this time around, it will help England massively. Broad also has the ability to mix his pace up and use cutters. While, over the summer, some questioned his pace, Broad is undoubtedly a world-class bowler now. His consistency and game awareness make him an essential part of the current England side.

A very strong batting line up, then, with Ansari at nine and Rashid at ten. Hameed, Duckett, and Ansari all get debuts. The two batsmen have earned that place without a doubt, while Ansari is worth a slight gamble. Hopefully, all three can perform well, and put England in a strong position ahead of the India tour. As we found out in the ODIs, however, Bangladesh will be a sterner test than a mere warm-up for the India games. The hosts have a number of excellent cricketers, and will not be easy to beat in their own conditions.


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