Bangladesh prove a box-office surprise

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The Independent Online

Bangladesh arrived yesterday for the other international tour of the summer. By contrast with what is to happen come July, it is the Test series which hardly dare speak its name.

Bangladesh arrived yesterday for the other international tour of the summer. By contrast with what is to happen come July, it is the Test series which hardly dare speak its name.

Although it has been utterly overshadowed by the Ashes (74 days and counting), the Bangladeshis will play two Tests against England, at Lord's and Chester-le-Steet. They start on Tuesday with a three-day match against British Universities, which unkind observers have suggested is matching like with like.

Considering the opprobrium that has been heaped on Bangladesh's playing standards, ticket sales for the Tests are surging ahead. MCC have made a concerted effort to compensate for Bang-ladesh's superficial lack of appeal by both stressing that it is their first Test in England and going into the Bangladeshi community in London.

The result is that ticket sales on the first three days at Lord's, before MCC members are taken into account, are 13,500, 16,500 and 15,000. With a capacity of 29,000, the ground at least will not look too sparsely populated. The fact that only 3,000 people pre-ordered tickets for the Sunday demonstrates that most expect England to romp to a quick victory.

An MCC spokesman said: "We have targeted our efforts at the Bangladeshi communities in London, recognising both that this is the country's first Test match here and that they may not be familiar with how to get tickets. We have been working on this match for months and months and taken out adverts in Curry House, the restaurant-trade magazine." Next Sunday, the ECB's Cricket Roadshow will be at the Brick Lane Mela, held to mark the Bangla New Year.

Lord's will also have its now-traditional quota of schoolchildren. MCC have handed out 5,000 complimentary tickets to schools on each of the first three days.

The Second Test at Chester-le-Street is going reasonably well, with 6,500 tickets sold on each of the first two days. The third day so far is extremely sluggish. Durham have not made the same mistake as they did for their inaugural Test in 2003, when they increased capacity to 12,000 only to find the arena sparsely populated. Capacity is 8,000 this time.

Before the tourists left Dhaka, their impressive coach, Dav Whatmore, talked up their chances and said they would make it hard for England. He has just signed a two-year extension to his contract but remains interested in the vacant post of coach to India.

Bangladesh have played 36 Tests in all, had to wait until their 35th for a win, against a denuded Zimbabwe, and have lost all but five of the remainder. In their defence, it should be said that others new to Test cricket had to wait. New Zealand, for instance, required 45 matches. But the prosecution would say that the Kiwis managed to eke out plenty of draws.

Most of the Bangladesh squad of 16 will never have seen anything like English pitches in May and June, and England can be expected to swat them aside. They have taken an immense risk with their squad by naming three uncapped players while retaining Habibul Bashar as captain. They have some adept cricketers: Habibul can play strokes, and Mohammad Rafique is their most accomplished spinner and leading Test wicket-taker with 67. He took 10 wickets in the two-match series against England two winters ago, and last year scored a belligerent century against West Indies in St Lucia.

This earned him selection as the country's player of the year earlier this month. But he cannot be expected to gain much purchase either at Lord's or, especially, the Riverside in spring.