Bullish Strauss happy to chop and change his opening partner
Bopara likely to be latest experiment at top of order as England meet Bangladesh today
Friday 11 March 2011
Something odd has happened to the state of England since last Sunday. By any normal lights they should have spent the week skulking around what parts of this city it is possible to skulk around, feeling slightly sorry for themselves.
They have lost two of their marquee players, their prospect of progress in the World Cup remains in the balance and any sense of regular fluency in their cricket has been elusive. Yet they have been cheerful and relaxed.
The departures in rapid succession of Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad appear to have been seamlessly absorbed by the addition of Eoin Morgan and Chris Tremlett and the edgy, improbable win against South Africa provided them with a renewed belief in themselves that straight-forward, seen -it-coming-for-miles wins cannot instil. A third Group B victory today over Bangladesh will bring the quarter-finals looming into view.
Twice in this tournament, England have come back when all looked lost. Against India they managed to tie to overcome a clatter of wickets which made defeat look certain. Against South Africa, defending a total of 171, they contrived somehow to bowl their opponents out seven runs short of their target.
True, the comebacks sandwiched the match against Ireland, when England suffered one of the most astonishing reversals in their history, but that too is being treated as a learning experience. Call that insufferably smug, but it is to England's credit that they have made no excuses for insipid displays.
When they have bowled and fielded badly there have been none of the characteristic excuses of the professional sportsman. They have conceded their shortcomings, thus taking some of the wind from the sails of their critics. So at ease with themselves do they now appear that Andrew Strauss, their captain, could talk openly yesterday about changing his batting order to suit conditions.
He said it because England have been forced into change by Pietersen's withdrawal from the tournament with a hernia. It meant that England have to find a replacement as opening batsman and whether it is Ravi Bopara or Matt Prior today (Strauss was not saying but Prior is out of form and Bopara is not, so only one option makes any selectorial sense) it may not stay that way.
"I don't think we're nailed on to playing the same opening partnership all the way through," said Strauss. "But for the time being we have got to play ideally what the right combination at the top is. But there is no reason why you can't think of changing if circumstances arise and if they do we'll do that."
There are two ways of looking at such a policy: either they are so sure of themselves that they can change their balance accordingly even with something as delicate as the opening batsmen, or that they are in such a muddle they do not know who should really open as witnessed by the decision to ask Pietersen, once their best man in the middle order.
There was some speculation that England might play three spinners in the match. Observers always become a little frenzied about spinning in the subcontinent, as though it is the only way to take wickets and contain. Bangladesh play lots of spinners, not only because of the surfaces, but because of the standard of their seamers.
England do not have that shortage. In Chittagong a year ago they made do with one spinner, though Pietersen had to back him up with eight overs. Three spinners, to include James Tredwell, would go against the policy of picking the best available bowlers. Tredwell has not had enough cricket. It is, however, coming to something when Pietersen seems to be missed as much for his occasional off-breaks as his once blistering batting.
The England management team spent half an hour in close talks round the pitch in Chittagong yesterday. They bounced balls on it, they mused and muttered and opined about what it might and might not do. They looked as though they meant business.
Bangladesh are aware that anything other than a win is likely to spell the end of their World Cup dream. And it was a dream – playing a World Cup quarter-final in Dhaka.
The need to win will place an extra burden on them today and nothing suggests they are capable of carrying it. They are already fearful of the reaction they may receive from the crowd and security will not be lessened for a second. The ICC want no repeats of the stoning of the coaches that followed Bangladesh's defeat against West Indies.
Strauss said: "It has been very unpredictable and I would like to it to have a lot more predictability. We need to get that right in the next two games."
Teams and pitch report
Bangladesh (probable): Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique, Mushfiqur Rahim (wkt), Shakib al Hasan (capt), Raqibul Hasan, Mahmadullah, Naeem Islam, ASbdur Raazak, Shafiul Islam, Rubel Hossain.
England (probable): A J Strauss (capt), RS Bopara, IJL Trott, IR Bell, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wkt), MJ Yardy, TT Bresnan, GP Swann, A Shahzad, JM Anderson.
Pitch Dry and likely to take lots of turn but helpful to clever seam bowling.
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