Captain Cook must stamp authority on dressing room
England's second tour of Bangladesh, which starts today, should follow a similar course to the first. Seven years ago a team led by Michael Vaughan won both the two Test matches and the three one-day internationals. There were alarms, especially in the first of the Tests, but each was predictably surmounted.
Something like it can be expected this time. Bangladesh have discernibly progressed, but not to the point where they can regularly win international matches against well-drilled opposition with better players. It is possible that they can prevail in one of the limited-overs matches – at various points in the past decade India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand of the top nations have all been defeated – and that they will compete properly in at least one of the Tests before falling away.
However, England have taken a risk. Much has been made of the decision to rest their captain, Andrew Strauss, and hand the role temporarily to Alastair Cook. All former captains worth their salt, as well as some who might not be, have put in their two-penn'orth. None has sympathised with Strauss and some indeed have given the impression that wild horses, let alone mere fatigue, could not have dragged them away from Dhaka and Chittagong at this time of year.
Strauss opted out because he had a draining first year in the job and because he has another relentless one to come. If it seems one law for the officer class and one for the bloody infantry, then it may be. It has been said that Strauss will hardly feel the benefit of this break when Australia are putting the screws on in the Ashes later this year, but that is an imponderable.
Perhaps this break now – and no other captain, incidentally, took over in quite such turbulent times and went on to achieve quite so much so quickly – will indeed help to refresh him and make his mind clearer one crisis-ridden day in Melbourne next December when Australia's fifth- wicket pair are running riot. Perhaps.
What can safely be presumed is that had the opposition been anybody else but Bangladesh, then Strauss would have gone. England seem to be clear that he needs some R&R which will not be obtainable either at the Sher-e-Bangla or Jahur Ahmed Chowdhury stadiums, but they have permitted it only because they think they will win without him.
Cook is an intriguing choice. His captaincy experience is minimal and his demeanour does not automatically suggest that he possesses leader-ship or tactical credentials. It is important that Cook not be judged one jot on his performances in media briefings, where he is not exactly unhelpful but is not revealing either.
Few of his predecessors have shone brightly before the damn-fool questions of the fourth estate and others seemed to make it their business to be as dull and awkward as possible. Only Nasser Hussain of recent vintage has bloomed both in press conferences and dressing room. But it is the dressing room where Cook must initially stamp his personality and authority, and if he does that the rest will follow.
The temporary nature of his tenure makes it a delicate proposition, but if he can tackle that now it will make it easier for him later on when a permanent successor is being sought. Cook will need the support and understanding of the senior players, especially Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood.
Maybe he should recall the words of another Captain Cook, discoverer of Australia among other stirring deeds, who said: "I had the ambition to not only go farther than man had gone before but to go as far as it was possible to go." Should Cook ever follow the great man's path leading a team Down Under he will need precisely such a mantra, so he may as well start now.
England's short-form game has improved rapidly of late, propelled by Eoin Morgan's drive in the middle order. The 22-year-old South African Craig Kieswetter was added to the squad yesterday, having just become available for selection and after showing good form for England Lions.
Bangladesh have some firecrackers, and though they failed to ignite recently in New Zealand the opening pair of Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes and a middle order containing Moham-mad Ashraful and their vibrant young captain Shakib al-Hasan can have their days. The fast bowler Shahadat Hossain took five Indian wickets late last year, the spinners, led by Shakib, will be testing.
England's discipline and attention to detail should be too much in both forms of the game. Expect Graeme Swann to play a prominent role, Pietersen to seize the opportunity to continue his rehabilitation and Michael Carberry to start a Test career that seemed to have eluded him. It has to be done with the captain at the helm: too many cooks would spoil the broth.
Three with a point to prove
Kevin Pietersen Who would have thought it would come to this? Such emotions does Pietersen evince that many bar-room pundits would have axed him after his moderate tour of South Africa. But it was moderate, not disastrous. Pietersen will be back. But will he will be as good as he used to be?
Jonathan Trott After a scintillating start to his career, he is discovering that international cricket is no joyride. Smart, tough bowlers lie in wait. But Bangladesh are not South Africa, and given his fierce concentration he should score plenty. A less-than-pristine technique will make it tougher than it might have been.
Graham Onions Surprisingly dropped for the deciding Test in South Africa despite being England's best seamer thereto, he should regain his spot. But his absence from the one-day squad suggests that the management are not convinced.
Sun 28 Feb 1st ODI, Mirpur
2 March 2nd ODI, Mirpur
5 March 3rd ODI, Chittagong
12-16 March First Test, Chittagong
20-24 March Second Test, Mirpur
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