Captain Cook starts voyage with gentle Test

England's fifth youngest leading man is feeling 'nervous' despite easiest of introductions to top table against Bangladesh tomorrow
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The Independent Online

Alastair Cook will tomorrow become the 79th man to be captain of England in a Test match and the fifth youngest. Everything he does in the next few days will be aimed at ensuring that he is not remembered as the first to lose to Bangladesh.

And everything about him yesterday from his relaxed demeanour to his measured, if rehearsed, responses, suggested that he is ready for this challenge. Perhaps it would be different if he was coming up against a rampant West Indies looking for all the world as if they were impregnable, as Ian Botham did when he was 24 years and 194 days old in 1980.

Or if it was the Australia of 1993, as confronted by Michael Atherton at 25 years and 135 days, a mere 58 days older than Cook will be tomorrow. Atherton has occasionally insisted that he was too raw and that although he went on to lead England a record 54 times, waiting for two more years would, on reflection, have been appropriate.

Cook has a double advantage. Not only is his team playing the weakest of all the Test-playing nations, maybe the weakest of all time, but he knows that this is a temporary assignment. The full-time holder of this great office, Andrew Strauss, will return. The two matches here tomorrow and in Dhaka next week are a kind of proving ground, the softest possible apprenticeship to see if Cook can be entrusted with bigger things.

His first conundrum will be the team, which brings the usual malarkey, five batsmen or six, four bowlers or five. The suspicion was that Cook said enough yesterday to suggest that England will play six batsmen with four bowlers. This might preclude a shock Test debut for the 20- year-old Steve Finn, which would indicate a certain lack of boldness.

Finn, who was called up to the squad last weekend when Stuart Broad and Graham Onions were injured, was extremely impressive in the warm-up match this week. When the year's performance squads were selected last November he was in category B, one of 11 players deemed to be one to three years away from playing in Tests. So much for performance squads.

Broad bowled 10 practice overs yesterday and looked in good order. Onions is definitely out. Cook said: "There's a high possibility of playing two spinners. But we haven't ruled out playing three seamers either." Read into that what you will.

It remains possible that England will have three debutants in Finn, off spinner James Tredwell and opening batsman Michael Carberry. The latter duo look certainties and if Tredwell plays alongside Graeme Swann it would be the first time since 1993 when John Emburey and Peter Such played, that England have had two specialist off spinners. Cook – "nervous but also proud to know that not many people have done what I'm about to do" – was taking nothing for granted either beyond the team selection.

Indeed, he made a sincere job of talking up the opposition, although if England were to lose it would represent an upset to justify all those greatest upset of all-time lists that come out when Manchester United are beaten by a team below midway in the Premier League.

"That's been one of our massive themes so far on this tour," Cook said. "In their own conditions they're a very competitive side. They showed that in the one-day series, especially that second one-dayer that went close to the wire. Their spinners will be a huge threat and for us to take them lightly would be a cardinal sin. They've got some very dangerous players."

Nice try, but the brutal truth is that Bangladesh have almost no dangerous players. In a little more than nine years of Test cricket they have won three of their 64 matches, one (in Chittagong) against a depleted Zimbabwe, who threw in the towel at Test cricket nine months later, and two last year in the West Indies, who almost fielded a third XI because of a player dispute.

In their captain Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh have a genuine all-rounder, left-arm spinner and attractive batsman. Their other spinners are likely to be Abdur Razzak, also left arm, and Mahmudullah. Shakib and Mahmudullah have demonstrated recently that Bangladesh are at least learning to fight with big runs at numbers six and eight against both India at home and New Zealand away.

But they were still defeated as they have been in 55 matches, 33 of them by an innings. They have improved but they are not fit for Test purpose.

Last night their middle order batsman, Raqibul Hasan, who made 107 not out and 51 against England in the warm-up match this week, suddenly retired from all cricket without explanation but after an apparent row with the national cricket board. Kevin Pietersen, England's out of form batsman, looked pretty hapless for a while in the nets yesterday against Tredwell. What a tough time he has had. Cook will lead tomorrow and should be wished well but nobody deserves a hundred more than their erstwhile captain.

Off the mark: England's three possible debutants

James Tredwell Not part of the winter plans, but he was called up as cover in South Africa when Graeme Swann was injured and was then kept on. He took 69 Championship wickets last summer and may complete England's first dual off-spin attack since John Emburey and Peter Such at Old Trafford 17 years ago.

Michael Carberry Filling in for the absent captain Andrew Strauss, he almost gave up cricket four years ago when he could not make the Kent team. Revived his career at Hampshire with the help of Shane Warne who backed his talent. His Test career may be brief (he is 30 this year) but at least he is about to have one.

Steve Finn What a fairytale it could yet be for the 20-year-old lanky lad from Watford. Summoned only last weekend when injuries struck, he bowled beautifully in the warm-up match. If he does not make it this time his rich promise, marked by 53 Championship wickets for Middlesex last season, is obvious. He brings pace and bounce.

Probable Teams

Bangladesh Shakib-ul-Hasan (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Zunaid Siddique, Aftab Ahmed, Jahurul Islam, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah, Abdur Razzaq, Rubel Hossain, Shafiul Islam

England A N Cook (capt), M A Carberry, J I L Trott, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, I R Bell, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J C Tredwell.

Umpires: R J Tucker (Aus), A L Hill (NZ).

Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ)

TV details Sky Sports 1, from 3am, Friday

Pitch Report Possibly under-prepared since a match has been played this week only yards away. Dry, will turn if slowly but may break up early.

Weather Hot and sunny, with light winds; Maximum temp: 30C

The four England captains younger than Alastair Cook are Monty Bowden in 1889 (one match), Ivo Bligh, 1883, four matches, Ian Botham, 1980, 12 matches and Donald Carr, 1952, one match.

The umpire review system will not be in use as necessary technology is not available, another blow to the ICC.