England at sixes and sevens over five bowlers
Tredwell, Wright and Shahzad all hopeful of first caps as tourists struggle to get the balance right
Sunday 07 March 2010
England could conceivably field four new players when the short Test series against Bangladesh begins on Friday. Or then again, the conservative option may prevail among the selectors, meaning that all the uncapped will stay that way. It is likely to be something in between, though nobody knows what or who.
The options are many, and the probability that the opponents could probably be defeated with any reasonably balanced XI does not make the selection of the team any less fascinating. Well, a bit less perhaps, but there is the enduring attraction of coming up with just enough bowlers and batsmen, with one eye on the conditions at hand and the other on blooding players in this sort of contest so that they may be slightly better equipped for tougher challenges in the future.
Nobody would dream, for instance, of picking a bowler as a batsman. Though, come to think of it, the last time Australia played in Chittagong the fast bowler Jason Gillespie scored an unbeaten double-hundred in what proved to be his final Test match. He had, however, gone to the crease as a nightwatchman.
England will not mess about giving caps for the sake of it. Long gone are the days when they would send a virtual Second XI to all places sub-continental. (When Australia arrived in Bangladesh in 2006 they brought Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting but at least limited the all-time legends to three by leaving Glenn McGrath at home.) These tourists, however, have a reserve captain in Alastair Cook, the permanent appointee, Andrew Strauss, having opted for some much-needed rest and recuperation. Put in a welcome but difficult position, Cook has been wholly competent.
He was calm under brief fire during the one-day series, which England won 3-0 when they secured a comfortable victory in the final match on Friday. If he was lucky to have Eoin Morgan at the crease last Tuesday, when England looked for all the world that they would be beaten by Bangladesh for the first time, then captains need luck and good captains tend to get it.
The quartet who could play in a Test match for the first time is Michael Carberry, Luke Wright, James Tredwell and Ajmal Shahzad. Carberry has been selected in Strauss's place but there are several possible formulations. Both Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell could open – Bell has done it once before in a Test match, in Mumbai in the "Ring of Fire" Test – but it is not what England should be doing. If Carberry comes in for Strauss they may then have too many batsmen for the job in hand. But if four bowlers were deemed sufficient for South Africa, they should certainly do here.
In normal subcontinental conditions England would play two spinners. But they did so in only one of the two Tests they played here seven years ago (Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty) and in the one they did not, in Chittagong, it was a fast bowler, the forgotten Richard Johnson, who took nine of the wickets.
If Tredwell joins Graeme Swann in the side, England will have two off-spinners. Spottings are rare. It happened at Birmingham in 1993 when Peter Such and John Emburey both played, and the national selector, Geoff Miller, who is in Chittagong, may or may not have fond memories of the three Test matches he played in Australia in 1982-83 with Eddie Hemmings also in the side, when they shared 14 wickets between them. Tredwell has been with England most of the winter after being summoned as cover for 10 days at the start of the South African tour. He was called at Canterbury at lunchtime, went home to say goodbye to Bethan, his wife of two months, "who fortunately wasn't working", and went to the airport.
After taking 69 wickets last summer for Kent he sounds as though he might be ready for Test cricket in Bangladesh. "When I was called up for the last New Zealand tour I went about it the wrong way and bowled for hour upon hour in the nets," he said. "People experiment in the nets and try to hit you and I tried not to get hit and lost my best attributes."
He went to India last winter to the global cricket academy, where he amended his delivery stride, and was about to do the same this winter when the call came. "People haven't played finger-spin over an extended period for a long time and those qualities that good finger-spinners have still cause problems in the air with drop and drift, and that can matter as much as whether you can turn it both ways. Bangladesh have a lot of left-handers."
So Bangladesh do, but Tredwell's best hope may depend either on injuries or a decision to play five bowlers, which might entail not playing a specialist opener or, improbably, dropping one of the other batsmen. That would not be Kevin Pietersen, although he is now at the stage where he needs runs soon.
But Pietersen could be, at a pinch, the second spinner. Stuart Broad and Graham Onions are by no means certain to play because of back spasms, and the three-day match which starts today against Bangladesh A is suddenly a Test trial for many. Shahzad has overtaken the unfortunate Liam Plunkett. Tim Bresnan, kept on after the one-dayers, is in the frame. It is possible that England will be without a single seamer from South Africa, Jimmy Anderson not being here and Ryan Sidebottom having gone home.
Bangladesh, ably led by Shakib al Hasan, an authentic top-class cricketer, will beat England in a Test some day. But not this time. Whoever plays.
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