Harmison's withdrawal is setback for England

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The Independent Online

England's hopes of wrapping up their two-Test series against Bangladesh with a second victory were dealt a major blow here yesterday when Stephen Harmison was forced to withdraw from the squad with a back injury.

Harmison, England's nine-wicket hero in Dhaka, bowled for only 10 minutes yesterday morning before retiring to the dressing-room for treatment. By the evening he had failed to respond to physiotherapy and the safest option for the selectors was to leave him out.

The hole left by the Durham fast bowler, whose pace and bounce troubled every Bangladesh batsmen in the first Test, will be difficult to fill. Richard Johnson will replace Harmison, and the Kent swing bowler Martin Saggers could make his Test debut if England decide to play three fast bowlers. The absence of England's most hostile bowler gives Bangladesh a greater chance of improving on their appalling Test record of 24 defeats in 25 matches.

Views on whether Bangladesh should be a Test nation continue to vary. Many believe their participation cheapens the game because Test runs and wickets are too easy to come by against them. Having played the vast majority of my Test cricket against Australia, South Africa and West Indies, I know how they feel.

However, if cricket is to grow, there has to be an investment somewhere. And where better than in Asia where the game is loved by millions? Touring this part of the world is a pleasure because of the passion supporters have for cricket. Those in England who constantly question the future of the game should visit here. It would not take long for them to amend their views. Sachin Tendulkar makes England's infatuation with David Beckham seem like a quick kiss behind the bicycle shed.

The way in which Bangladesh became a full member of the International Cricket Council in June 2000 has also been questioned. Many felt the decision was rushed through for political reasons. Jagmohan Dalmiya, a former president of the ICC and now president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, had left his post at the ICC when Bangladesh officially became the 10th Test-playing nation, but it was generally accepted that he pushed things through to strengthen the voice of the the Asian nations at the ICC.

During Dalmiya's time in charge, Bangladesh were making progress in one-day cricket. In 1997 they won the ICC Trophy - a tournament contested by Associate members - and gained qualification for the 1999 World Cup.

This success raised interest and cricket quickly replaced football as the No 1 sport in the country. In England in the World Cup, Bangladesh sealed their promotion by beating Pakistan at Northampton by 62 runs.

Although interest in cricket is high in Bangladesh, historical events have prevented the fanaticism reaching the levels you see in India. Cricket has long been played here, but large portions of the population refused to adopt British traditions because of the way they were treated during the days of the Raj.

Pakistan had played 62 Test matches - seven in Dhaka - before Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, but not one Test player had been selected from the former East Pakistan. It is hard to believe politics did not play a role, but this is something Dav Whatmore, Bangladesh's new coach, does not have to worry about. His task is simple. It is to turn Bangladesh into a competitive Test side.

"My charter is to get this team up and running," Whatmore said on the eve of the second Test. "When I took charge of Bangladesh all I really knew about them were the facts. Having played against them when I was coach of Sri Lanka I knew a little bit about the side, but the main thing was that the situation was bleak.

"I promised myself that everything we did from 1 June would be directed into trying to make us as competitive as possible. This encompassed a whole host of things. Some players needed to be dropped, some needed to be picked and others needed to improve. And this is what we are still trying to do now.

"People talk about the coming tour to Zimbabwe as our opportunity to win our first Test match, but I do not want to limit it to Zimbabwe. If our guys play well here over the next five days we could beat England. But I'm not looking at a short-term fix. It's too easy to measure whether you have done good or bad by looking at wins and losses."

Sadly, it does for England.