Sporting prediction is a notor-iously hazardous business, but only one result is possible for England in Bangladesh this winter. Anything other than five straight wins - two Test matches and three one-dayers - would be lamentable.
Only floods should prevent such an outcome because, in the phrase of the great Nigel Molesworth, "as eny fule kno", Bangladesh are dreadful. They might be improving rapidly under their new coach, Dav Whatmore, and logic and a cricket-mad population of 130 million suggest that one day they will start winning international cricket matches. But not now, not yet.
England's Test party of 15 contains five uncapped players, but that is comfortably balanced by the experience among the rest. The top five batsmen in the order are among the best English quintets since fish, chips, mushy peas, salt and vinegar first cosied up. Between them, Michael Vaughan and his colleagues have scored 46 Test centuries, and they all remain at their peak.
By contrast, four of Bangladesh's probable top six are 20 years old or younger. Nor can England claim immaturity as a weakness in their one-day party after their exploits in the summer.
The winter will become gradually harder: Sri Lanka, where England go immediately after Bangladesh, and the West Indies, where they travel in March, will ask probing questions. But as long as the tourists prepare diligently and resist complacency, the initial part of their winter sojourn should be a doddle.
The brutal facts are that Bangladesh have lost 23 of their 24 Test matches and were saved by rain (against Zimbabwe) in the other. They last won a one-dayer four years and 45 matches ago, against Pakistan in the World Cup, and there are clouds of suspicion over that. Whatmore has instilled much more belief and discipline, as demonstrated by the competitive zeal they have shown lately in five Tests against Australia and Pakistan. But they still lost all five.
England's bowling attack, though, is not as strong as their batting. It lacks the illustrious man of the summer, Andrew Flintoff, and the new star, James Anderson, who both withdrew because of injury. If Ashley Giles was always going to carry the largest burden in the first part of the winter on slow subcontinental pitches, those absences have suddenly increased the demands on the swing bowler Matthew Hoggard.
It may be mildly unfair to expect Hoggard to be constantly dangerous with the new ball. He has had a wretched time of it lately, out of form for most of last winter in Australia and then injuring his knee early last summer as he seemed to have regained it. In his droll Yorkshire way, he cannot wait for the action to start this winter.
"You keep telling me every winter that I'm the senior fast bowler," he said. "I went to India with two Tests behind me and I was the senior bowler. It doesn't bother me, I love the challenge. You look round the field, who do you throw the ball to? I'm the kind of guy who likes to bowl."
Hoggard is as big-hearted a performer as they have come for England. But if the ball does not swing, then he can struggle. Last winter he was occasionally a forlorn sight, and a playful manner could not always hide a tormented soul. "I was fairly miserable, didn't bowl too well and it was a long, hard trip," he recalled. "Everybody said it was lack of confidence, but it wasn't really. It was probably a mixture of losing a bit of form and coming up against the best side in the world.
"But I played well in the last Test in Sydney and in the First Test against Zimbabwe. It was coming back, and then I buggered my knee up. It's been very, very frustrating and I've probably been a pain the arse. Now I've got to go out and prove myself all over again. I still don't feel I'm established."
Sometime over the next two months, Hoggard will need the elusive services of reverse swing. Otherwise, the subcontinent could be as irksome as Australia. If he can reinforce the rich promise of two years ago under a captain who is also his friend, then England's bowling will regain some teeth.
His recall represents some type of continuity, although the introduction of Martin Saggers in place of Flintoff last week paradoxically suggests the opposite. Saggers, of Kent, is the 17th seam bowler to be picked by England since the start of last winter, a period in which 12 Tests have been played.
England may yet be under-mined by heavy rain, which is hardly unknown in Bangla-desh at this time of the year. It is after the monsoon season, just, but this series is the first to be played in the country in October.
Surrey's young all-rounder Rikki Clarke gets the first chance to replace Flintoff, after being chosen ahead of Paul Collingwood for today's first tour match, a three- day game against the BCB President's XI.
The best of the Bangaldeshi bowlers is likely to be the slow left-armer Mohammad Rafique, who was excellent against Pakistan recently and has taken 23 wickets in his last four matches. The batsman to watch is Habibul Bashar, who averages 37 in his 24 Tests (all his country have played) and has scored 19.16 per cent of the side's runs, a proportion lower only than Don Bradman and George Headley.
England will win on the slow pitches, but they might also turn to Master Moles-worth for some advice on how to play: remember not to have the sweep as the only method against slow bowling. "There is only thing in cricket and that is the strate bat. Keep your bat strate boy and all will be well right in life as in cricket." As eny fule kno.
England team: MP Vaughan (capt), ME Trescothick, MA Butcher, GP Thorpe, R Clarke, CMW Read (wkt), GJ Batty, AF Giles, SJ Harmison, MJ Hoggard, MJ Saggers. (All 12 will play).
Test party: M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), G J Batty (Worcestershire), M A Butcher (Surrey), R Clarke (Surrey), P D Collingwood (Durham), A F Giles (Warwickshire), S J Harmison (Durham), R L Johnson (Somerset), N Hussain (Essex), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), G O Jones (Kent), C M W Read (Nottinghamshire), M J Saggers (Kent), M E Trescothick (Somerset), G P Thorpe (Surrey).
One-day internationals: M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), J M Anderson (Lancashire), G J Batty (Worcestershire), I D Blackwell (Somerset), R Clarke (Surrey), P D Collingwood (Durham), A Flintoff (Lancashire), A F Giles (Warwickshire), R L Johnson (Somerset), R J Kirtley (Sussex), A McGrath (Yorkshire), C M W Read (Nottinghamshire), V S Solanki (Worcestershire), A J Strauss (Middlesex), M E Trescothick (Somerset)
Bangladesh: 12-14 Oct:v BCB President's XI (BNS Ground, Dhaka). 16-18 Oct: v Bangldesh A, (BKSP ground, Dhaka). 21-25 Oct: First Test, (BNS, Dhaka). 29 Oct-2 Nov: Second Test (Chittagong). 7 Nov: First One-Day International, Chittagong). 10 Nov: Second ODI (BNS, Dhaka, d/n). 12 Nov: Third ODI (DNS, Dhaka, d/n)
Sri Lanka: 13 Nov: Arrive Colombo. 14 Nov: v Sri Lanka A (Moratuwa). 18 Nov: First ODI (Rangiri Dambulla Stadium). 21 Nov: Second ODI (R Premadasa International Stadium, Colombo, d/n). 23 Nov: Third ODI (R Premadasa International, d/n). 26-28 Nov: v Sri Lanka A (Colombo CC). 2-6 Dec: FirstTest (Galle International Stadium), 10-14 Dec: Second Test (Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy). 18-22 Dec: Third Test (Singhalese Sports Club, Colombo). 23 Dec: Depart for England.Reuse content