Should weaklings be given a chance?

Bangladesh start their first test on english soil today with serious questions being asked about the value of the contest

The integrity of Test cricket will be put on trial over the coming fortnight when England host the Bangladesh Test team for the first time. This is the view of those who feel a two-match series against Test cricket's weakest side, which starts today at Lord's, should not be taking place, and that the continued presence of Bangladesh as a Test-playing nation is a blight on the game.

The integrity of Test cricket will be put on trial over the coming fortnight when England host the Bangladesh Test team for the first time. This is the view of those who feel a two-match series against Test cricket's weakest side, which starts today at Lord's, should not be taking place, and that the continued presence of Bangladesh as a Test-playing nation is a blight on the game.

The performance of the Bengalis since they were welcomed to the Test fold in 2000 backs up this belief. It has been dreadful. Bangladesh have lost 31 of the 36 Tests they have played, with the margin of defeat in 20 of these games being by more than an innings. Among the carnage is a solitary victory, which came in January 2005 when they beat a Zimbabwe side ravaged by political strife.

The results throughout this period, and the lack of progress being made by Bangladesh, is disturbing, but it is the way in which current Test teams are gorging themselves on weak opponents which most upsets former players and fans. To them the value of a Test wicket or run has diminished, and once again the facts support this view.

In matches against Bangladesh over the last five years 16 batsmen have obtained an average of more than 100, and 16 bowlers have taken their wickets at less than 20 runs a piece. Yousuf Youhana, the Pakistan middle-order batsman, has been the greediest willow-wielder, scoring 503 runs at an average of 251.50 in five tests. Danish Kaneria, Pakistan's highly-rated leg-spinner, has also enjoyed himself, taking 34 wickets at an average of 16.41 in five matches.

These figures suggest that the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, needs to do something before matches and series against Bangladesh become a farce.

Bangladesh's entry to Test cricket was shrouded in controversy. The Asian countries were keen to push forward Bangladesh's cause because it would increase their voice at the ICC. This in turn would allow them to have greater influence on all of the major decisions in cricket. Before the vote which sealed their inclusion Bangladesh gained a dodgy victory over Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup. Many believe the result of that match was fixed.

This is all unsatisfactory stuff, but what should not be forgotten is that Bangladesh is a cricket-mad country with a population of over 144 million, and a large proportion of the 55,000 tickets sold for this Test have been to their supporters. Cricket, like any sport, is keen to widen its appeal, and it is difficult to believe the long-term future of the game would benefit from booting them out of Test cricket.

And if the ICC were to take this view, which is very unlikely, it would be hard to envisage Bangladesh ever returning to the Test fold. Their plight has not been helped by the ICC's future tours program, which states that each of the 10 Test-playing countries has to play every other country at home and away during a five-year period.

This hectic schedule has given Bangladesh's young side very little time to organise tours and practice periods that could be geared totally to development.

Yet, it is not as though other nations immediately became competitive when they entered Test cricket. India had to wait until their 25th Test before they walked off as winners, and it took New Zealand's players 45 matches to secure their first victory.

And whilst these countries found their feet many of the world's top players had something of a feeding frenzy themselves. Wally Hammond and Everton Weekes each averaged just under 100 against these two sides before either of them won a Test match. Don Bradman averaged 178.5 against a weak Indian side and the 97 Test wickets Alec Bedser and Fred Trueman took against them cost little more than 14 runs a piece.

England's preparations for the opening Test of an Ashes summer have not been ideal. The unexpected news of Graham Thorpe's imminent retirement will have surprised the squad, and the withdrawal of Ashley Giles deprives England's attack of their most reliable bowler.

Giles' availability has been in question ever since he damaged the cartilage in his right hip. The left-arm spinner has not ruled himself out of next week's Test at Chester-le-Street, and his absence gives Gareth Batty the chance to prove that he is England's second spinner.

Of the batsmen, only Ian Bell has arrived in London in top form. In first-class cricket this season the Warwickshire batsman has scored more runs than the combined effort of England's four other specialist batsmen.

Yet this has not prevented England moving Vaughan up the order and into the position many expected Bell to fill. Since becoming captain the Lancastrian has batted at four, where he has had mixed fortune. Vaughan has scored only one of his 13 Test hundreds batting at three and his average here is just 36.5.

"I will be batting at three and Belly will be batting at four," said a bullish Vaughan. "The experience I have in Test cricket will make it easier for me to adapt. Ian has only played in one Test match. He is a fine player and an excellent prospect, and I think No 4 will prove to be a very good position for him.

"I think this is the best decision for both me and the team. I have played against and had success against Australia and this will give Belly just a little bit more time to gel in." Vaughan would ideally like to have the first Test wrapped up by lunch on Sunday - it would give him time to travel to Cardiff, where he will watch his beloved Sheffield Wednesday play Hartlepool in the League One play-off final.

Vaughan, however, is keen not to take the result of this match for granted. "Bangladesh are obviously a banana skin," he admitted. "But they do give us a good chance of getting the team into a winning mindset. We will treat them with respect, but, if we can play cricket to the standard we did at The Wanderers during the winter we are confident that we will be able to win."

This Test pitch is grassier than most seen on this ground but this should not prevent England's batsmen from scoring heavily. Andrew Strauss has struggled for runs to date but it would take a brave man to bet against him becoming the first player to score a hundred in his first innings against four consecutive sides.

Watching Bangladesh's diminutive batsmen attempt to handle Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff could supply spectators with the most interesting periods of play.

Bangladesh's batsmen are capable of playing glorious strokes but the problem is they try to play too many of them. And it is in an attempt to force balls that are not there to be hit that they become exposed. One player to have shown the discipline required to score runs in England is Mushfiqur Rahim, who, at the age of 16 years and 267 days, will become the youngest player to make his Test debut at Lord's.

England XI: M P Vaughan (c), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, I R Bell, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones (wkt), G Batty, M J Hoggard, S P Jones, S J Harmison.

Bangladesh XII: Habibul Bashar (c), Javed Omar, Nafees Iqbal, Aftab Ahmed, Mohammad Ashraful, Rajin Saleh, Mushfiqur Rahim, Kahled Mashud, Mohammad Rafique, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shahadat Hossain, Anwar Hossain.

Umpires: DJ Harper (Aus) and K Hariharan (Ind)

Best of Bangladesh

Three who could be lording it today:

MUSHFIQUR RAHIM

The 16-year-old will become the ninth youngest player to play Test cricket when he walks out today. The right-handed batsman scored a half-century against Sussex and an excellent century in Northampton during Bangladesh's preparations.

MOHAMMAD RAFIQUE

The left-arm spinner is the visitors' most successful bowler, having taken 67 wickets in 18 Tests. He also gives the ball a good whack when batting and has a Test hundred to his name.

MASHRAFE BIN MORTAZA

The fast bowler badly injured his knee during England's tour of Bangladesh in the winter of 2003. But before being carried from the field on a stretcher, he impressed everyone with his pace and hostility.

From humble beginnings...

How long Test newcomers had to wait for victory

SOUTH AFRICA

First Test match played 1889

First win against any opponent 1905-06 (v England)

WEST INDIES

First Test 1928

First win 1929-30 (v England)

NEW ZEALAND

First Test 1930

First win 1967-68 (v India)

First win v England 1977

INDIA

First Test 1932

First win 1952 (v England)

SRI LANKA

First Test 1982

First win 1985 (v India)

First win v England 1992-93

PAKISTAN

First Test 1952

First win 1954 (v India)

First win v England 1954

ZIMBABWE

First Test 1992

First win 1994-95 v Pakistan

First win v England N/A

BANGLADESH

First Test 2000

First win 2004-05 v Zimbabwe

First win v England N/A

Test record v England (2003-04, in Bangladesh): England won the two-match series 2-0

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