Strauss happy to put Shahzad on the fast track at Old Trafford
All that England can do in the next few days is to beat what is in front of them. Since that is Bangladesh on a pitch likely to be swift and taking turn, that will probably be done sooner rather than later. Much sooner.
A story is doing the rounds that a county side visited Old Trafford a fortnight ago and were seriously considering making an official report about the surface being too quick. Thankfully, before chicken could be called, they desisted.
In general, cricket pitches need to favour pace more than they do in most places and, in particular, Old Trafford has done that over the past few years. It encourages both seam and spin bowlers because of the extra bounce on offer and there has invariably been opportunity for some genuine turn later in the match. But nor should accomplished batsmen be discouraged.
The height of Bangladesh's aspiration will be a draw but, in truth, it is difficult to see the match going into the fifth day. Bangladesh have managed to take England that far in the last three Test matches between them but this will provide the tourists with their sternest examination. The prospect of Steve Finn running in and extracting bounce, Jimmy Anderson manipulating the ball venomously both ways through the air and, probably, Ajmal Shahzad doing likewise on his debut will fill them with foreboding despite the protestations to the contrary of their coach, Jamie Siddons, yesterday.
England have lost at Old Trafford only seven times in the last 42 years, their most recent defeat being to Pakistan in 2001. That record is not about to be blemished further.
Andrew Strauss, England's captain, refused as usual to name his side yesterday but conceded there would probably be four bowlers and not five. It was easy to sense he expects them to do the job long before the allotted time span for the match runs out. The final place in the team is, predictably, a toss-up between Shahzad and Ryan Sidebottom.
Strauss said: "Ryan, we know is a very experienced campaigner, very good in English conditions in particular, good against left-arm batsmen and provides something different, being a left-arm bowler, so those are the points heavily in his favour.
"We don't know as much about Ajmal at this stage but we have been very excited by what we have seen, which is why he has been in the squad for a fair amount of time. He bowls with good pace, he keeps running in all day and he can swing the ball both ways. It's a choice between youth and experience to a certain extent." But if they do not give Shahzad a go now on a pitch where he could do real damage they may be kidding themselves about his talent.
Bangladesh seem to have been heartened by their recent outings against England and there is no question that there have been tangible improvements in their batting in the past year or so. Their seam bowling, by and large, remains lamentable.
Siddons, who must take much of their credit for teaching batsmen about crease occupation, said: "If I was a batsman, I'd love to hear it was fast and bouncy. The ball comes off quicker. I don't know why people talk about that being a problem for batsmen. You know the ball is going over the top of the stumps, you know it's going over your head.
"It's taken a lot of hard work and a lot of time and they are starting to get the idea. But it's difficult for them to move from 50-over to Twenty20 to Test cricket but England change a few names and they are very experienced players, they know how to adjust. Our guys are still coming to terms with that."
Siddons may attempt to address the dearth of fast bowling in a novel way, by making a raid on players of Bangladeshi extraction living in England. After the first day of the Lord's Test, he said, when long hop was loaded on to half-volley, he was ready to go home.
"I keep asking if they are around, I'm sure they are. There have been Bangladeshis here long enough to use England for development programmes and grab a few. I haven't had any names come forward, I've pushed it at board level to get the word out there. We'd definitely look at it, if there is a fast bowler who can come back and play for us immediately."
For now, Siddons is shuffling the pack and Shafiul Islam will definitely play today ahead of one of the other hapless Lord's seamers. But Bangladesh may well be able to make an early exit to fulfil their obligations in the Asia Cup – before returning for three one-day matches against England – by Monday at the latest.
Old Trafford details
England (probable): AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wkt), GP Swann, A Shahzad, JM Anderson, ST Finn.
Bangladesh (probable): S Al Hasan (capt), T Iqbal, I Kayes, J Siddique, M Ashraful, M Rahim (wkt), Mahmudullah, S Hossain, R Hossain, A Razzak, S Islam.
Umpires B Bowden (New Zealand), A De Silva (Sri Lanka)
Third umpire R Illingworth
Referee A Hurst
Pitch report One of the quicker surfaces in England but should also offer something for the spinners as the game progresses. Win the toss and bat will be the order of the day, although if that is Bangladesh they will have to find a way of combatting the steepling bounce Steve Finn is likely to extract.
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