England were mobbed yesterday. The nature of what cricket and cricketers mean in Bangladesh was enshrined in the rapturous welcome they received at the Sher-e-Bangla government high school.
Ahead of the start of the one-day series tomorrow the visit and its conduct could not have been more timely. So low-key in their own country that it is below doh in the scale, it is screaming from the rooftops here.
The six players who went for the afternoon visit in aid of the World Food Programme, a UN body, were the object of constant attention, swarmed over for introductions and autographs. The attendant back-room staff and a handful of reporters on everybody's coat-tails were barely less in demand.
The players said all the right things and meant them. It was indeed a humbling experience to be there. Just getting through the streets on the way, less frenetic on Fridays because of prayers but still so packed with people and traffic that moving and thinking are equally difficult tasks, is humbling.
If the players were toeing a party line about their desire to be here and the necessity of it, it was to their credit that it was impossible to tell. Nothing they spoke about, however, was truer than the continued assertion that Bangladesh must not to be taken lightly.
England are expected to win all five international matches between the sides in the coming month – three one-day internationals will be followed by two Test matches – but every street in this teeming, polluted city has an upset cart of one form or another, whether apple or not. Sooner or later Bangladesh will defeat England as they have Australia, India and Sri Lanka before and it should not come as a surprise if they disturb England's well-stocked bandwagon in at least one of the 50-over matches.
There has been scant evidence that this is about to occur in the two warm-up matches that have been played this week. Observers seem to have noted that Bangladeshi cricketers, and their batsmen in particular, still have a suicidal approach to the game. After more than a decade at the high table of the sport they still fail regularly to harness undoubted talent and flair to discipline and vigilance.
England remain a one-day work in progress and on this tour they also have a new captain, Alastair Cook, who assumed temporary charge of the team to allow Andrew Strauss a break. Whatever the management says about Strauss's need for recuperation after an unfeasibly tough year and the opportunity it gives to blood Cook, it is a strategy suffused with risk.
What if Cook, who is also replacing Strauss as an opening batsman, has a rampantly successful one-day series noted not only for its weight of runs but also its range of shot? Does Strauss then immediately walk back into the side? On the basis of what has been said that seems to be the plan.
So far it seems that the players have responded to Cook well, not least because he is a pretty nice chap. All of them know of him, of course; a few of them played under him as England Under-19 captain in this very country.
"He's captained all through the age groups and is quite experienced in the captaincy role and I'm looking forward to playing under him," said Stuart Broad, who will lead the bowling attack in this series. "As a bowler in one-day cricket you rely a lot on yourself as you are the one who's got to deliver the ball so you've got to be happy with your field. It's going to be a good challenge for Cooky but he still sits at the back of the bus and gets involved in the banter.
"We're trying to push him to the front of the bus because that's where the captain sits. He'll always be a nice bloke. Being captain doesn't change you in any way, you've still got to socialise with the lads and come out for dinner."
But at some point in the next month Cook will have to make a tough call on or off the field which will not be to everybody's satisfaction. It will have the potential to change things – relationships or the mood on the pitch – and this England will fear above all.
Strauss, as Broad averred, certainly seems to have the support of his colleagues at present in taking the break. They appear to know what he had to go through for them in 2009.
For all that England have made discernible progress as a one-day side, as witnessed by their appearance in the Champions Trophy semi-finals and the series defeat of South Africa, they still do not know what their favoured XI is. The swift, nay meteoric, rise of Craig Kieswetter, has given the selectors much pause for thought.
If he opens the batting, as seems probable, they must then decide whether he keeps wicket as well, which seems improbable. If Matt Prior is retained as wicketkeeper it is then possible that Jonathan Trott, who was himself flavour of the month in South Africa last November, will be omitted after not having the opportunity to do much wrong.
Bangladesh themselves think they may have spotted an opportunity because of England's uncertain selection, started by the non-appearance of Strauss. Jamie Siddons, their coach, said: "We can bite them on the bum."
England are likely to play three seamers with one spinner but if two spinners are to get in the one-day side anywhere, it is in this place. The bowlers are having to fend for themselves without a specialist coach after the departure of Ottis Gibson to the West Indies and on the slow pitches here that may be difficult if the wheels on the cart start to loosen.
Bangladesh have dropped from their squad perhaps the most illustrious and underachieving batsman, Mohammad Ashraful, and brought back their best fast bowler, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. They have nine players in their squad aged 23 or under. But there is an instructive point about Bangladeshi cricket. Of the team which played England in the last one-day international here seven years ago, six players who are not now in the side are still 30 or under. They flatter still to deceive.
Captain Cook's tour: Bangladesh fixtures
Tomorrow: First ODI (Mirpur)
Tuesday: Second ODI (Mirpur)
Friday: Third ODI (Chittagong)
7-9 March: v Bangladesh A (Chittagong)
12-16 March: First Test (Chittagong)
20-24 March: Second Test (Mirpur)
England's probable team....And three looking to impress
A N Cook (capt)
K P Pietersen
P D Collingwood
E J G Morgan
M J Prior (wkt)
L J Wright
S C J Broad
T T Bresnan
G P Swann
R J Sidebottom
Belligerent basher with a touch more culture than his reputation so far allows. Determined, likeable and learning all the time. Can fill the all- rounder's gap in a new way.
Has demonstrated in a few months that he has what it takes. Innovative, skilful and exciting, just what England have been lacking and unique in the manner he addresses opposition attacks.
Has had a meteoric rise in little more than two weeks. Already seems the real deal, slugging voraciously from the hip after three years at Somerset. If he seems the real deal, he still has it all to prove now in the big time.Reuse content