Whatmore spots sunlight through the clouds

Northamptonshire 149-5 v Bangladeshis
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The Independent Online

For their final match before the Lord's Test, the Bangla-deshis have been revisiting the scene of their greatest triumph. Either that, or they were returning to the scene of the crime which led indirectly to next Thursday's auspicious occasion.

For their final match before the Lord's Test, the Bangla-deshis have been revisiting the scene of their greatest triumph. Either that, or they were returning to the scene of the crime which led indirectly to next Thursday's auspicious occasion.

When Bangladesh played Pakistan at Northampton in the 1999 World Cup they won unexpectedly by 62 runs. The victory was greeted rapturously and was presented as confirmation that they were ready for Test cricket, which was complete tosh.

Only later did it emerge that the match might not have been a model of probity, and that Pakistan had probably been a shade negligent in protecting their dismissal. It became clear pretty soon after that Bangladesh were certainly unprepared for the rigours of Test cricket, a fact that the ICC now willingly admit.

Rather than declaring that they should not have been admitted at the time, however, Ehsan Mani, the ICC president, said: "We should have given them help to develop, and we are doing that now."

At the time, promotion to Test status was a unanimous decision of the ICC, and one therefore that they must forever live with. So here we are six years on, and Bangladesh are about to play England at Lord's. They have had three matches leading up to the series, a draw at Cambridge against the Combined Universities, an abject innings defeat at Hove against Sussex and so far barely any play at Wantage Road, where the tourists remain at 149 for 5 in their first innings after the second day was washed out.

It is hardly ideal practice but their estimable coach, Dav Whatmore, was phlegmatic as the third rain-front of the day galloped in. "A team like ours could always do with more time to prepare, but we've had six days out of the possible nine," he said. "It could have been a lot worse."

Whatmore has yet to finalise his XI for the historic match on Thursday, though he was not about to talk about the significance of the venue. "It could be anywhere, we've just got to try to be on top of our game."

The reality is that Bangla-desh will do well to take the match into the fourth day. Tickets have gone better than expected, since the match is a Test in name only.

The Bangladeshi community in London has rallied behind the team after deliberate targeting by the MCC, and perhaps those fans denied a ticket for the Australian Test by failure in the ballot are taking the chance for a day at Lord's.

Bangladesh's squad is improbably young. Seven of its members were on tour in this country last summer with the country's Under-19s. Four of them have a realistic chance of playing on Thursday (not to mention the 20-year-old Mohammad Ashraful, Test cricket's youngest centurion at 17).

Among the quartet is Mushfiqur Rahim, the reserve wicketkeeper, who may come in as a specialist batsman. He looks the part and earned Whatmore's plaudits by facing 71 balls while scoring 18 in the first innings at Hove and 63 in the second as wickets tumbled at the other end.

If he plays he would be the youngest player by 18 months to make his Test debut at Lord's but only the fifth Bangladeshi to make his debut as a 16-year-old.

He scored 88 in the Second Under-19 Test here last year, and had to be called home early from Australia recently, where he was the Under-19 captain, so he could visit his parents before joining this tour. It is to be hoped they wrote him a note. As Whatmore explained: "We need some cover for our wicketkeeper, Khaled Mahsud."

If Rahim has to play behind the stumps it will be interesting to see if the ECB impose their regulation that keepers under 17 must wear helmets while standing up - or produce a letter of exemption from their parents.

Whatever permutation they pick, Bangladesh will be too inexperienced. It is ironic that they will almost certainly omit Enamul Haque Jnr, the 18-wicket hero of their recent contest against Zimbabwe, when they won a match and a series for the first time. Presumably they must be improving if they can ditch a match-winner.

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