England turn to Clarke to fill void left by Flintoff

Angus Fraser
Saturday 28 September 2013 02:46

There was a time when optional nets for an England cricketer two days before a Test match meant an afternoon on a yacht sipping champagne. Though this group of England players has no chance of finding such ways of relaxing in Dhaka, it was reassuring to see 12 members of Michael Vaughan's 15-man squad take up the chance of additional practice rather than sit by the pool.

Under Vaughan, England have adopted a work ethic which would put that of many of their predecessors to shame. Even the old guard have bought into it with Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe often leading the way. They would be fools not to. England's top players can now earn over £300,000 for a full year's work.

It is not just the veterans who will benefit from such dedication. The younger members of this side will become better cricketers if they continue to show the same commitment. One of these, Rikki Clarke, appears certain to get his chance to impress when England play their inaugural Test match against Bangladesh tomorrow. There are many more aesthetically pleasing Test grounds than the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, but it will always be a special place for the 22-year-old should he make his Test debut here.

If Clarke plays, he will bat at six and attempt to fill the huge hole caused by the absence of Andrew Flintoff. And while the prospect of this does not appear to overawe the Surrey all-rounder, he does accept he is not yet a like-for-like replacement.

"I want to play exactly the same role for England as Freddie [Flintoff]," Clarke said. "Hopefully in years to come you can have me and him in the middle order doing a job for England. Ideally I want my bowling to be good enough for me to be considered a third seamer, but at the moment I accept it is weak."

Clarke's opportunities to bowl for Surrey have been limited and have caused the ambitious youngster to consider moving elsewhere. "I hope it does not reach the stage where I have to move counties to get more bowling," he said. "But at the same time I want a long England career, and to do that I need to bowl a lot more."

Vaughan admitted that Clarke's immaturity with the ball is causing the selectors their major dilemma. "We are still considering our side," Vaughan said. "When Freddie was coming, the side picked itself because we could play two spinners and two more quicks. But now our option is either to play three quicks and one spinner or two of each."

Should England decide on the second option, selection would be easy. Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison have been England's best fast bowlers on this tour and they would join Clarke, Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty in the side.

However, if Vaughan and his coach, Duncan Fletcher, want three specialist fast bowlers, and they may go down this route given Bangladesh's timidity against pace, the issue becomes complicated.

Richard Johnson would be likely to get the nod over Martin Saggers, but deciding on which spinner to play would be tricky. Batty has impressed with both bat and ball so far on this tour and could ease out Giles, who has been England's premier spin bowler since the tour of Pakistan in 2000.

Against a team that has lost 23 of the 24 Test matches it has played, anything other than a 2-0 win in this two-Test series will be considered a failure for England, even if Bangladesh have shown signs of improvement. After scoring 400 in their first Test in 2000, Bangladesh failed to post a first-innings score of more than 280 in any of their next 19. But thanks to their leading batsman, Habibul Bashar, who has scored more than twice as many Test runs - 1,741 at 37.04 - as any of his countrymen, they have passed this total in each of the last four Tests. But Bangladesh's bowling is fragile. They have only dismissed a side for less than 300 on three occasions.

ENGLAND (from): M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), M A Butcher (Surrey), N Hussain (Essex), G P Thorpe (Surrey), R Clarke (Surrey), C M W Read (Nottinghamshire, wk), G J Batty (Worcestershire), A F Giles (Warwickshire), S J Harmison (Durham), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), P D Collingwood (Durham), R L Johnson (Somerset), M J Saggers (Kent).

BANGLADESH (from): Khaled Mahmood (capt), Javed Omar, Rajin Saleh, Aftab Ahmed, Hannan Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahman, Habibul Bashar, Alok Kapali, Mohammad Rafique, Tapash Baisya, Khaled Mashud, Mashrafe Mortzaza, Enamul Haque jnr.

Umpires: A de Silva (SL) & Aleem Dar (Pak).

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments