Cricket Expert & Columnist
A spin-off series
Michael Atherton explains what tweaks England need to make for the first Test against Bangladesh.
Last Updated: 11/03/10 5:45pm
There are those who believe England should wipe the floor with Bangladesh in the upcoming two-Test series, but I don't think it will be a pushover.
The tourists will probably win but they will have to play well to do so - if they are significantly below their best then we could see a shock.
England have performed better of late in Asia than they used to, partly because they have played more there in the last half-dozen years or so.
Results may not reflect that (they have won only one of their 14 Tests on the subcontinent since touring Bangladesh in 2003) but in general terms England's batsmen look more comfortable against spin these days and don't have such a hang-up about coming to Asia.
That's partly because tours of the subcontinent are less hard than they used to be; for example the hotel here in Chittagong is fine, facilities are good and the players seem in a good frame of mind as a result.
Alastair Cook avoided the banana skin posed by the one-day series but he remains on a hiding to nothing as he enters his first Test as captain, aged 25. The fear of messing it up and losing to Bangladesh brings a pressure of its own.
He's come on during this tour in as much as he speaks more confidently and more authoritatively to the media - not that that really has too much bearing on how well you do the job on the pitch - but the key remains how well he is respected in the dressing room.
The younger players naturally look up to him but does he have the authority as he learns on the job to take the likes of Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen with him? After all, he's still pretty inexperienced and naïve in leadership terms.
The simple answer is yes - but showing the type of form he did in the one-dayers in the Test arena can only strengthen his position.
As has been well-documented, Pietersen has form problems of his own to deal with at present and they are not something a quick phone call to Duncan Fletcher will solve.
More importantly, he's been working bloody hard - harder than any player here - on a couple of technical adjustments to combat the problem he has against left-arm spin.
He's trying to keep his head more in line with the ball rather than fall away to the off-side, which makes him more vulnerable to lbws.
I don't think his return of 69 runs in seven knocks will have any bearing on whether England go with five or six batsmen in the Test because they have to back him to get runs.
That said, I think the selectors will probably play six batsmen plus Matt Prior (although the camp isn't giving too much away) because they feel the spinners are going to do the bulk of the work from day one.
If England field on the first day, I'd expect Graeme Swann and James Treadwell to bowl 25 overs apiece so there's not that much need for a third seamer, particularly when someone like Paul Collingwood can get away with bowling 10 overs or so.
Ideally, you wouldn't want to play two specialist off-spinners; from a captain's point of view you'd prefer greater variety but this is the pair the selectors presently believe in.
Picking six batsmen means Michael Carberry should make his debut and, in the absence of Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan will play as the second seamer behind Stuart Broad, which is risky bearing in mind that Broad is on his way back from injury and the conditions out here.
It's getting gradually hotter by the day the further we get into March and by the end of the tour it should be pretty muggy and hot - so the faster bowlers will struggle to put in long shifts.
The same goes for the hosts and England's batsmen know they will have to settle quickly against a three-pronged spin attack with men around the bat.
Exactly how well they fare against left-armers Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak, and the slow bowling of Mahmudullah, will be at the crux of this series.
Bangladesh have been shaken by Roqibul Hassan's sudden and premature retirement this week not least because he played so well in the warm-up game, scoring an unbeaten century and fifty.
To just jack it in as abruptly as he has done will have a disruptive impact on the squad - more so than the omission of Mohammad Ashraful - because Hassan is a player in form.
Bangladesh haven't got that much batting back-up; he was a player they couldn't afford to lose and putting together a sizeable total will be all the more difficult for his absence.