Cricket Expert & Columnist
Avoiding the slips
An error-free tour of Bangladesh will boost Alastair Cook's long-term captaincy claims, says Mike Atherton.
Last Updated: 26/02/10 1:43pm
After working so hard to win the one-day series and secure a 1-1 Test draw in South Africa, one of England's primary aims in Bangladesh will be not to slip up.
Quite rightly the expectation is that England will win on the subcontinent and win easily, just as they did in 2003 under Michael Vaughan.
But this type of tour can be a banana skin for established countries, particularly as Bangladesh are more than capable of putting up a challenge at home.
So for Alastair Cook, in particular, it is something of a trip to nothing.
He should be looking at the tour as a wonderful opportunity to press his long-term captaincy claims. If at any time in the future Andrew Strauss gets injured or stands down as skipper then he'll be able to step forward as a candidate with experience.
But if, for whatever reason, the tour doesn't go to plan the questions will land at his door.
In that sense I feel a little sorry for him because Strauss should definitely be on part of this tour. I can't for the life of me work out why he won't be leading England in next month's two-Test series.
Yes, England do have a busy year ahead but even if Strauss played only the Test matches he would still have the best part of three months off.
Duncan Fletcher made a point in 2001 of allowing players to miss either Test matches or one-dayers but not to pick and choose their tours. Strauss has trashed that policy.
Now it appears as though the door is open for players to pick and choose their tours as they wish which seems ludicrous.
This is not a long tour so I understand why there are those who question why England have selected squads of 16 for both the one-day and Test series.
My feeling is that these guys are in on merit rather than being part of some experiment conducted by Andy Flower.
Amjad Shahzad has clearly impressed the selectors as has James Tredwell - he was by far the most threatening spinner after Graeme Swann in the nets in South Africa.
And then there is Craig Kieswetter. His call-up to the one-day squad offers him the chance to boost his claims for the ICC World Twenty20 and the World Cup to follow.
I've not seen enough of him up close to determine whether he's good enough to play as a batsman alone for England in the long-term, but everybody at Somerset says he is a fantastic striker of the ball and extremely strong.
Hitting the ball over the top with ease at the start of an innings is an area that England have struggled in since Marcus Trescothick retired.
They've tried people like Luke Wright and Matt Prior at the top of the order with not much success and if Kieswetter comes in - as looks likely - and is successful then there is a ready-made slot for him.
It's good to see some healthy competition for Prior's place but I don't think England will want to chop and change their wicketkeeper between one-day and Test cricket. My guess is the selectors will feel that is too disruptive.
England have got to a position where Prior is settled in the role and - although his one-day batting has not really kicked on - everybody seems happy with his keeping and I've no doubt he'll work hard to ensure it stays that way.
Likewise, this is an important tour for Kevin Pietersen. I sensed that he was finding some form in Dubai after struggling in South Africa on the back of little cricket.
The slowness of the pitches in Bangladesh and the type of bowlers he will face offer him the perfect opportunity to get back to somewhere near his best. I don't envisage any one-day double hundreds in the weeks to come but there should be innings with plenty of substance.
The one possible mitigating factor is that Pietersen - and Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan for that matter - may be worried about their participation in the forthcoming Indian Premier League, given the security concerns that have been raised recently.
England take the reports of Reg Dickinson, the British security expert, pretty seriously.
If he advises those three players that they shouldn't go to India but they decide to go anyway it leaves them slightly open to question should a similar situation arise ahead of the 2011 World Cup in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
For now, though, England must focus on the challenge Shakib Al Hasan's side will pose on Sunday.
After seeing off the West Indies in July last year, England are the only team Bangladesh have not beaten in a one-day international and I'm sure they will be determined to put that right this time around.
This is my first trip to Bangladesh and I'll be interested to see how cricket is progressing in the country - not just in terms of the Test team but also the level below it, which always gives you a good indication of the success the country might have further down the line.