The England cricket team will arrive in Dhaka on the 8th of October for their maiden Test Series against Bangladesh. For the English, the series provides an opportunity to acclimatize to the sub-continental conditions and to fine-tune their game before a more challenging mission to Sri Lanka. For Bangladesh, the series provides the chance to continue to build on the recent successes in Pakistan and to continue to improve both individually and collectively. While the Bangladeshi coach and players do their homework on the opposition, it is also important for us, the fans, to learn about the players who are charged with halting our progress in international cricket. Here is a brief look at each player.
Michael Vaughan (Captain, Age: 28, Matches: 35) ? Few batsmen in the world have enjoyed Vaughan?s success in Test cricket over the last 16 months. After taking over from Mike Atherton as opener, Vaughan wasted little time before making his mark on international cricket. In his last 19 Test matches, he has scored an amazing 1879 runs at an average nearing 60 with 8 hundreds. Although Vaughan has not scored many runs in his three Test matches in the sub-continent, one can?t help but feel that he is a different player now than he was the last time he toured these parts and he is expected to be a handful for the Bangladeshi bowlers. Vaughan?s trademark cover drive is a treat to watch, but his pull and his hook are increasingly becoming equally potent weapons. Vaughan is also expected to use his off-spin on the slow tracks in Dhaka and Chittagong and anyone who was fortunate enough to see him clean bowl Sachin Tendulkar in the Test match in Nottingham in 2002 will know not to take his bowling lightly. This will be Vaughan?s first overseas assignment as captain, and it will be interesting to see whether he can lead from the front and shepherd his relatively inexperienced side through what promises to be an interesting series for both teams. (2698 Test runs @ 46.36)
Marcus Trescothick (28, 38) ? Marcus Trescothick?s elevation to the English side was sudden and to some, unexpected. Thought of at first as a one-day player, Trescothick was selected for the NatWest Series against Zimbabwe and West Indies in June of 2000. However, the selectors were given plenty to think about after the way Trescothick played in that series and he was called up for the Test series against West Indies the same summer. He has not looked back since. An aggressive left-handed opening batsman, Trescothick loves to cut and drive at balls outside his off-stump. He is also a good player of the short ball and like all left-handers, good off his feet. Although he went through a bad patch in the last Ashes series in Australia, he slowly got back his form over the English summer, culminating in scores of 219 and 69 not out in his last Test match against the South Africans at the Oval. The Bangladeshi bowlers will be hoping desperately that he does not start where he left off. In the past, bowlers have exploited his weakness of fishing at balls on the corridor of uncertainty. The Bangladeshi bowlers will do well to keep him quiet and probe in that area if they are to have a chance of getting him out. (2802 Test runs @ 43.10)
Mark Butcher (31, 57) ? Although Mark Butcher first played for England against Australia in 1997, he only established his place in the side after his match winning 173 not out against the old enemy at Leeds in 2001. Since then, he has been a consistent performer for England at the all-important number 3 position, scoring 5 more centuries to take his overall tally to 8. Butcher likes to play with the straight bat but is also harsh on anything short and wide outside off-stump. He also has the ability to change his style of play according to the need. He can be aggressive when given a chance but is also capable of playing circumspect innings when his team needs him to hold one end up. Butcher?s gentle medium pace bowling is often used to break partnerships, but one cannot expect him to have much success on the Bangladeshi wickets with his style of bowling. (3559 Test runs @ 35.59)
Nasser Hussain (35, 87) ? Nasser Hussain is perhaps one of the most enigmatic cricketers on the international scene. A man known for his intensity, he led England through one of the more successful periods in recent times, but resigned the captaincy suddenly after the first Test against South Africa this summer. A difficult tour to Australia and the Zimbabwe ordeal during the World Cup had definitely taken their toll. Since relieving himself of captaincy however, Hussain has scored 269 runs in 6 innings at an average close to 45 and he will want to score a heap of runs against Bangladesh, now that he does not have the team to worry about. Hussain has a good all-round game, but can often be tentative in defence, making himself vulnerable to edges to the keeper and slips. Bangladesh will also want to exploit the fact that Hussain will be under pressure to establish his place in the team now that the captaincy does not guarantee his selection. (5196 Test runs @37.11)
Graham Thorpe (34, 78) ? Undoubtedly the best batsman in the side, Thorpe has been plagued in recent years by family problems. A difficult divorce forced him to take time away from the game and a last minute pull out off the last Ashes series made him unpopular with the selectors. However, it seems that the selectors have forgiven him at last, selecting him for the last test of the summer against South Africa. Thorpe quickly reminded everyone of his pedigree with a brilliant century in the first innings. If Thorpe has finally put his problems behind him, he will score many runs in the sub-continent. He is equally strong on the off and leg sides and can play off both feet with equal ease. However, his major weakness is his psychological state, coupled with the pressure to prove that he can overcome it. The only thing the BD bowlers can do is to exert a lot of pressure and hope that he cracks. (5233 Test runs @ 42.54)
Paul Collingwood (27, 0) ? Paul Collingwood is England?s latest attempt find a decent middle order Test batsman after experimenting this summer with Anthony McGrath and Ed Smith. Collingwood has had some success in one-day cricket in England colours, scoring a hundred and five fifties in 38 matches. However, what exactly about him prompted the Test call-up at this stage is difficult to ascertain. He did not have a particularly good first-class season, but the selectors obviously feel that he has what it takes to make a good Test batsman. He may not make it into the first XI though, with Flintoff proving over the summer that he is good enough to bat at 6.
Andrew Flintoff (25, 26) ? When ?Freddie? Flintoff first played Test cricket, against South Africa in 1998, he was clearly not ready to represent England at the highest level. But five years on, he is finally ready to play the role that England has been reserving for him since his debut, that is to bat at 6 and bowl first-change. Flintoff bowled well in the sub-continent the last time England was here, taking 4 for 50 in the first innings of the third Test in Bangalore against a very strong Indian batting line-up. He is even more disciplined now than he was two winters ago and he set an example with his accuracy against South Africa this summer when his colleagues were bowling all over the place. The Bangladeshi batsmen should be a little weary of him and play him as straight as possible. The most striking improvement in Flintoff has been in his batting. Against a strong South African bowling attack, he scored 423 runs at 52.87 this summer. I will be surprised if England does not play him at 6, thereby creating places for two front line spinners on top of two specialist seamers. Flintoff is most comfortable when he can bat in his carefree and aggressive style. His big innings against SA came when his team was virtually out of the game and he had nothing more to lose. But whether he can reproduce that kind of form when his team really needs it is yet to be seen. The Bangladeshi bowlers will do well starve him of runs and invite him to make mistakes. (1066 Test runs @ 26 and 43 Test wickets @ 49.95)
Chris Read (Keeper, 25, 3) ? Like Flintoff, Read was not ready for Test cricket when he was first given the gloves against New Zealand in 1999. And just like Flintoff, he has matured in leaps and bounds since then. Read worked hard for Nottinghamshire to get back into the selectors books and when they picked him for the NatWest series against Zimbabwe and South Africa earlier in the summer, he proved that he is the natural successor to Stewart. Stewart himself must have been impressed, announcing his retirement at the end of summer soon afterwards. So, four years after he first played for England, Read will get another chance to establish his place, and one gets the feeling that this time he will. He is a fantastic keeper and his batting under pressure in the one-dayers augurs well for his Test career. (38 Test runs @ 9.50, 10 catches and 1 stumping)
Geraint Jones (Keeper, 27, 0) ? When Geraint Jones was picked to tour the sub-continent, even pundits were asking ?Geraint who?? and with good reason. Jones, who was born in Papua New Guinea, only became the regular keeper for Kent this past season. But he has established his place quickly by being the third highest run scorer for his county with 886 runs First Class runs at an average of 44.30 and taking 50 catches and 5 stumpings in the season, impressive by any standard. Jones is expected to be the understudy to Read in this tour, but with an impressive Championship season behind him, he will definitely ensure that Read doesn?t take his place in the side for granted.
Rikki Clarke (22, 0) ? Rikki Clarke?s inclusion in the Test squad raised even more eyebrows than that of Jones?. Clarke is of course, better known than Jones, having represented England in the NatWest Challenge and the NatWest Trophy earlier in the summer. However, 64 runs and 3 wickets in 7 matches were hardly inspiring for this so-called one-day cricketer. The England selectors must think that he will do better at Test cricket than he has done so far in the shorter version. He scored 513 runs at 42.75 in the County Championship and took 12 wickets at 50.58. He is player in the mould of the late Ben Hollioake, but from what I have seen so far, he is not as good as Ben was in either department. His bowling is fairly innocuous, not unlike our very own Mahmud, and his batting shouldn?t worry our bowlers too much either. He seemed particularly weak against spin bowling, something that should interest Rafiq and co. He is not expected to be picked for the Tests however, and he will most likely carry drinks for his teammates in Dhaka and Chittagong.
Ashley Giles (30, 25) ? Ashley Giles has been part of the England set up for so long now that it is surprising that he has only played 25 Test matches. But he is a player who loves the sub-continent, taking 30 of his 64 Test wickets in this part of the world in 8 Tests with his left-arm orthodox spin. In his first tour to the sub-continent when England toured Pakistan in November 2000, he was the highest wicket-taker on either side. In recent series? however, Giles has seemed low on confidence, something that is often the case with spinners having to bowl on the seam-friendly wickets of England. Against South Africa this summer, his performance was below par, taking 7 wickets in 4 Tests. However, returning to the sub-continent may trigger happy memories and his previous experience is bound to stand him in good stead. Giles is similar to Rafiq, not a big turner but changes his pace well and mixes things up. Although he is most dangerous when he bowls an off-stump line from over the wicket, Giles does have the tendency to go into a defensive shell when he is low on confidence and bowl a leg-stump line from round the wicket. The Bangladeshi batsmen should look to dent his confidence early, so they can neutralize his main weapon and be able to play him with ease afterwards. (64 Test wickets @ 41.73)
Mathew Hoggard (26, 19) ? Mathew Hoggard is the workhorse any captain would like to have in his team. Hand him the ball and he will bowl a nagging off-stump line all day long. When he finds swing, he can even be dangerous, as the New Zealanders found out two seasons ago when Hoggard took 7 for 63 at Christchurch. But swing he won?t find in Bangladesh and he will have to rely on his probing line and length to force mistakes out of the Bangladeshi batsmen. Hoggard will pose serious problems for the Bangladeshi batsmen with his accuracy, not least because batsmen have a tendency of taking him lightly. The batsmen will have to show a lot of patience when playing him, something the Bangladeshi batsmen have not done too well with in the past. (69 Test wickets @ 33.62)
Steve Harmison (24, 11) ? Steve Harmison hasn?t yet set the world alight like some had expected him to before he made it into the Test side. He definitely has a great deal of pace but he has to learn to pitch balls up more rather than always bowling his natural length, which is just short of a good length. He will be the quickest bowler on either side by some distance in this series, but the pitch will offer him little help and he will have to keep his wits about him and not get frustrated by the lack of movement in Bangladesh. This series will be a good test for Harmison. He will either rise to the fore by using his pace wisely to provide England some early wickets, or he will get frustrated with the lack of help and fade into the background. The Bangladeshi batsmen for their part should wear him out and break his rhythm by forcing him to try out new things. (32 Test wickets @ 35.50)
Richard Johnson (28, 1) ? Richard Johnson was not originally picked for this tour but got called up when James Anderson pulled out. Johnson played his one and only Test match earlier this summer against lowly Zimbabwe, taking 6 for 33 in the first innings and none for 67 in the second. Injury caused him to miss much of the rest of the season. He is similar to another bowler England tried out a few years ago by the name of Ed Giddins. Johnson is not express quick, but he is increasingly accurate and a natural swing bowler. In conditions that won?t aid his seam bowling, he is unlikely to cause too many problems in my view. If given a chance in the Test side, he will try to emulate Hoggard by bowling a probing line and length, something our batsmen should be able to negate easily with a little patience and some straight-batted stroke play. (6 Test wickets @ 16.66)
Gareth Batty (26, 0) ? Gareth Batty?s impressive First Class season in 2002 when he took 56 wickets with his off-spin and scored nearly 500 runs won him a place in the England Academy in Adelaide for the following winter, summer in the southern hemisphere. As luck would have it, he got called up to the England side, touring Australia at the time, after injuries had left it in dire straits. He played two one-dayers and impressed with his eagerness and commitment. He followed with another good season this year, taking 53 Championship wickets @ 27.09. Batty will enjoy bowling in the sub-continent, especially if England can find the balance to pick him alongside Giles and let the two spinners bowl in tandem. Batty will be an unknown quantity for the Bangladeshi batsmen and they will be well advised to play him carefully.