There will be a distinctly different look to England’s line-up for the First Test against Bangladesh. Alastair Cook will have a new opening partner, either Ben Duckett or Haseeb Hameed, at least one of the middle order personnel will be changed and three spinners could be selected to take advantage of a turning pitch in Chittagong.
Cook missed both warm-up matches while he returned home for the birth of his second daughter, so he is likely to have very little say about who he opens with.
However, he seemed relaxed about the situation when he spoke to the Evening Standard: “We’re in a bit of a unique situation. I haven’t seen any of the cricket for the last week or so, so I’m going to be heavily reliant on the lieutenants. I have to trust them really. Ultimately it comes down to who we think will score the most runs.”
Trying to work out who out of Duckett and Hameed will score the most runs seems almost impossible as neither have played Test cricket before. Both players scored fifties in the second warm-up game too which makes the decision even more difficult. However, Duckett’s impressive displays in the ODI series, when he scored 123 runs in three innings including one fifty, may have given him the edge.
The Evening Standard thinks so, and reports that Duckett will open with Cook, Gary Ballance is likely to keep his place, Moeen Ali is set to move up to number five in the batting order and Ben Stokes will take James Vince’s spot.
ESPN Cricinfo adds that Gareth Batty is set to play his first Test match since he appeared in 2005 – also against Bangladesh.
If Batty is selected, it will cap a remarkable journey for the Surrey Captain, 39, who has taken 120 wickets in the last three Country Championship seasons. England’s other option for the third spinner position is Batty’s county teammate Zafar Ansari. However, Ansari, like Duckett and Hameed, is yet to play Test cricket, and it would be understandable if England were reluctant to field two debutants in one game.
The First Test is set to be a very exciting occasion for Duckett and Batty, but it will be also be very special for Captain Cook. When he steps onto the field, he will break Alec Stewart’s Test appearances record – which has stood for 13 years. The match will be the Essex opener’s 134th for his country, and his 52nd as captain. Since his debut against India in March 2006, he has made 29 centuries and scored 10,599 runs for England.
Speaking about the achievement, Cook told the Evening Standard: “I never thought I’d get anywhere near, so to break a record like that is very special. You need a lot of luck to stay injury-free and score just enough runs at the right time to keep yourself in the team.”
When ESPN Cricinfo asked him if he could reach 200 appearances, Cook replied: “We play Tests so quickly nowadays so I could. The more times you pack your bags to leave your family at home you do question how long you can keep doing it. But at this precise moment playing and being captain is something I am very proud of. It doesn’t matter whether you are playing your first game or your 130th it is a very proud moment to play for England and you should never ever forget that.”
Vice-Captain Joe Root was also keen to pay tribute to Cook, who has been captain in all of the Yorkshireman’s Tests. He told The Guardian: “It’s a fabulous achievement and not just a testament to his skill. He’s overcome every obstacle and had a tough couple of years. He is now a stronger character with a better perspective on the game. The young guys should not take it for granted that he will always be around. We have to make the most of his knowledge and experience. He is now back to his best and I’ve huge respect for him. He can be quite stubborn – and I’ve learnt from that as well.”
Bangladesh will not be an easy team for England to face, particularly on their own turf. Their best batsmen are Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim, while Imrul Kayes has also recently returned to form in encouraging fashion. The home side will select a largely inexperienced bowling attack so the pressure is on veteran spinner Shakib Al Hasan to set the example.
Root told BBC Sport that England will not under-estimate Bangladesh. He said: “It’s Test cricket. I don’t think you can ever take it lightly. They’re a very exciting side with some very dangerous players. We’re going to have to play really well to beat them.”
England’s First Test against Bangladesh begins in Chittagong at 5am UK time.
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