Tthere may be something slightly ridiculous, even comical, about England starting a series in Bangladesh just hours after finishing one in New Zealand, but there is no lack of seriousness about the task they faced on their first visit here in seven years, nor about the group of players they gathered for this.
This trip was originally planned for Fall 2021 but has been rescheduled for a variety of reasons, including a chronic case of blister fatigue. So what was supposed to be last-minute preparation for a World Cup in one format became long-distance preparation for another in another: after three ODIs followed by as many T20s here, England’s white ball team will save his pajamas until September, when New Zealand and Ireland visit weeks before defending their 50-over title in India.
Bangladesh’s recent domestic record in both formats is excellent – as of late 2018 they have won 81% of their domestic ODIs (compared to 48% on their travels) and 58% of their domestic T20s (compared to 26% outside). India, Australia and New Zealand have lost streaks here over the past two years, with some particularly attractive scores along the way: in T20s, the Kiwis have been bowled out for 60 and 93 and Australia for 62, with Matthew Wade lamenting “the international fields more challenges I’ve ever played in”.
With an Indian autumn on the horizon, this could prove useful experience, and England’s last 12 months in white-ball cricket, when they followed a disappointing summer at home by winning the T20 World Cup, will ensure that even a run of poor results don’t provoke a sense of wild panic (although, given the raucous chaos of Dhaka’s streets, thrusts to the ground might).
But if those memories provide any collective comfort ahead of a potentially difficult task, then the presence of Jason Roy – who joined the squad late on Monday, arriving from Pakistan along with James Vince – is a reminder of what’s at stake for the players, the opener paid for a summer of stumbling by losing his place not just on the team, but on that World Cup victorious team.
The sense of potential personal danger is real, and even without the injured Jonny Bairstow and the multi-format players gearing up for the flight home from Wellington, this is a devilishly difficult team to fit in. If Roy and Dawid Malan open the batting in Wednesday’s opening ODI and Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali play, at least one of Will Jacks, Phil Salt and Vince will have to be left out. Meanwhile, the battle for bowling spots is even fiercer: Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Saqib Mahmood (who will be replaced by Chris Jordan in T20s), Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Reece Topley are all available, with Adil Rashid and Rehan Ahmed providing rotation options.
Ahmed is battling an illness and may miss the opening game, but the 18-year-old’s white ball debut is imminent. It may be, however, that the spin does not dominate: Mahmood, who is in line to return to the national team after recovering from a stress fracture in the spine, knows this from personal experience, having distinguished himself in his previous visit, for the Cup of the Under-19 World Cup in 2016, when his 13 wickets moved him to third place in the tournament rankings. “We’ve had similar conversations where we expected our spinners to do most of the work, but I’ve had a very successful tournament,” he said on Monday, “and I want to do the same again.”