England need to convince KP that he is still “the nuts.”
The England cricket team’s tour of Bangladesh gets going in earnest this Sunday with a one-day international in Dhaka. England would be disappointed to come away with anything less than a clean sweep of the three ODIs and two Tests they are scheduled to play over the next few weeks, though you won’t hear any of the team management declaring that openly. Their ECB-media-coached utterances will mention a lot of balls in good areas, game plans to be stuck to and tough challenges to be met, though the odd patronising remark about the paucity of golf courses in the neighbourhood is bound to slip through now and then.
Virender Sehwag does things a little differently. On the eve of the first Test of India’s recent tour of Bangladesh, Sehwag was asked by a journalist about the chances of an upset. His response? “Bangladesh are an ordinary side. They can't beat India because they can't take 20 wickets.” When Bangladesh bowled India out for 243 the following day, Sehwag was briefly left looking foolish, but in the end his analysis proved to be accurate. Arrogant, perhaps, but Sehwag’s approach to press conferences is just the natural extension of his refreshingly no-nonsense approach to batting.
So let’s think Sehwagologically about the series ahead. England care so little about this tour that they have decided to rest their captain, Andrew Strauss, their best bowler, Jimmy Anderson, and their best drinks-carrier, Adil Rashid. I’m not sure I agree with these decisions but some good may come of each of them.
Wing Commander Strauss’ absence makes the tour a voyage of discovery for Captain Alastair Cook, who obviously deserves his turn at the tiller because he is a) not a bowler, b) not South African and c) a bit posh. To be fair to Cook, he did captain England Under-19s with aplomb and has hardly put a foot wrong since his Test debut as a 21-year-old, one semi-nude photo shoot with pals Broad and Anderson aside.
As for Anderson, his knee needs a break to prevent a breakdown, and the Lancastrian wouldn’t have found much swing on offer for him anyway. That said, the pitches are unlikely to be dustbowls and England may well go into most of the games with a single spinner in their line-up. Consequently, I’m glad James “Pingu” Tredwell has been picked ahead of Adil Rashid as Graeme Swann’s understudy, since Rashid – who already has three overseas tours under his belt as a specialist twelfth man – is relishing getting actual match practice instead; the young leg-spinner has been stacking up the wickets playing for the England Lions.
Meanwhile, Rashid’s Yorkshire teammate Ajmal Shahzad should get the chance to show whether he can add a bit of hustle and bustle to England’s seam attack, and Somerset’s Craig Kieswetter the chance to show whether he is the hard-hitting one-day opener England have been looking for since Marcus Trescothick’s retirement. In the Tests, Michael Carberry could press his case for a permanent top order berth.
At the top of England’s wish list for the tour, however, is a return to form for Kevin Pietersen. Australian cricketing legend Dennis Lillee once said of his great adversary Geoff Boycott, “Geoffrey is the only fellow I’ve met who fell in love with himself at a young age and has remained faithful ever since.” Until recently, you could have said something similar about Pietersen, who is incidentally the only English batsman to average more than 45 in Tests since Boycott called it a day nearly thirty years ago. Indeed in 2006, the Aussies took to calling Pietersen “FIGJAM,” short for “F*** I’m Good, Just Ask Me,” a rather fruity nickname all round. After a quiet Ashes series last summer, however, he looked a shadow of his bombastic former self on tour in South Africa. He did manage a couple of promising Twenty20 innings in Dubai last week and now his teammates really need to re-inflate his ego. Or as his poker-playing buddy Shane Warne might put it, they need to convince KP that he is still “the nuts.”
How Bangladesh must wish for a cricketing ace or two in their pack. At the moment, their numero uno is Shakib al Hasan, the poor man’s Dan Vettori. I describe Shakib thus only because the pound goes further in Dhaka than it does in Dunedin; the Bangladeshi skipper is no poorer than his Kiwi counterpart in terms of all-round cricketing ability, nor is he any less important to his team.
Overall, though Bangladesh now have a number of promising batsmen, their bowling – as Sehwag pointed out – still lacks bite. The Bangla Tigers might ambush Captain Cook’s party in the one-dayers but really ought to be tamed in the Tests.