CHITTAGONG: Alastair Cook will become England’s most capped Test cricketer Thursday when he leads his country into battle for a series against Bangladesh, only days after attending his daughter’s birth back home.
Cook, widely tipped eventually to become Test cricket’s highest run-scorer, will win his 134th cap at the start in Chittagong of a two-match series in which England will hope to maintain a perfect Test record against the hosts.
Along with Australia, England are one of only two teams to have won all of their Test matches against Bangladesh since the former East Pakistan joined cricket’s top table 16 years ago.
And after an impressive victory in the preceding one-day series, England will fancy their chances of extending that 100 percent record with the likes of Cook and fast bowler Stuart Broad back in the mix.
Cook, who no longer plays ODI cricket, had been acclimatising with his teammates in Bangladesh before flying back home last week for the birth of his second daughter.
But after arriving back in Bangladesh on Monday night, Cook took part in nets on Tuesday at Chittagong’s MA Aziz Stadium as he looks to add to his formidable record on the spinning tracks of the Indian sub-continent.
The 31-year-old’s last outing to the sub-continent saw him lead England to an outstanding series win over India in 2012, while he scored 173 on his only previous Test in Chittagong in 2010.
“The amount of cricket that Cooky’s played in the subcontinent, I think he’ll fit back in seamlessly,” England fast bowler Steve Finn told reporters in Chittagong after the final warm-up match.
“I think you’d be a bit worried if it was someone who was less experienced, I suppose, and hadn’t experienced these conditions before and spent time in the middle, because that’s important.”
Cook, who will overtake Alec Stewart at the top of the list for most Test appearances, could well be joined at the top of the order by a debutant after Ben Duckett and Haseeb Hameed both made strong cases for a call-up.
His most recent opening partner Alex Hales has decided to sit out the tour for security reasons, following the lead set by England’s limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan.
The 22-year-old Duckett in particular has impressed in the build-up to the series and will most likely get the call after notching up his fourth half century in the last five innings in the final warm-up match.
But he will be vying for a place with 19-year-old Hameed, who has been dubbed “Baby Boycott” for an obdurate style that has evoked memories of the legendary England batsman Geoffrey Boycott.
At the other end of the age scale, the 39-year-old spinner Gareth Batty could also find himself back in the starting XI more than 11 years after the last of his seven Tests.
The veteran Surrey offbreak bowler is widely expected to be picked along with leg-spinner Adil Rashid and all-rounder Moeen Ali, to give England three spinning options.
Bangladesh have picked four spinners and just two seamers in their 14-man squad as they try and overcome the loss of their star pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman, who is recuperating from surgery on his shoulder.
Although Bangladesh are a vastly improved ODI side, they are struggling to compete against the best in Test matches and their coach Chandika Hathurusinghe has acknowledged a lack of quality bowlers.
“We haven’t got our right combination in Test cricket. I have been fighting to find bowlers who can get 20 wickets in Tests,” Hathurusinghe told reporters in Chittagong.
After the match in Chittagong, the teams will head to Dhaka for the second and final Test beginning on October 28.
England will afterwards travel to India for a five-Test tour.
Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes, Mominul Haque, Mahmudullah Riyad, Shakib Al Hasan, Shuvagata Hom, Sabbir Rahman, Mehedi Hasan, Shafiul Islam, Taijul Islam, Kamrul Islam, Nurul Hasan.
England: Alastair Cook (capt), Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Zafar Ansari, Gareth Batty, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Jake Ball.