Ben Duckett maintained his good form as he switched to whites © Getty Images
England XI 137 for 4 (Duckett 59) drew with BCB XI 136 for 4 (Nafees 51)
On the first day of their warm-up schedule, England were reminded that, for Thursday’s first Test against Bangladesh, they must go one way or another at the top of the order. Sure, Ben Duckett or Haseeb Hameed is a choice between two precocious batsmen. But it is also a choice between two distinctive styles of play, two utterly different approaches.
The scorecard tells the tale of the 84 minutes Duckett and Hameed spent at the wicket together in their first outings in white kit for the national team. Each lived up to his billing.
Duckett’s method – encapsulated by some booming pulls that found their way across an allotment of an outfield – screams, whereas Hameed’s whispers. The former quickly had a 59-ball fifty studded with cuts and drives (scoring half of the 12 boundaries his team managed), the latter left everything he could and took 15 balls to get off the mark.
In a game on Saturday that was reduced because of rain to a one-day match without a result, rendering it nothing more than middle practice, Duckett made another half-century, unbeaten this time, while Hameed was dismissed – by a spitting leg-break – for 16.
Many in the camp have remarked that Hameed is reminiscent of Joe Root when he first emerged. Having not bulked up, the bat can turn in his hand upon impact and causes him to run lots of twos. Those who watch him regularly at Lancashire note how rarely the close fielders are left gasping or appealing: he oozes control.
He is highly rated and already a popular presence in the group, but as elegant and poised as his 16 looked, it was still 16. Duckett has taken the first rubber; their battle will continue across a two-day game starting on Sunday.
Stuart Broad, who had his first bowl of the tour as England toiled later on, has been impressed by both. Of Hameed, he said: “There’s a really nice calm aura about him when he’s practicing, and certainly in the middle, when I’ve played against him twice this year. He knows his gameplan for such a young guy, and has been hugely impressive in the conditions so far.”
His assessment of Duckett was equally enthusiastic in its different way. “Duckett scores in slightly different areas, he’s quite awkward to bowl to and he sticks to his gameplan,” he said. “He’s had such a brilliant breakthrough year both in red-ball and white-ball cricket domestically and he’s been brilliant in Bangladesh so far so his confidence is very high. You could see by the way he was striking the ball, to be hitting fours on this outfield was a good effort.”
If he is around, of course Alastair Cook opens. But Cook, who was in Bangladesh for acclimatisation purposes during the one-day series, has returned to England with his wife’s birth of their second child imminent.
For all the confidence from Cook and in the camp, there has to be a chance, given the paucity and duration of flights, that he does not make it back for Thursday morning’s toss. That eventuality would mean that England would field two debutants at the top of the order for the first time since 1937, when Len Hutton and Jim Parks Jr made their bow, and a new captain, Root. Cook would also have to wait to overtake Alec Stewart as England’s most capped Test cricketer.
There is more at work over the next two days than just the opener’s spot, though. Remarkably, the only certainty is that Root will bat No 3. It appears that Moeen Ali will be promoted to No 5, with Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow to follow. Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid will complete for an all-rounder’s spot, Stuart Broad will win his 99th cap, and Gareth Batty – at least for Chittagong, where it should be slow and low – looks likely to make up a three-seam, three spin attack.
Which leaves No 4. Gary Ballance is the man in possession, and he made an unbeaten 27 – albeit slightly shakily – against a BCB XI in Chittagong on Saturday. Twenty-seven, coincidentally, is what he averaged against Pakistan on the return to the side in the summer. The fact that Alex Hales and James Vince are not to retain their places may work in Ballance’s favour, but he is fighting off competitors on two fronts.
During the ODI series, eagerness to find a place – somewhere, anywhere – for Jos Buttler seemed to rise. The back-up keeper is in sensational touch, and boasts Trevor Bayliss as a major admirer, even if he lacks recent red-ball pedigree, but now the youngsters are in vogue; Paul Farbrace seemed excited by the idea of Duckett slotting into the middle order with Hameed opening.
After Friday’s play was cancelled due to a boggy outfield, England’s medical staff were unsure about the bowlers steaming in 24 hours later, and when their chance came, the bowlers struggled, waiting 43.4 overs for a wicket (with two batsmen retiring), at which point Batty took two in three balls. Two catches were dropped off the bowling of Zafar Ansari, while Broad and Steven Finn leaked runs.
It is clear that the next two days, both for finding rhythm for the bowlers and piecing together a batting order, are increasingly vital for England’s trip to Bangladesh and the subsequent challenge in India.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo