Big picture – History beckons for Bangladesh
Bangladesh might be forgiven for going into this third and final T20I with a sense of Mission Accomplished. A series win against England has been a long, long time coming – 20 years, in fact, spanning three different formats and a range of deep and lasting indignities, from their unready Test efforts in 2003, to their near-miss at Mirpur on England’s 2010 tour.
Since then, they’ve been closing the gap, with at least one victory in each of their last five bilateral series – either side of their greatest triumph to date, the thrilling win in Adelaide in 2015, with which they vaulted into the World Cup knockouts at England’s expense. But at last, in holding their nerve in Sunday’s low-scoring thriller, they’ve secured a slice of silverware that will count among their proudest achievements.
Now, however, the challenge is to go again – to dig that little bit deeper in a situation that England themselves might recognise from their home series against Australia in 2018. Back then at Old Trafford, England’s series was long in the bag at 4-0 with one to play, but the jeopardy of the whitewash raised the stakes for both sides. Cue the feistiest contest of the lot, a gripping two-wicket win, delivered by a Jos Buttler century. The professional pride of England’s double-World Champions demands a redoubling of their focus as they seek to avoid such an indignity; and therefore, the same will be required of their hosts.
There’s been mitigation aplenty for England’s off-colour displays in the first two matches – as Buttler pointed out after the second match, the 50-over World Cup is looming in October, and therefore the chance to promote the likes of Moeen Ali and Sam Curran, and offer them more time in the middle than they might ordinarily get at the end of a 20-over game, makes sense in the long term. But equally, England’s ill-balanced line-up has been all too easily exposed in two contests, and as Nasser Hussain pointed out on Sky Sports, there’s a point at which such big-picture selection comes across as a lack of respect.
Still, there’s been plenty reason to believe that Bangladesh would have got the better of England, even if Sam Hain or Jordan Cox had been flown in to bulk out that middle order, at the expense of, say, Chris Jordan, whose 2.5-over workload epitomises the overload of bowling options at Buttler’s disposal in this series.
It took, after all, a pair of outstanding centuries from Dawid Malan and Jason Roy to topple Bangladesh in the ODI series, and so hand Bangladesh a first bilateral home defeat in the format for seven years. Having now transferred that same focus into the 20-over format, the hosts have shown a range of skills that augur well for a similar era of home dominance.
In Najmul Hossain Shanto, they’ve hit upon a batter with a supreme faith in his methods, either to romp to a 27-ball fifty when the going is good, as it proved to be in Chattogram, or to knuckle down and endure in Dhaka, to a degree that none of England’s own top-order could replicate. Shanto’s 46 not out from 47 balls projected a perfect air of permanence that freed up his colleagues to take the game on, and both Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Taskin Ahmed arrived in the middle flushed with confidence from their own bowling exploits. It all proved to be an irresistibly moreish formula.
None of this changes the fact that England are the team of the era in white-ball cricket. Buttler is the outstanding T20 batter of his generation, and Jofra Archer’s sublime display at Dhaka reaffirmed a matchless range of skills – raw pace, game smarts and canny variation – that, thrillingly, all still seem to be in working order after his 18-month injury lay-off.
Buttler’s men are capable of much better than they have produced in the past two matches, but in an era of fixture overload – with one World Cup just secured and another soon to be defended – and with the small matters of the IPL and the Ashes dominating the immediate thoughts of their senior players, can they find enough desperation to avoid a notable loss? Either way, Bangladesh in this mood might not give them much leeway.
Bangladesh WWLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight – Rony Talukdar and Ben Duckett
Rony Talukdar’s return to international cricket, eight years after his one-off appearance in 2015, was one of the more intriguing selections in recent times. Aside from it clearly being on merit, the call-up was tangible evidence of Bangladesh’s determination to promote its BPL stars, and that new policy has paid off handsomely in the past two games. Talukdar’s contribution to those wins arguably transcends his actual returns, however – particularly at Chattogram, where he drilled his first ball back in the big-time clean through the covers for four, en route to an agenda-setting 21 from 14. He has helped to set the tone, but something more substantial would help to ensure this recall is more than just a temporary reward.
Of all the specialist batters in England’s ill-balanced line-up, Ben Duckett arguably has the most to gain from his heightened exposure. With credit in the bank across formats – most particularly from his sparky displays in Pakistan in last year’s T20Is, and his enthusiastic Bazballing at the top of the Test batting order – he’s setting himself up as a World Cup bolter, particularly given his sweep-dominant technique in spinning conditions. To that end, his displays in this series so far have been a qualified success – 20 from 13 balls in Chattogram where “it went all right and then I missed one”, then a run-a-ball 28 in Mirpur, which was a more competitive contribution than it perhaps appeared at the time. If he can finish this campaign on a personal high, he might yet force his way into the conversation come October.
Team news – Few changes in offing
Mehidy’s thrilling introduction in Dhaka gave a winning line-up an extra cutting edge with the ball and, as it turned out, the bat too. Assuming the pitch offers similar assistance to the spinners, there’s no reason to change this winning XI.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Rony Talukdar, 2 Litton Das (wk), 3 Najmul Hossain Shanto, 4 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 5 Towhid Hridoy, 6 Afif Hossain, 7 Mehidy Hasan Miraz, 8 Nasum Ahmed, 9 Taskin Ahmed, 10 Hasan Mahmud, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Not a lot of wriggle-room in England’s threadbare squad. Archer might well be stood down, having shown once again that he’s firmly on track for full fitness. Mark Wood is the obvious man to return on a pitch that offered more for the quicks than Chattogram had. Reece Topley is the other option, assuming he’s recovered from the niggle that has kept him on the sidelines. Buttler slipped down the order in game two. It remains to be seen if that experiment is repeated.
England (possible): 1 Phil Salt, 2 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Moeen Ali, 6 Sam Curran, 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Rehan Ahmed, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood.
Pitch and conditions – Another turner in prospect
There’s going to be a lot of spin and uneven bounce, if the Dhaka pitch for the second T20I is anything to go by. And if that favours the hosts, then Buttler says England are happy to take the learnings from such conditions, particularly with the 50-over World Cup in mind. The weather in Dhaka will go from warm to mild in the course of the afternoon.
Stats and trivia
BangladeshEnglandBangladesh vs EnglandEngland in Bangladesh
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket