Bangladesh v England: Richard Isaacs previews the first Test in numbers
By Richard V Isaacs
Last Updated: 19/10/16 6:54am
England embark on a run of seven Tests in the space of just eight weeks in baking hot sub-continental conditions when the first Test against Bangladesh gets underway on Thursday in Chittagong.
It will be a serious test of England's resolve against an emerging and constantly improving Bangladesh side who have only lost one of their last eight Tests dating back to October 2014.
However, Thursday morning will represent the first time in 448 days that the home side have taken to the field in a Test match, breaking a run of 27 white-ball matches of which Bangladesh have won 14.
Their last Test match came in Dhaka in late July-early August 2015, but lasted just one day against South Africa as the last four days were all washed out by rain.
If it is experience you are looking for, then since Bangladesh last played a Test, England have played in 16 with seven wins and six defeats (three draws).
In fact, since that Dhaka washout in early August, England have played in 57 matches across all formats while Bangladesh have appeared in just those 27 white-ball fixtures. Only Australia with 58 have played more international matches.
But, of course, all the talk has been who will open the batting with captain Alastair Cook, who will become England's most capped Test player, surpassing Alec Stewart's high of 133 games.
Cook, who only arrived in Chittagong on Monday following the birth of his second child, could be joined by 19-year-old Lancastrian Haseeb Hameed or Northamptonshire's emerging talent Ben Duckett.
Should Hameed get the nod, he would become England's sixth teenage Test debutant and the first for 19 years since Ben Hollioake made his bow against Australia at Trent Bridge in 1997.
The batsman, dubbed "Baby Boycott", averaged 49.91 for Lancashire in Division One of the Specsavers County Championship but struck his runs at a statuesque 39.01 strike-rate. Only Will Smith of Hampshire scored over 500 runs in the Championship in 2016 at a slower rate - Smith striking at 37.40.
However, in the other corner is Duckett, the leading run scorer in Division Two with 1,338 runs at an imposing average of 60.81. And while Hameed's strike-rate barely pushed 40, Duckett's is more than double that and only Jonny Bairstow, in his four Yorkshire games, was better than his 79.45.
So the selectors will have a lot to consider on who becomes Cook's ninth Test opening partner since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, following on from Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth, Moeen Ali and Alex Hales.
Whoever they do pick will know they have a lynch-pin at the other end in Cook, a man with eight Test centuries in Asia, a record only matched by Jacques Kallis by players from outside of the continent. An average of 60.86 in 41 innings is not to be taken lightly either.
The selectors will also be making a choice of whether to play a 39-year-old spinner, who made his debut in 2003 against Bangladesh and probably thought his career concluded against the same opponents in 2005 at Chester-le-Street.
But Gareth Batty's form for Surrey, as bowler and captain, has seen him selected once again and could be the first player aged 39 or more since Stewart's final Test in 2003 at The Oval, when he was 40. You have to go back to 1995 to find another elder statesman - John Emburey at nearly 43.
Whoever lines up for England will be up against a very talented Bangladesh side, who under Sri Lankan coach Chandika Hathurusingha have shown some serious signs of improvement.
That improvement is perfectly evident in 25-year-old left-handed batsman Mominul Haque.
Mominul has played just 17 Tests in his fledgling career but already has 1456 runs at an average of 56.00 and four centuries - three of them on this very ground in Chittagong, including his career best of 181 against New Zealand in October 2013.
No Bangladeshi batsman has more runs at this point in their career and, in comparison, Graeme Smith had just seven more than him, Sunil Gavaskar 11 more while Cook is trailing him by 41 after 17 Tests. No mean feat at all.
The fact that both sides have three Test batsmen in the top 27 of the rankings is a sign of how close this series might be while the home side also have the world's second best all-rounder in Shakib Al Hasan.
Shakib, who despite only being 29 years old has been playing international cricket for over 10 years, is a constant threat, especially in home conditions where he has 104 of his 147 Test wickets. That said, of his 42 Tests to date, 30 of them have been in Bangladesh.
A good series, however, for England's talisman Root could see him return to the world No 1 batting ranking that he last held in 2015 while Stuart Broad is comfortably in fourth in the bowling rankings and could made inroads into Ravichandran Ashwin's lead at the top.
This series has all the makings of a real cracker and, with England winning just two Test series in Asia out of 10 since beating Bangladesh back in October 2003, then they know the difficulties ahead.
Watch the opening Test between Bangladesh and England on Thursday. Coverage begins on Sky Sports 2 HD and Sky Sports Mix at 4.30am.