Spin cycle key to our futures - Rafiq
England Under-19 captain Azeem Rafiq has told his players that combating Bangladesh’s array of spinners will have implications for their future careers.
After Rafiq’s side lost a close-fought one-day international youth series against the same opposition in England this summer, former coach Andy Pick reiterated the importance of playing well on sub-continental wickets, given the amount of international cricket played there.
As a result, England have undergone trial by spin in the indoor nets at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough in the run-up to the return one-day series and one-off Test match, which begins tomorrow in Chittagong.
“We learnt a lot from playing them in the summer,” Rafiq told ecb.co.uk. “We’ve put a lot of hard work in for this tour and if we want to play cricket at the highest level we have to learn to play in all conditions.
“We worked hard on the Merlin bowling machine in Loughborough and the methods of scoring against spin, perhaps more so in the one-day game than the Test match.
“We took a lot out of the one-day practice match that was rearranged. But we’re here to win every game. We lost the practice match, and it’s important we get in the winning habit.
"We've lost Josh Cobb and Sam Northeast, but we have plenty of batsmen talented enough to step up. Jos Buttler joins us after Somerset are finished in the Champions League (Twenty20), and James Vince is also set to arrive.”
Tropical showers in Bangladesh at the tail-end of the rainy season, along with the other challenges of touring in the sub-continent, will force England’s youngsters to adapt fast.
In their hastily rearranged warm-up game in Dhaka, Bangladesh fielded four of the spinners that troubled England in the summer - Nur Hossain, Mahmudul Hasan, Shabbir Rahman and Shaker Ahmed - and Rafiq has taken particular notice of Shaker, a left-arm spinner.
“They have a couple of leggies and left-armers. The left-armer (Shaker) has the best shape on the ball, the rest of them just try to bowl straight and keep the runs down.
“So we have to work out the best way to take the initiative to them.”
Rafiq, the Yorkshire off-spinner, leads England’s own slow-bowling department, alongside left-armers Danny Briggs from Hampshire, and Paul Best of Warwickshire.
The skipper recognises the onus is on them to tie down the Tigers batsmen on slow pitches.
“Hopefully we three can build a partnership. We’ve got to stand up and be counted, as seam bowling is a bit of a concern for us if we’re honest.
“Danny has played a bit of first-team cricket for Hampshire, and Paul did well in the warm-up match, so it bodes well.
“I’ve played in Abu Dhabi before, which I suppose will be quite similar to Bangladesh. But it’s all about learning.”
England’s unenviable record of never having won a World Cup at senior level hangs over every captain. Certainly their success pales in comparison to their female counterparts.
So it would be some achievement for Rafiq, at the centre of an unfortunate passport complication two years ago that cost Yorkshire their place in the Twenty20 Cup, to lead England to a rare trophy.
If England were to win the ICC Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in February, the 18-year-old would become only the second captain, after another Pakistan-born player, Owais Shah in 1998, to lift cricket’s foremost one-day prize.
Rafiq understands the importance of such an accolade: “It would be a massive achievement to win that. The Under-19s have only done it once before.
“So winning out here and leading by example would put in me good stead to lead at the World Cup.
“And I think I’m in a better place to do that now. Definitely the whole (passport) episode made be grow up a lot quicker than I imagined. Those two weeks forced me to mature a lot.
“Looking back now, I feel stronger as a person and as a cricketer, all-round, because of it.”