Bangladesh are currently paying $24 on BetFair to win the First Test of their 2017 tour to New Zealand, beginning tomorrow in Wellington. New Zealand are so heavily favoured that if Bangladesh can manage so much as a draw it pays $6.60.
On the surface of things, there are few areas in which Bangladesh have an advantage over New Zealand.
The Black Caps top order is looking as composed as it ever has done. Jeet Raval may have only played two Tests but across those two he averages 49.33, with two fifties and a not out. By the standards of Black Caps openers since Richardson, that’s as promising as anyone apart from Tom Latham.
Latham, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor comprise the rest of the top order, and one would have to go back as far as John Wright, Andrew Jones and Martin Crowe to find an equivalent solidity.
In the middle order things are not as certain. If Henry Nicholls cannot impress at No. 5 soon, he might have to return to domestic cricket for a spell while one of the next generation has a turn at trying to fill the Brendon McCullum-sized hole.
Colin de Grandhomme has, like Raval, only played two Tests but he has also looked solid, averaging 32, and also has a strong first-class record. Even though Watling at 7 is a solid pick, the overall feel of the Black Caps middle order is far from settled.
The pitch at the Basin Reserve is expected to be unusually green, which means that Trent Boult and Tim Southee can be expected to pose a considerable danger. In an odd quirk, Boult (12) and Southee (13) are, with Neil Wagner at 11th, grouped together on the ICC Test bowling rankings.
The Bangladeshi batting will depend heavily on certain key players, and if the Black Caps can get a couple of them early they will back themselves to roll the visitors, on a green wicket, for very little.
Although the spine of the Bangladeshi side is much stronger than it has been in recent years, few would expect it to stand strong against the Black Caps’ heavy artillery on a green track.
Opener Tamim Iqbal is the highest ranked of the Bangladeshi bastmen, at 22nd. An opener averaging 40 is an impressive asset for a side of Bangladesh’s reputation, and perhaps the foremost way that the Tigers could claim to have an advantage over their opposite numbers.
With a probable 4-5-6-7 of Mahmudullah, Shakib al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Sabbir Rahman, the Bangladeshi middle order is a fairly battle-hardened unit. All four of these batsmen are, if not intimidating, skilled enough to make the Black Caps pay for any errors.
The major disadvantage that the Tigers will have is a bowling attack highly unsuited to the conditions they will face in Wellington. Shakib al Hasan may be ranked 2nd of all the allrounders in Tests, but his gentle left-arm spin will pose far less of a threat at the Basin Reserve than in Bangladesh.
If Bangladesh are to win, it will almost certainly take a handful of good spells from Taskin Ahmed, who with an ODI strike rate of 29 is growing into a strike weapon in the shorter form of the game, or from his expected new ball partner Subashis Roy, about who very little is known apart from a respectable first class average of 28.
The best hope for an interesting match might be for Bangladesh to win the toss and put the Black Caps in on a green wicket tomorrow morning, then to ambush the top order with their debutant new ball pair and get into the soft middle order before lunch.