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Cricket or War: Bangladesh holds war games ahead of England series

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DHAKA: Bangladeshi army commandos abseiled into the national stadium Thursday in a show of strength designed to reassure England’s cricketers over their security on the eve of the opening ODI of their controversial tour.

More than a dozen commandos scaled down ropes from helicopters hovering over the nets at Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, which is hosting the first two games in a three-match series beginning on Friday night.

The side is being skippered by Jos Buttler after regular one-day captain Eoin Morgan decided not to go on the tour in the wake of an attack by jihadists earlier this year on a cafe full of foreigners.

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Twenty-two people were killed in July’s assault on the Holey Artisan Cafe in Dhaka’s upmarket Gulshan district, casting doubt over whether Bangladesh’s security forces could guarantee the England team’s safety.

But speaking to reporters on Thursday, Buttler insisted there had been no sense of unease among the players since they had arrived last weekend.

“Everything has been in good order. Travel to and from the ground has been great for us although I’m sure it’s been a bit frustrating for the locals,” he said in reference to road closures ordered on security grounds.

“Security has been great so far, I think the guys within the group haven’t even mentioned it. That’s fantastic for us as the guys in the group are very settled and focused on cricket.”

Security ‘outstanding’

Reg Dickason, the England board’s security chief who endorsed the tour after a field trip to Bangladesh, expressed his satisfaction on Thursday with the safety measures.

“It gives a lot of confidence,” he told reporters. “The security overall … in Bangladesh is outstanding.”

Bangladesh is desperate to avoid the fate of Pakistan who — apart from a lone series against Zimbabwe — have not hosted any international cricket since gunmen attacked Sri Lanka’s team bus during a 2009 Test in Lahore.

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Australia pulled out of a planned tour a year ago after their cricket board cited a “risk of terrorism” while Australia’s football team was only persuaded to travel to Dhaka for a World Cup qualifier last November after authorities drew up an extensive security plan.

While Morgan has stayed home, Alistair Cook will fly out later to take charge of the team for two Test matches that follow the three ODIs, the last of which is being held in the port city of Chittagong.

Buttler, who hit an unbeaten 80 in their only warm-up, said his team would start as “underdogs” against a side which has won home ODI series against India, New Zealand and Pakistan in the last few years.

“They are very strong at home in their own conditions,” he said.

With opener Alex Hales also staying home on security grounds and Joe Root being rested for the ODIs, Buttler indicated that batsmen James Vince and Ben Duckett would be in the starting XI.

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England were soundly beaten by Bangladesh in Adelaide during last year’s World Cup but they have improved dramatically since and recently broke the record for the highest ODI score by spanking 444 against Pakistan.

Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said England were now a very different proposition from the team they humbled in Adelaide.

“If you look at the makeover of England team I think we are going to play one of the best team in the world. Since the World Cup they’ve played like champions,” said Mortaza.

Bangladesh have recalled paceman Al-Amin Hossain in their 14-man squad after he was left out for the recent home series against Afghanistan.

Left-arm spinner Mosharraf Hossain, who played his first ODI in more than eight years against Afghanistan last Saturday, has been retained for the England ODIs.

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