Underdog spirit has brought best out of Bangladesh against England | Mike Brearley

While they may yet be outclassed and beaten, the tourists have provided passages of pleasingly competitive play in the first Test

In 53 overs against Bangladesh on Friday, England managed to take just two wickets, one of them a run out. Bangladesh's day in the sun gave me a lot of pleasure.

A small boy of my acquaintance used to want with equal desperation both to win the first game of Snakes and Ladders and lose the second; for him, winning and losing were equally fraught. The only safe outcome was the tie.

Another six-year-old suggested that the way to deal with competition between England and Australia was to have a team composed of half of each, then neither would lose (or win). It wasn't clear who they would play against, unless it was the remainder. I think he had the idea of dealing with the problem of the twin impostors, triumph and disaster, by ruling out competition altogether.

As a player, sympathy with one's underdog opponent is not prominent, but the temptation may be there. I remember Len Hutton, seeing us off on the tour of India in 1976, giving the advice, "Don't take pity on them Indian bowlers." Seeing Indian bowlers as potentially pitiable, especially in their own conditions, may have smacked of the patronising, but one could see what he meant. What a banal doctrine the Tebbitt test was, how limited a notion of loyalty and allegiance.

Mention of Hutton reminds me of another of his remarks. Soon after one-day county cricket started, Len said, "It must be nice to play cricket when it doesn't matter if you get out." I can imagine an out-of-form batsman in one-day or Twenty20 cricket retorting, "It must have been nice to play cricket in a game where it doesn't matter if you don't score a run over after over." The grass is greener on the other side of the street.

I can remember, and imagine, nightmares of both kinds – of not being able to lay a bat on the ball when your side needs to score fast, and on the other hand getting out in the first over of a Test match.

When England's women won the World Cup in 2009 the players conveyed a sense of enjoyment and just the right degree of optimism. England men's winning of the World Twenty20 was a source of similar pleasure. I have never seen an England limited-overs team look so confident, ebullient, well-prepared and cohesive.

Everyone played with panache; there was an impression of flair combined with purpose from batsmen, bowlers and fielders alike. The pleasure in each other's success was palpable. In such moods fielders find themselves more and more likely to hit the stumps; catches stick, brilliant saves are made.

Collectively and individually, a well-founded confidence grows, infecting the whole team. Mistakes don't weigh too troublingly on the mind (remember Stuart Broad's difficult catch running back towards deep point in the final just an over after he had made a mess of a simpler chance at long-on). The team makes the best of a bad job, the very best of a good one.

It is often impossible to say how such a benign circle of spirit and success begins, but certainly one of the great satisfactions of team sport is the achievement of such morale.

Success brings its problems too. Will Andrew Strauss, sidelined for the Twenty20, earn a place in the one-day side, or will Paul Collingwood be allowed to build on the work done in West Indies by leading England in the World Cup next February? Can the short-term, adrenalin-filled energy of the short game be carried over in an appropriate way into the Test arena?

We wait to see, too, whether the likes of Steven Finn and Eoin Morgan have what it takes to be Test players.Morgan's success so far has been in limited-overs cricket, where he has been inventive and cool in crises; can he harness this undoubted ability and application to a setting where he will have to get through long periods of being restricted, or pummelled?

Can he build his technique to be able to play a role in the cauldron of Melbourne next Boxing Day? And Finn: England need a hostile fast bowler for Australia (and elsewhere), a Steve Harmison, and Finn shows all the early signs of being the man. He is 6ft 8in tall, strong, and has an easy and direct run-up and action. He gets bounce and bowls straight. We have to see how strong he is and how he develops.

One encouraging sign for Test cricket is the willingness of people to come to Lord's, no doubt partly encouraged by MCC's marketing, to watch Bangladesh. The spirited bowling of Shahadat Hossain followed by the brilliance of 21-year-old Tamim Iqbal (and the courage and skill of the other batsmen) have been a reinforcement of their pleasure in and loyalty to the values of the extended form of the game.

When play at last started yesterday, under heavy cloud, the run of wickets to England's lively fast bowling satisfied the partisans as well.


Mike Brearley at Lord's

The GuardianTramp

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