Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bangladesh out to prove they belong

A lot will depend on Shakib Al Hasan if Bangladesh are to go far in the World Cup 
Bangladesh have not won a single ODI against top opposition in the year leading up to this World Cup, a competition that they worked hard to reach from 1979 before finally breaking through 20 years later.
Close calls, big defeats, unedifying collapses and player tantrums all played a part in their on-field troubles in 2014. Bangladesh's only performance of note over the last 12 months was the 5-0 sweep against Zimbabwe. Otherwise, they have found different ways to lose: they made 326 against Pakistan, reduced Sri Lanka to 67 for 8, bowled India out for 105 and contrived to lose each of those games. By mid-June, the team had undone the good work of the past two years and seemed to have returned to the dark days of 2011 when they suffered their last slump.
Bangladesh, who have not visited Australia or New Zealand in four years, are set to play Australia, Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand in the group stages. Both host countries, as well as Sri Lanka, are strong contenders for the title, while England are expected to enter the knockouts. It could leave Bangladesh with the task of simply beating Afghanistan and Scotland to salvage some pride.
Worryingly for Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland have spent more than a month preparing for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand. And Afghanistan even defeated them in the Asia Cup last year.
Still, Bangladesh can hope. They have a strong backbone of ODI specialists alongside a pace attack that could do well if the conditions suit them. Overall, confidence has trickled through after the wins against Zimbabwe but to make themselves count in the World Cup, they would have to beat one of the higher-ranked sides in their group and have a chance for a quarter-final spot.

World Cup pedigree
The 2007 World Cup saw Bangladesh record a famous win over India in the group stage. Their tournament got better when they crushed South Africa in the Super Eights, rounding off their best campaign. In 2011, when they were one of the co-hosts, they beat England but were hammered by West Indies and South Africa. The lead-up to this tournament is reminiscent of their 2003 campaign where they lost all group matches including to Kenya and Canada.
In the past, Bangladesh have done well when they have been pushed to a corner. After a tough year, they have been hardened by the flak from fans and media, to find form. If they are smart and hungry, they could hit their stride at the right time.
Players in focus
Shakib Al Hasan
Shakib has been Bangladesh's best cricketer of this generation, and he will need to lift his game if they are to win a few games. He hasn't been quite consistent over the past couple of years but he is the one man in the line-up who can be expected to regularly put up a challenge with both bat and ball.
Tamim Iqbal
An attacking opener, Tamim has had to deal with instant stardom, after his sensational entry in 2007, a changing technique, and the pressure to make a Test hundred (the landmark that has eluded him since 2010). But he has often bounced back from poor form, and will be hungry to shine on the big stage.
Mushfiqur Rahim
Bangladesh's best batsman in 2014, Mushfiqur has scored heavily and has often looked like the only batsman capable of getting the team out of jams. In the World Cup, he will be without the pressure of captaincy after Mashrafe Mortaza replaced him in ODIs in November.
Game style
Bangladesh's batsmen have historically operated in two gears. When they don't click, they look to survive. At other times, they try and blast everything out of the park. The bowling unit is by and large defensive, banking on a spin attack with deep-set fields and a belief that saving runs is what would get them wickets.
Beating Afghanistan and Scotland is possibly top on their list of priorities, but it is hard to forget that this team has gone toe-to-toe against stronger opposition. It would be safe to bet on a creditable first-round bow out.
World Cup stats
  • No Bangladesh batsman has scored a century in the four World Cups that they have been a part of.
  • Shakib Al Hasan is Bangladesh's highest scorer and has the most fifties.
If they were an actor
Cuba Gooding Jr: a two-hit wonder?
Theme song
"Eye of the Tiger" - Survivor
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

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