As part of a series of articles leading up to the World Cup, Cricket Web presents a daily review on the background, players and prospects a specific competing team, starting with the minnows and building up to the favourites. Today we feature Bangladesh.
CW World Cup Countdown. Day 8 - Bangladesh
03 Mar 2007
By: George Roberts
Four years is a long time. In 2003, Bangladesh sank to their lowest ebb since being elevated to the Test world, with only a washout against the West Indies saving them from six straight defeats. At a time when the makeup of the side was constantly shifting and tour followed tour, with defeat following defeat, the World Cup should have provided a welcome diversion from their thrashings in the longer form of the game.
Four years later, the Tigers' fortunes at last appear to be on the rise. Whilst a Test victory remains elusive, their one-day form has picked up dramatically and since 2003, Australia, India and Sri Lanka have all been defeated. More importantly perhaps has been their consolidation as the big fish in the minnows' pond. No longer are Bangladesh mentioned in the same breath as Zimbabwe and Kenya, save from when they are now handing out the hammerings that plagued the Tigers' teams of years gone by.
Leadup to the Tournament
After consistently being turned away by the Test giants, fearing the one-sided series of the past, Bangladesh have spent much of the last twelve months minnow-bashing. Since last year's ICC Champions Trophy, they have racked up ten wins and lost just once, albeit from playing only Zimbabwe and Scotland.
It is just two years since the left-handed opener was thrown into the Tigers' ODI side in a bid to solve the problems at the top of the order, yet his name is now among those first on the teamsheet. Of the six limited-overs hundreds scored by Bangladeshi batsmen, three are to Nafees' name, demonstrating focus and concentration lacking in most of his compatriots. There is still a tendency in him to play too many shots too early on in his innings and he must learn that a quickfire 30 is not enough for a batsman of his calibre, but at 21 there is plenty of time to do so.
Many expected the World Cup to be 36-year-old Rafique's swansong, but as his recent comments in the Dhaka press show, the left-arm spinner's appetite for wickets is greater than ever and he appears set to play for several more seasons yet. For so long the only dependable bowler in the Tigers' armoury, he now forms a lethal partnership with fellow slow-left arm bowler Abdur Razzak, strangling the opposition in the central block of overs. Rafique's potential for destruction with the bat should also be noted and he recently became the first Bangladeshi to reach the ODI double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets.
Bangladesh's only real asset with the new ball, early wickets from Mashrafe will be crucial if the Tigers are to upset one of their more prolific Asian neighbours. His confidence should be sky high coming off a breakthrough year in 2006 when the seamer topped the tables as the leading wicket taker in ODI cricket, but is likely to struggle for support from the other end. Like Rafique, his lusty hitting from lower down the order should not be underrated either.
Should Bangladesh topple either India or Sri Lanka in the first round, it will undoubtedly come through the left-arm spin of Rafique, Razzak and the young allrounder Saqibul Hasan. Together they have torn through Zimbabwe and Kenya over the past twelve months, but are likely to have a more restrictive role to play in the Caribbean given the lack of firepower with the new ball. The side is inexperienced, with just three of the squad over the age of 25, but with that comes the exuberance of youth and only fading memories of the disastrous 2003 campaign.
The recurring problems: no stability at the top of the order, a batting lineup prone to collapse and mindless shots, an almost total reliance on spin and a squad inexperienced in conditions outside the sub-continent. A partner for Shahriar Nafees is essential, but it is anyone's guess who will open with him against India on March 17 in Port-of-Spain. Javed Omar, Nafees' usual Test opening partner, would blend experience into the easily combustible top order, while Rajin Saleh and Tamim Iqbal, at the tender age of just 17, are also options. Recently Mushfiqur Rahim, the highly promising teenage keeper/batsman, was elevated up the order in a bid to counter the fatal collapse, leaving Habibul Bashar to play a finishing role from number six.
The second seamer's position is also up for grabs and will be disputed over by the erratic Shahadat Hossain, the more accurate but less dangerous Syed Rasel, or the injury prone Tapash Baisya. Neither has had much success against the larger nations, but it is likely that only two will be selected, almost regardless of the wicket, given the relative high quality of the spinners.
Bangladesh made their World Cup debut in England in 1999 after qualifying as winners of the ICC Trophy in 1996-97 via an epic final against Kenya. A hard-fought victory over Scotland in Edinburgh installed early confidence into Aminul Islam's team, before an epic giantkilling of Pakistan in front of a packed Asian crowd at Northampton. Chasing 224, Pakistan crumbled to 161 all out, in what would be for several years Bangladesh's sole victory over Test opposition, even if the match was later tainted by the match fixing enquires.
By 2003, Bangladesh had endured a difficult Test infancy and a mishmash squad was pulverised by all opposition. Against Canada in their opening fixture they suffered a humiliated defeat as Austin Codrington, the dreadlocked plumber, tore through them in Durban. Days later in Pietermaritzburg, they fell victim to Chaminda Vaas' first over hattrick and confidence hit rock bottom. In the resulting fallout, Khaled Mashud found himself stripped of the captaincy; now, four years on, he has been cast out of the side in favour of the younger generation.
Unless there is carnage against India or Sri Lanka, an exit at the first hurdle beckons. The chance of an upset is though significantly higher than in 2003, especially if the Indian batting lineup fails to click. That said, to run either side close would be seen as a considerable success and there is still the small matter of Bermuda to deal with, a game which the Tigers can not afford to take lightly.
Habibul Bashar (captain), Shariar Nafees, Abdur Razzak, Aftab Ahmed, Javed Omar, Mushrafe Mortaza, Mohammed Ashraful, Mohammed Rafique, Mushfiqur Rahim, Rajin Saleh, Saqibul Hasan, Shahadat Hossain, Syed Rasel, Tamim Iqbal, Tapash Baisya