Tigers Embark on African Safari

Where just a year ago Bangladesh would have ventured in trepidation, they now march purposefully, a steely glint in the tiger’s eye. For many years they duelled epically with Kenya outside of the media’s glare, and when they were promoted to the top level, they found themselves chasing butterflies as even the poorest of Test nations – Zimbabwe – made short work of them.

How times have changed. Zimbabwe have caved in as an international cricketing power, stripped of their leading players and embroiled in internal turmoil, while Kenya are left to endure the shadowed treadmill of associate cricket. A chance at a rare but possible series victory is not something to be missed in these barren times, and for all three sides there are scores to settle. The Tigers will meet Zimbabwe in five matches, all to be played in Harare, from 29 July. A three-match rubber against the Kenyans will follow, from 12 August, with all games to be played at the Nairobi Gymkhana.

Zimbabwe: No squad announced as of 24 July.

Kenya: No squad announced as of 24 July.

Bangladesh: Habibul Bashar (c), Shahriar Nafees, Javed Omar,
Aftab Ahmed
Mohammad Ashraful
, Rajin Saleh, Mohammad Rafique,
Abdur Razzak
, Khaled Mashud, Mushfiqur Rahim, Alok Kapali, Farhad Reza, Saqibul Hasan,
Mashrafe Mortaza
, Syed Rasel, Shahadat Hossain.

Never before have Bangladesh been thrust into an overseas series bristling with so much confidence and solidarity. A consistent squad is gradually being built upon, with the chopping board that exists in current Zimbabwean cricket no longer in operation. The batting order, awash with the up-and-coming talents of Shahriar Nafees, Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed, should be devastating enough to post sizeable totals on flattish tracks. Complacency is probably more of an enemy than the opposition bowling. A big tour is probably due to Shahadat Hossain, who’s pace and bounce, coupled with that of Mashrafe Mortaza, should prove too much for the Africans. Several uncapped players have also been included in the tour party: Farhad Reza, a prolific all-rounder on the domestic circuit; Saqibul Hasan, an eyecatching batsman and left-arm spinner; and Mushfiqur Rahim, a prodigious wicket-keeper batsman. All will be looking to make their mark while there are comparatively easy pickings to be had – runs and wickets may not come so easily against some of the bigger fish.

With Bangladesh such clear favourites in both series, an intriguing offshoot is the indirect battle between Zimbabwe and Kenya. Should Bangladesh take both rubbers, as is widely expected, the spotlight will then turn to which of the African sides can produce the more creditable display. Zimbabwe are a nation in upheaval and distress, Kenya are a team in transit as the heroes of ’96 and 2003 drift into the background. The former will pray that one of the youngsters will put up their hand and square up to the Asians, the latter surely will be relying on the experience of Steve Tikolo, Thoma Odoyo and Hitesh Modi.

Cricket Web’s Players to Watch

Zimbabwe – Piet Rinke
With statistics that compare favourably against many of Zimbabwe’s desperate batting punts of recent years, Rinke will be looking to consolidate his position within the side, especially after a dismal display in the West Indies. His medium-pace bowling should allow Zimbabwe to field an additional batsman or spinner, and recent success against the Tiger’s second-string on home turf could prove to be a useful indicator.

Kenya – Steve Tikolo
Indisputably the best batsman outside of the Test arena and having amassed more ODI runs than any of his Bangladeshi opponents, Tikolo is perhaps the unluckiest cricketer of his generation. In his peak at the turn of the century (or indeed even now) he could have seamlessly slotted into any number of full Test nations’ elevens, yet he now has to carry the burden of an inexperienced Kenyan team upon his shoulders. The 2007 World Cup should close the curtain on a heroic backstage career, and Tikolo would relish the chance to derail his traditional rivals for a final time.

Bangladesh – Mohammad Ashraful
A slightly muted figure since his sensational performances in last year’s NatWest Series, but a big innings must be around the corner. On his day Ashraful is probably the most destructive cricketer pound-for-pound across the world, such is the awesome power generated from such a small frame. With World Cup berths up for grabs, now is the time for the Dhaka batsman to reproduce the fireworks of twelve months ago.

It seems strange to think that it was only earlier this year that the Bangladesh Cricket Board was unwillingly to play neither Zimbabwe nor Kenya, on the basis that a loss to either side would be a severe threat to their Test status. Now the fears have subsided, but the vultures of the international press still hover: only in recent weeks Martin Crowe, the former Kiwi batsman, spoke vehemently about Bangladesh’s place in world cricket. Will the Tigers enjoy a relaxing African safari, or fall foul of an ambush in hostile territory.

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