Bangladesh is slowly turning from also-rans to genuine contenders at this year’s World Cup. Here we look at how a side that often celebrated wins over superior teams as ultimate conquests, has matured to take on the world-beaters at this wonderful game.
Bangladesh rose to fame when they beat Pakistan in the 1999 Cricket World Cup. It was a euphoric moment for the millions of die-hard fans who followed their team passionately everywhere. Test status soon followed, and the world started seeing more of them.
Improvements happened slowly, but the results weren’t forthcoming yet. What transpired over the next 16 years was a slow metamorphosis of a team that was hugely talented but highly impulsive and at times, ‘immature.’ During that time, Bangladesh’s performances in ICC global tournaments were inconsistent, and individual wins over higher ranked test playing countries were treated as the ultimate prize. Victories over India in 2007 and England in 2011 and 2015 come to mind. What many people observed in those wins was a side that needed to mature in order to grow, but what others saw was immense passion that needed nurturing.
The 2017 Champions trophy was the first time I really thought that Bangladesh could actually be a force to reckon with, in ODI cricket. That performance against the Kiwis in a must-win game, after being 33 for 4 chasing 266, turned them into a potential future powerhouse. The win was big and it was their first time entering the last 4 of a global competition. The man in the middle during that game was Shakib, and the man in the middle in their recent World Cup victory over the Westindies yesterday was Shakib again.
The ‘Shakib’ effect
To say that Shakib-al-Hasan has almost single-handedly turned the fortunes of this cricketing nation would somewhat border on exaggeration. But, he definitely has been the fulcrum around which positive changes have happened over the last decade. Undoubtedly the best all-rounder in world cricket today, Shakib brings a sense of calm in an otherwise youthful and exuberant team atmosphere. He makes his job of being the most important batsman and an extremely useful bowler look like a walk in the park. His scores in the World Cup so far read 75, 64, 121 and 124 not out. Add 5 wickets to this at an economy rate of less than 6, you can see how important he is and will be to Bangladesh’s chances at this World Cup. The century against WestIndies was his second consecutive one in the competition, and it couldn’t have come at a more important time. The Caribbean ploy of short-pitched bowling didn’t work against Bangladesh, and the team’s inability to change tactics during the game went against them. A 1-D attack (a problem of abundance) without a frontline spinner haunted them once again. But we got to give credit to the Bangladesh batsmen who played super sensibly throughout the game. One could clearly see the maturity with which their batsmen operated in overhauling a huge target set by the opposition.
Their bowling has also continued to grow in strength through the competition. Bangladesh has never been a side in dearth of quality spinners. Even when the team struggled to get results in the past, they still had quality world-class spinners such as Mohammad Rafique, Abdur Razzak, and now Shakib-Al-Hasan and Mehidy Hasan Miraz come through the ranks. Having said that, fast bowling is one area where Bangladesh Cricket has not been able to produce enough success. Fast bowlers have come and gone. They continue to have that problem even now but the bowlers in this side have stood up so far. Mustafizur Rahman and Saifuddin have shouldered the mantle of delivering pace and guile, and have done a pretty commendable job both with the new ball and at the death. Mortaza’s position in the team has come under the scanner for obvious reasons, but he makes up for that with shrewd captaincy and leadership.
Stirring the pot!
What Bangladesh’s win over WestIndies has brought about is the fact that no one in the current top 4 can take their place for granted. The Tigers currently sit in 5th position with 5 points from 5 games. Their next game against the Aussies hence assumes critical status. A loss for Australia will totally shake up the odds of Bangladesh finishing in the top-4. Other results featuring sides such as South Africa and Pakistan will also be very important. I expect a late surge from the Proteas in this competition, and I expect them to take points off Australia or NewZealand or both. Similar things can be said of Pakistan too who are also not out of the competition yet. Most viewers and cricket fans have already set their top 4 in stone, but funnier things have happened!
Eyeing the big prize
The World Cup, to many, started off too slow, but has now received the perfect impetus via an unexpected source. Bangladesh has brought about much-needed inspiration and enthusiasm to the competition. They have taken their game to a level that many have not witnessed before. The best part of their win against the Windies was how unexcited the players were when the winning runs were scored. There was definite happiness, but what we also saw was steely resolve and controlled emotions, which clearly conveyed the fact that the win was just one more step in the process of achieving what they have set out to do. The usual euphoria of beating a ‘superior’ test side was missing, and for good reason.
Is Bangladesh then the most improved side since the last World Cup? You could arguably say that along with England, they definitely are. They have risen to such a level that the team, and their fans, believe that the unthinkable (Read Top 4, for now) can be achieved. ‘Take it one game at a time’ will be the message that is being spread in the dressing room while they prepare to take on Australia. Whether they will reach the top 4 or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – The Tigers are hungry and they are hunting in a pack. Beware!