Having made the finals in two of the last three editions of the Asia Cup, Bangladesh must now be considered as one of the serious contenders for the title of the regional cricket extravaganza starting today at the Dubai International Stadium. Their place in their group -- ranked above both groupmates Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who they take on today -- justifies that billing.
But, as always with the Tigers, the hidden factor that goes beyond rankings and results is that the team's fortunes rise and fall with how much the five pillars of the team -- skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad -- can make up for the underperformance of the rest.
It has been a common refrain in the recent past, but it bears repeating because the pattern has not changed apart from the competence of off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz and the continuing return to form of pacer Mustafizur Rahman.
When asked the question for the umpteenth time during practice yesterday ahead of the tournament opener, Mashrafe -- who has usually cast a protective arm over his young teammates -- seemed to betray a bit of frustration.
“Of course, I believe in the juniors, and I believe that given enough opportunities they will do well. We haven't played international cricket for a while after the West Indies tour, but there are players who did well in practice matches and we have faith in them,” was how Mashrafe set out what he perhaps thinks should be the ideal, but then he focused on the less than ideal reality.
“You cannot really call them juniors. There are players other than us [the five seniors] who have played for three, five, 10 years and in international cricket you are no longer new or juniors after playing for three years. I think they too have to step up and perform.”
The numbers do paint a bleak picture. Since Bangladesh cricket's renaissance -- at least in ODIs -- from the beginning of 2015, Tamim averages 77.47 in wins with six centuries and 10 fifties; the corresponding number for Shakib is 52.25 with one century and eight fifties, for Mushfiqur 46.26 with two hundreds and five fifties and Mahmudullah 54 with two hundreds and six fifties. With the ball Shakib averaged 27.1 at an economy rate of 4.49 in wins, and Mashrafe averaged an excellent 21.95 at an economy of 4.45. Needless to say, apart from Mustafizur Rahman's wonder start, no one else comes close to matching those statistics.
“I would also like to say that the matches we have won, we won playing as a team. So that is very important for us,” Mashrafe said.
History does bear that out. Tamim talked wistfully on Thursday about the 2012 Asia Cup when Bangladesh beat Sri Lanka and India and lost by two runs in the final against Pakistan. He said that 2012 was the first time that they felt, as a team, that they could beat the big boys on a consistent basis. It is noteworthy that apart from the Big Five's performances, there were also stellar showings from juniors like Nasir Hossain and Jahurul Islam, both of whom are players of the past.
There is a new batch of 'non-juniors' now, and as Mashrafe said, it is high time that they step up.