Bangladesh and Afghanistan are the two teams among 10 in the World Cup that not many would have given much chance of going deep into the tournament when it began. For one side, that forecast has held true as Afghanistan are still winless after six matches. Bangladesh, on the other hand, with wins over West Indies and South Africa, are still in the semifinal race with five points from six matches.
They have the chance to go one step further today when they take on Afghanistan at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, but will need to overcome a trial by spin in conditions that would have suited them against most teams other than their current opponents.
The match will be played on the same wicket on which Afghanistan gave the best team of the tournament, India, a run for their money on Saturday with their army of spinners. While Afghanistan will be playing their second match at the venue and have trained here for the last seven days, Bangladesh have come in from a steady diet of true pitches where fast bowlers had the advantage. Therefore, while Bangladesh are the superior team on paper and are ranked two places higher, the situations surrounding the match has levelled the playing field to some extent.
On the positive side for Bangladesh, who have to win all of their last three matches to stay in contention for the semifinals, injured regulars Mohammad Saifuddin and Mosaddek Hossain are set to return to the side after missing their last match against Australia.
Pace-bowling all-rounder Saifuddin complained of back pain and had not bowled since the match against West Indies last Monday, but bowled during practice yesterday and seemed unhindered by the injury. Mosaddek, who bats at number seven but chips in with crucial overs of part-time off-spin, had a left shoulder injury and has been bowling over the last two days.
If they return, they will take the places of Rubel Hossain and Sabbir Rahman, both of whom had forgettable performances against Australia.
“In rankings, we are better. I can’t honestly tell you enough that we are very respectful of them. We don’t fear them,” said Bangladesh coach Steve Rhodes about Afghanistan yesterday. “We are ready to take them on. I am really proud of Afghanistan’s rise in cricketing ranks. Bangladesh have done a fine job in 20 years of international cricket. Afghanistan are now doing a good job. I think these two countries are where cricket is thriving. It is wonderful to see the crowd and the way cricket is thought of in these countries.”
Although Bangladesh’s spin-bowling, in the hands of Mehedi Hasan Miraz and Shakib Al Hasan, may be marginally outperformed by Afghanistan’s trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi, the Tigers’ batting has far outshone the Afghans’ generally and particularly in this tournament. The slow pitch may require them to adjust a little, but they can hope that their experience of batting on such wickets will win the day. Also, the slower wickets can be a boon for Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and Mustafizur Rahman as their cutters will certainly bear more fruit here than in the games played so far. If the Tigers play to their potential, despite some marginal advantages for Afghanistan, chances are that their semifinal hopes will be intact after the match.