At the end of the eight hours starting from 3:30pm today, a nation of cricket lovers will either rejoice or despair. Bangladesh will take on India in their penultimate World Cup group-stage game in Edgbaston needing a win against the form team of the competition to stay alive in the race for the semifinals.
The odds are firmly stacked against the nation rejoicing at around 11:00pm today. Bangladesh have a 5-29 win/loss ratio against India, have lost the teams’ last four matches as well as their last two World Cup games in 2015 and 2011.
Moreover, in crunch matches -- the 2018 Asia Cup final, the Nidahas Trophy final in 2018, the 2017 Champions Trophy semifinal, the 2016 Asia Cup T20 final and the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal -- they have always come out second-best against India.
If more discouragement be needed, Bangladesh will be playing on a ground that has a very short square boundary on one side and a long one on the other. In other words, the Tigers’ main strength in spin bowling will be neutralised to some extent against arguably the best players of spin in the world.
Neither is there much comfort to take from the pacers. While Mustafizur Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin have taken 10 wickets each from seven and six games respectively, 19 of those have come after the first 10 overs, which is when India would have to be damaged if Bangladesh are to have any chance of bucking a trend that has been going India’s way. India’s batting has been touted as one of the strongest in the world, but this World Cup has shown that their middle order may not be firing at its limit. Rohit Sharma tops their run charts with 440 runs, skipper Virat Kohli comes in second on 382, but there is a wide expanse of daylight before MS Dhoni takes third spot with 188.
That indicates that Bangladesh would have to take early wickets -- ideally those of Sharma and Kohli -- to have a chance of keeping India quiet. However, Bangladesh have taken a wicket in the first 10 overs in just two of the six matches they have played.
Bangladesh are one of the last six teams to stay in contention for the semifinals, and that in itself is an achievement for a team that not many would have paid attention to at the beginning of the tournament. “We have to play better than we have so far,” was Mashrafe’s realistic take on the match.
On the bright side, senior batsman Mahmudullah Riyad is likely to feature for the Tigers after seemingly having recovered from a calf muscle tear sustained in the 62-run win over Afghanistan last Monday. He batted at the nets for a prolonged period yesterday and seemed unhampered by the injury. Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal did not attend the optional practice session yesterday, but team management informed that there was no cause for alarm as Tamim had just opted to rest ahead of the crucial encounter.
The lop-sided nature of the ground and the disadvantage it holds for spinners may open a door for pacer Rubel Hossain. He may take the place of off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who has been Bangladesh’s most economical bowler in the tournament. Another option could be to rest Mosaddek Hossain, but that would reduce a batsman against a strong bowling lineup. If Rubel does come in in place of Mehedi, Mosaddek will continue to bowl a few overs of off-spin while the part-time medium pace of Soumya Sarkar could also be called into action.
The toss could well play a crucial role as it will be a used wicket and is expected to slow down as the day wears on. On the same wicket, England batsmen enjoyed the best of conditions against India on Sunday in the first 20 overs of the match, and that may be the way forward for Bangladesh, if they win the toss, to steal a march on India with their in-form top six.