New-look Tigers start as favourites

Bangladesh ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza
Bangladesh ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was his jovial self while talking about his plans for the three-match series against Zimbabwe, which starts at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur today. Photo: FIROZ AHMED

Even with two huge players absent, it is hard to imagine that Bangladesh will not start as favourites today in the first of three one-day international (ODIs) against Zimbabwe when the match gets underway at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium at 2:30pm. 

Ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and star opener Tamim Iqbal have been out injured since midway through last month's Asia Cup.

However, Bangladesh's response to that crisis in the United Arab Emirates bodes well for the Zimbabwe series as performances from the much-maligned youngsters and the celebrated warhorses took them to within a whisker of winning the coveted trophy.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe have all their senior players back but are coming off a dismal tour of South Africa during which they were outclassed in all completed games across the three formats.

While Zimbabwe used to boss Bangladesh in the early stages of their rivalry, the last decade has been one-sided in favour of the hosts. Zimbabwe have not won a single ODI against Bangladesh in Bangladesh since December 2010, with the Tigers winning their last 10 matches in the format.

For Bangladesh, this series is an opportunity to test their bench strength in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup in England next summer. Imrul Kayes and Liton Das -- who struck a century in the Asia Cup final -- are expected to open the innings, with one of Nazmul Hossain Shanto or the uncapped Fazle Rabbi to bat at three. The middle order of Mushfiqur Rahim, Mohammad Mithun and Mahmudullah Riyad basically picks itself.

With Rubel Hossain likely to miss out with fever, if pace-bowling all-rounder Mohammad Saifuddin plays, he is likely to bat at seven and be followed by skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and Mehedi Hasan Miraz. If left-arm pacer Abu Hider plays instead, either Mehedi or Mashrafe will move a step up. Left-arm spinner Nazmul Islam and pacer Mustafizur Rahman are likely to be the other two members. 

Zimbabwe will be boosted by the return of all-rounder Sikandar Raza, who has not played for the country since February because of a contract dispute.