It is not the name of a new, large phone from a manufacturer called Big, but it is the template for Bangladesh to go deep in the ongoing World Cup. Skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad are known as the Big Five of Bangladesh cricket and for much of the last decade they have been carrying the team to memorable wins.
Mashrafe said on Sunday, the eve of their World Cup match against West Indies: ‘It is not the responsibility of one or two players to take the team forward in a tournament like the World Cup. There’ll be ups and downs, but we must pull it together for the team.”
A new wave is flowing in Bangladesh cricket -- after years of rueing the reality that those outside the Big Five do not put their hands up consistently enough, that trend has changed at the most opportune time. Liton Das’s 69-ball 94 as Bangladesh chased down West Indies’ 321 for eight in a canter in Taunton on Monday was the latest, if also the most spectacular, example of one of the lesser six stepping up.
The other most notable examples are Soumya Sarkar, Mosaddek Hossain and Mohammad Saifuddin. Liton and Soumya sit in the same category -- they had been given countless opportunities but since 2014 up until late 2018, could not cash in. They had shown glimpses of their immense talent but could not attain the level of consistency required to make a strong case for continued selection. Both were dropped, Soumya after the South Africa tour in September-October 2017 and Liton was not a first-choice member since the tour of New Zealand earlier this year.
Soumya -- who played in the Asia Cup final as an emergency reinforcement for an injury-hit squad -- was included in the third ODI against Zimbabwe late last year, even though he was not in the squad, and made a strong case for himself with a century. Since the Ireland series that preceded this World Cup, Soumya has been the enforcer at the top of the order -- which is the role the team need him to play.
Liton’s consistency has been the most heartening. Known as much for his elegant batting as he is for his tendency to implode when everything is in his favour, Liton has kept making a strong case for inclusion ever since Ireland. He got one match there, when Soumya was rotated out against Ireland, and struck a fluent 67-ball 76 that provided the impetus for a nerveless chase of 293 with seven overs to spare. In his next chance, against India in the World Cup warm-up game, he struck a fifty. In his first ever World Cup game on Monday, coming in after warming the bench for four matches, he helped Shakib ace a steep chase with an unbroken fourth-wicket stand.
Like Liton, Mosaddek was not a first-choice member despite being in and around the squad for much of the last year. He also grabbed his opportunity with both hands, winning Bangladesh’s first ODI multi-team trophy by hitting an unbeaten 24-ball 52 in the final against West Indies on May 17. In doing so, he has solved the problem of a number seven batsman who can also bowl handy off-spin while Mahmudullah’s shoulder prevents him from bowling. Mohammad Saifuddin, meanwhile, is an example of the reserves of talent Bangladesh have and that someone can come in and within a space of 17 ODIs make himself a first-choice member in a squad that is now truly competitive.
That competition is perhaps the crux of the issue. For years, players had depended on the Big Five to bring the results while they made up the numbers. Now, with the likes of Rubel Hossain, Abu Jayed, Mohammad Mithun, Sabbir Rahman and, until recently, Liton having to sit out, continuity in selection -- for which the oft-maligned selectors deserve some credit -- is no longer possible without telling performances. Perhaps that is what has led to talent translating into performance.
It took a fair while, but it seems that it came just in the nick of time. Even if Bangladesh crash out of this World Cup before the semifinal stage, this development is one on which to build hopes that the future after the Big Five is not bleak.