It is hard for anyone not in the dressing room to know how it is to be in the position the Bangladesh team are currently. On the one hand they have played better cricket than most, especially non-Bangladeshis, had expected, have given the ongoing World Cup some exciting cricket, its best player and the team woke up yesterday morning having thoroughly outclassed Afghanistan the day before. On the other, with two matches left they are one loss away from an exit from the World Cup and the first of those two matches is against a team that is as yet unbeaten. Even if they win their next two matches against India and Pakistan, Bangladesh could still crash out if other results do not go their way.
While their fans feel nervous and speculate about outcomes and eventualities, there are perhaps only two ways to look at such a situation for those who are in the eye of the storm and bear the weight of expectations of a cricket-crazed nation. One is to think of doomsday scenarios, fed by memories of how hard it has been against India in crucial matches. The other is to think positively about how the deed can be done and eschew bad memories. With the team in good form, and misfortune rather than poor performance being the hindrance so far, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and Co seemed to have adopted the latter viewpoint.
“There were a lot of calculations till now,” he said while standing outside the team bus in Southampton, prior to their departure for Birmingham, where the team will have seven days to think before their next match against India on July 2. “But now it is just about winning.”
There are many considerations that may make it seem a mountain too high to summit -- India’s ranking superiority and their perceived superiority in terms of ability have all been common topics of discussion amongst outsiders, including journalists whose job it is to see events in a historical context. But for the players who have to do the deeds on the field and face up to Jasprit Bumrah and bowl to Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, it is all about the next match.
“If we want to go to the semifinals, we have to win,” Mashrafe continued. “For us this match is the semifinal or final -- It’s do or die. There is no longer scope to think about how much we lag behind in strength or how far ahead they are. If we want to survive, we have to win.”
Bangladesh teams have imploded under the weight of their own negativity in the past. The 2011 World Cup, the 2014 Asia Cup, the 2014 World T20 -- all at home -- are notable examples. However, the positive tunnel vision Mashrafe spoke of paid dividends as recently as the 2018 Asia Cup, when Bangladesh beat Afghanistan and Pakistan in must-win matches but lost narrowly against India in the final. It was a time when the cliche of ‘focused on the next match’ was forged by force of circumstance into clarity of thought and action in the matches.
After beating Afghanistan on Monday, Bangladesh’s best performer Shakib Al Hasan had offered similar sentiments about their upcoming match against India. The outstanding player of the World Cup seemed to have adopted tunnel vision earlier than his teammates, judging by his performances, and was not willing to look back even if it was for inspiration.
“Experience will help, but experience is not the end of the world,” he had said when asked about Bangladesh’s last World Cup win over India in 2007, which knocked the superpowers out at the group stage. “We have to play our best cricket in order to be able to beat India. We have the belief that we can play well in next two matches and get the result. That’s all we can do at this moment.”
It remains to be seen whether the rest of the team can follow their two leaders, in inspiration and performance, and adopt the tunnel vision when push comes to shove.