Can Bangladesh dare to be confident about the ICC World T20?
After the disappointing Asia Cup, Bangladesh national men's cricket team had a lot to ponder with the ICC World T20 looming large. It was evident that swift decisions had to be taken to stand any chance of doing decent at the world stage. Although they have been far from revolutionary, it won't be a stretch to say Bangladesh head into the showpiece event in a better shape compared to last August.
Since his sudden appointment on the eve of Asia Cup, Sridharan Sriram had a bit of time to gel in with the team. This is a big positive for us – with two months of training and two international series under his belt, he now understands his players more. Coupled with his expertise in data analytics, he should have a better idea about both the Tigers and their opponents' strengths and weaknesses, which can be put to good use in the World Cup.
In Sriram's short tenure, his ruthlessness in making tough decisions stood out. After a string of poor performances at the dusk of his career, Mushfiqur Rahim's decision to retire from the shortest format is commendable. Even then, dropping Mahmudullah from the squad despite off-field pressure only shows the control he has over the team now. It didn't stop there as Sriram coolly dropped the misfiring Mustafizur Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin from the eleven and sent TikTok sensation Sbabbir Rahman home after their woeful showing in the tri-nation series with New Zealand and Pakistan.
Buckling to the pressure of senior cricketers has plagued Bangladesh for way too long. Sriram's ruthlessness bodes well for the future – it shows that a player needs to earn their place in the team by their performances only. For the likes of Soumya Sarkar, Najmul Hossain Shanto and Mosaddek Hossain, it probably represents their last chance to get back to the team. The onus is now on the newcomers and comeback players to deliver on the faith shown on them.
As is the norm with showpiece events, Bangladesh travelled to New Zealand and Australia well in advance. With a full month's gruelling training under their belts, the Tigers should understand the conditions a lot better. The tri-nation series with New Zealand and Pakistan, along with the practice game against Afghanistan, although yielding humbling results in the end, represents an overall positive in the grand scheme of things.
Playing in the dangerous Australian and Kiwi pitches, both the batters and bowlers know the minute technical details which should be executed for success. It also gave Sriram a chance to see hands-on which players he can rely on, with Shakib Al-Hasan, Litton Das and newcomer Hasan Mahmud delivering the faith shown on them. Some of the matches were really winnable, if only other members of the team stepped up. It just shows the potential this team has, which, if groomed properly, can be put to good use.
As Bangladesh's Super-12s kick-off against Netherlands, the onus is well and truly on the team to deliver. This time, the pretext of 'not having enough time' will be inexcusable despite the off-field upheaval, the team had a bilateral series, a tri-nations series and two months of demanding training under a modern, progressive coach to hone their skills. The pace attack has their work cut out to master the bouncy, fast pitches and deliver the goods. With the Fizz's charm non-existent, the hope is for the promising Hasan Mahmud, Ebadot Hossain, Taskin Ahmed and Shoriful Islam to deliver.
For batters, maximising the Powerplay is crucial. We are at an age where less than 40 runs in powerplay all but confirms defeat. Coming on to bat, our openers should be gunning for at least 7.50 runs per over, which can help set a stable stage for the middle overs. Death overs will be crucial, and for a team not renowned for their hard-hitting batters, maximising the first 15 overs is important to get fighting scores on the board. To achieve that, the likes of Litton Das, Afif Hossain, Mosaddek Hossain and Yasir Ali should be gunning to their maximum.
Bangladesh's work might be easier as the group is comparatively easy. With The Tigers facing Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, South Africa, India and Pakistan, fans can genuinely hope for at least two wins and salvage some pride in the world stage. The bigger ground dimensions can help us too – it will be tougher to hit boundaries and sixes in the MCG, SCG and Perth. This might result in some low-scoring games, which we can use to deadly effect if our batters find their rhythm and fielders cut out on their mistakes.
The pessimism heading into the World Cup is justified. But cricket is an unpredictable game. Who knows? If we get the basics right, this Bangladesh team can do something truly special in this World T20. The parallels between this and the 2015 ODI World Cup is stark – heading into the tournament on the back of a disastrous year. Will it be another repeat of the heroics of 2015? As fans, we can only hope that is the case and leave it all to our cricketers striving for glory.
Inqiad is a long-suffering Man United fan and a self-proclaimed Targaryen. Contact him at [email protected]