'Want to pick up where we left off '
The last time they played ODI cricket was on November 11, 2015, when they completed a whitewash of Zimbabwe at home. Remarkably it was Bangladesh's second whitewash of the year, having earlier blanked Pakistan, and their fourth series win at home in 2015, the other two coming against India and South Africa. But that match against Zimbabwe was to be the last ODI they played in almost a year.
So by there will be some anxiety about continuing with an unprecedented level of play when the Tigers take the field today against Afghanistan in the first of three ODIs at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.
"This is a very important series, especially as we have not played any ODIs in a year and now we are embarking on a series. From that perspective this series is very important," said Mashrafe in the pre-match press conference at Mirpur yesterday. "Besides that, Afghanistan is playing very good cricket now, so that is another reason why this series is important. We want to pick up where we left off in ODI cricket."
The Afghanistan team, an Associate Member nation who often outperform that classification, have reason to be confident. Apart from winning the only time these two sides met on Bangladeshi soil, in the 2014 Asia Cup, they also won the warm-up match against the BCB XI handsomely on Friday.
"We [BCB XI] had a chance to win after getting them all out for 233," Mashrafe, who was captain during Bangladesh's win in their second and most recent encounter against Afghanistan in the 2015 World Cup, said. "I think they [Afghanistan] played well. We will also look to play well tomorrow [Sunday]. I think if we don't play well we will lose."
Numerous subplots have been swirling in this series. Young quick Taskin Ahmed's bowling action was cleared at the eleventh hour and he looks to be a good shout to return to action today. That was indeed a fillip for Mashrafe, who with head coach Chandika Hathurusinghe has transformed Bangladesh's bowling attack from a spin-dominated one into a pace battery.
"This is of course good news for our cricket," said Mashrafe, who as a mentor to Taskin felt his pain when his action was deemed illegal during the World T20. "It means a lot that he has been able to prove his action to be legal. I hope he can pick up where he left off in international cricket."
The captain also played down worries over Mustafizur Rahman's absence while saying that the left-arm prodigy will be missed. "Those of us who are here have an opportunity to prove ourselves and those who were outside the team will also have a chance to prove themselves. If we are talking about our pace bowling then there is healthy competition in one-day cricket. I would say this is our best attack."
Despite the long gap between ODI matches, Mashrafe was typically unfazed by the challenge at hand and sounded out a confident note about how they will approach the next three matches. "Of course, as players we should think this is a tough series. We have trained hard for two-and-a-half months, and if we can enter the field with that self-confidence then of course we will do well. We will obviously play all-out cricket. Sometimes, according to the match situation you have to be defensive. But at the start we will want to play our best cricket, and our best cricket is not defensive cricket."