Challenges aplenty as Asia Cup set to be Shakib’s litmus test
Facing steep challenges both home and away in the previous ODI Super League had seen Bangladesh put on a brave face and set themselves ambitious targets in the upcoming 2023 ODI World Cup. Newly-appointed ODI skipper Shakib Al Hasan also made a similar assertion just a few days back.
Having taken over captaincy from Tamim Iqbal, the onus will be on Shakib to make the team tick at the right stage and at the right time. Going into two mega events such as the Asia Cup later this month and then the World Cup, the team will be tested like never before.
"It's a great challenge for our team to showcase how good we have become in the last four years. It will be a great opportunity for us to do well in the World Cup." Shakib had said in Colombo during a Lankan Premier League game.
A team is only as good as its weakest part, and opponents with high callibre would be targeting specifically those weaknesses. On the other hand, Bangladesh are a team that play well when everyone contributes and comes through as a unit. Thus, given the obvious flaws the team management will have to deal with profile-wise, mental strength is going to be a key factor in achieving lofty objectives.
Starting from the Asia Cup, the ability to take on challenges will be on view. The challenge will be to focus on their strengths and manage their weaknesses.
Here, we take a look at how the challenges shape up for the Tigers ahead of the Asia Cup.
The opening slot
Alongside Liton Das, in the squad are two openers in Mohammad Naim and Tanzid Hasan. The selectors had included both Naim and Tanzid in the recently concluded Emerging Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and the idea must have been to see how they perform because they stuck with the same opening pair throughout the tournament. Tanzid had shown promise, but Naim failed to live up to his potential. It would mean that Tanzid may just be the preferred one to partner Liton up top. A new opening pair always takes time to find rhythm but Tanzid, however, might just be the X-factor the team needs.
Najmul Hossain Shanto holds the position previously owned by Shakib. His solidity against the new ball, albeit not consistently, and his ability to take advantage of the early field settings were shown in recent white-ball series. However, the Asia Cup and the World Cup will pose much steeper challenges. When up against quality bowlers at the biggest of stages, the need for something extra from the batter arises. And Shanto's contribution will go a long way to defining if Bangladesh succeed or not.
Shakib has dropped lower down the order. His big hitting too now looks more menacing while he has not exactly flourished against the new ball. Tawhid Hridoy now comes in at four and it is likely he will change positions with Shakib depending on match scenarios and in order to facilitate the left-right batting combinations. However, early collapses will put both these batters up against the new ball and Hridoy, in particular, has not been tested there. Mushfiqur Rahim, meanwhile, looks like a revelation at number six. He will be key, and whether the team can weather difficult situations will heavily depend on his consistency.
This is one area where the team has always suffered. Shamim Hossain, Afif Hossain, Mahedi Hasan along with Mehedi Hasan Miraz will be the ones in at number seven or eight. Given the inexperience along with the lack of arsenal available in these positions, the Asia Cup will be the litmus test for how the team can end the innings on a high.
The pace attack is where the strength lies but their contributions have often come on foreign conditions. As pace-bowling coach Allan Donald had said, reverse swing could be the game changer. However, two new balls from each end, as is the norm in modern cricket, will be an obstacle to getting that reverse swing. Taskin Ahmed and Co may likely have to do the most damage with the new ball.
Bangladesh lack quality wrist-spin options, an obvious game-changer in modern cricket. Also, Nasum Ahmed and Mehedi are not particularly known for their wicket-taking traits, and the onus may just be on Shakib to add that variety.
Absence of sixth bowler
Mahedi's inclusion may mean that the sixth bowling option may be covered by him. In absence of a pace bowling all-rounder, Mahedi's role will be crucial whenever he plays. His ability to hold his nerve will be crucial.
Bangladesh have come leaps and bounds in terms of improvement on the field and it is understood that both Shakib and head coach Chandika Hathurusingha will not compromise on that aspect.
Former team director Khaled Mahmud yesterday identified that the Tigers' pace battery has now bolstered the team's ability to win games. However, against England at home, that same bowling lineup leaked runs. "If our team are to be champions, then we have to beat the strong sides," he reminded. At the moment, not much room for tinkering with the batting lineup, thus, the Asia Cup will provide answers to lots of questions.