A chance for pacers to show what they are made of
Rubel Hossain's yorker going through the bat and pads of James Anderson at the Adelaide Oval in the 2015 World Cup will forever remain one of the most iconic moments in Bangladesh cricket. That moment helped Bangladesh make it to the quarterfinal of the World Cup for the first time at the expense of mighty England.
The 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand saw the Bangladesh pacers -- skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Rubel, and Taskin Ahmed -- scalp a total of 24 wickets, the major force behind propelling the Tigers to their best-ever showing in a mega event.
A young Taskin, part of that pace bowling trio, has now transformed into a much more potent and mature campaigner and spearheads the current unit of quicks who are hailed as arguably the best group of pacers Bangladesh has ever had.
Taskin is joined by the likes of Mustafizur Rahman, Hasan Mahmud, Shoriful Islam, and an uncapped 20-year-old Tanzim Hasan, who replaced an injured Ebadot Hossain in the squad. Losing Ebadot, who took wickets in 11 of the 12 ODIs he has played so far, to a knee injury sustained in the Afghanistan series at home in July is sure to hurt the Tigers and will only intensify the challenge they are to face in the Asia Cup in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The current crop of pacers has had successes in recent times. Shoriful's spirited bowling to get his career-best four for 21 against Afghanistan to help the Tigers shrug off the sudden announcement of Tamim Iqbal stepping down from captaincy by getting a consolation win in the final ODI last month could spring to mind when thought of the rare instances that Bangladesh pacers dominated proceedings in the format.
Besides that, the historic Test win in New Zealand in 2022 and the maiden ODI series win over South Africa in their own backyard in March the same year were all orchestrated by feisty performances from the likes of Taskin and Ebadot.
However, the upcoming Asia Cup is set to pose a different challenge to pacers who are still untested in major tournaments. According to veteran pace-bowling coach Sarwar Imran, how Taskin and Co will do in the continental championship will go a long way to showing how good Bangladesh's chances are in the upcoming ODI World Cup, to be played in fairly similar conditions in India later this year.
"Obviously, our pace bowling has improved a lot from how it was in the past. However, our pacers have still not been tested in big tournaments like this [the Asia Cup]. So, this is going to be a big challenge for this group of pacers," Imran told The Daily Star.
According to Imran, sporadic successes do not put the Tigers' pace bowling unit up there among the best, especially when compared to the likes of Pakistan's Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi or India's Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj.
"We bowled well to win a Test in New Zealand, and then we won an ODI series in South Africa. Surely, our pacers have improved a lot. But that does not necessarily mean that our pacers are the best. These few instances of success cannot be used to judge the pace bowling unit.
"Even though they have been doing well, these types of tournaments that are overseen by the ICC [International Cricket Council] or the ACC [Asian Cricket Council] are often played on batting-friendly wickets. So, doing well here in these tournaments where batters usually get advantage… this will show how well rounded we are as a pace bowling unit," Imran added.
One aspect where the Bangladesh pacers might suffer in the upcoming tournaments is in bringing in variations needed to adjust to demanding situations. While Taskin can be relied on to fire in a barrage of quick 145 kmph-plus deliveries, those might not be enough to contain runs once the batters settle on surfaces that are expected to aid them.
Also, Mustafizur is no longer a mystery like he used to be to batters around the globe while Shoriful's inconsistency is something the young pacer is yet to overcome. With all these, factor in that Ebadot, known for his effective yorkers in the death and rising bouncers that startle the batters, is no longer in the scene, this Asia Cup will surely be a litmus test for the Tigers' pace-bowling unit.
"Our pacers do have variations in store. But then again, how our pacers react when batters get in the groove and start hitting boundaries is what will make the difference. Maybe this Asia Cup will show our pacers' ability to hold their nerves, how well they can bowl in pressure situations and in the slog overs, or how well they can bring in the variations and bowl those yorkers, and slowers and basically adjust to the way the situation demands," said Imran, cautioning the pace unit of what challenges might lie ahead for them this Asia Cup, overcoming which might lead to another notable moment like that of Rubel's in 2015.