Big bats, high pace and leg-spin: that is how teams like England, India, Australia and South Africa will operate in this World Cup. Bangladesh will bring a different flavour to the tournament, with their ability to hold teams down to scores less than 300 with a skilled bowling attack, and a batting line-up that relies mostly on their ability to finding gaps along the carpet.
They rely on their captain Mashrafe Mortaza’s man-management skills, on Shakib Al Hasan’s big-game persona, and Tamim Iqbal’s sense of responsibility. They also have plenty of talent in their line-up, with Mustafizur Rahman one of the most skilled pace bowlers in world cricket.
Recent form too is on their side having rallied after being trounced in New Zealand in the ODI and Test series in March. It was a tour, of course, which ended with the horrifying pictures broadcast of the team fleeing through Hagley Park after hearing shooting while on a bus only metres away from the Al Noor terrorist attack in Christchurch.
All of them were traumatised, with some seeking counselling after returning home. Many played in domestic competition and had to fend off their own demons. The culture of counselling and seeking help for mental issues is still alien to Bangladeshis. Yet the culture of moving on is also within them. It is ingrained, especially in the past 20 years, to move past one terrorism episode after another. While that may not be healthy, so far, this path does not seem to have affected them on the field.
Their performances since then have been encouraging, beating the West Indies three times in this month’s tri-series in Ireland. The third victory came in last Friday’s Dublin final, the first time that Bangladesh have won a one-day international final.
ICC world ranking 7 (as of 6 May)
Captain Mashrafe Mortaza, left
Coach Steve Rhodes
World Cup best Quarter-final 2015
Fixtures (10.30am unless stated)
2 June v South Africa, The Oval
5 June v New Zealand, The Oval (1.30pm)
8 June v England, Cardiff
11 June v Sri Lanka, Bristol
17 June v West Indies, Taunton
20 June v Australia, Trent Bridge
24 June v Afghanistan, Southampton
2 July v India, Edgbaston
5 July v Pakistan, Lord’s
The Bangladesh batsmen also dominated the West Indies pace attack, which is a step up from last July when Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder handed them two humiliating Test defeats. Indeed, Bangladesh hold sway over West Indies in ODIs, beating them in two series last year, in addition to the victories in Ireland.
They also reached the Asia Cup final last year where they lost to India despite Liton Das bossing half the game with his 121. There were plenty of heroics during that tournament including Mushfiqur Rahim’s 144 against Sri Lanka, the same game in which Tamim Iqbal batted one-handed after he had broken his thumb earlier in the game.
Since the 2015 World Cup, they have won nine ODI series, including their hot streak between April 2015 to September 2016 when they won five consecutive home series against Pakistan, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.
What has certainly worked for them is the core group of five cricketers. Mashrafe’s influence is overwhelming in the Bangladesh dressing room. Tamim, Shakib, Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim, meanwhile, have all spent more than 10 years in international cricket, which has given them a stable batting line-up.
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The all-round skills of Shakib and Mushfiqur allow Bangladesh to choose one extra skill in every line-up. Shakib now bats at No 3 and bowls 10 overs, while Mushfiqur keeps wickets and bats in the middle-order. Tamim has been their opening vanguard since he burst on to the scene in 2007, and has now transformed himself into a batsman who has the blueprint to an ODI hundred in his back pocket.
Bangladesh have also built a strong bowling line-up, based mostly on Mashrafe keeping things tight with his medium pace mixed with cutters and a bit of swing. Shakib also brings control but it is Mustafizur Rahman’s variety of cutters and slower balls which make him a match-winner.
Mustafizur and Rubel Hossain have shown the ability to stop strong batting line-ups from scoring quickly in the last 10 overs; Rubel, who has also reached 10 years in top-flight cricket, is currently the quickest bowler in their line-up, and has a mean yorker.
But barring Rubel, Bangladesh lack high pace. They also don’t have a big-hitting all-rounder at No 6 or 7, relying mostly on Mahmudullah to go for the big blows in the last few overs.
They would be expected to do well, but they have to contain the chaos around the team, particularly from within the Bangladesh Cricket Board directors and hangers-on. The combination of a large media presence, an expectant nation of 170 million, and social media also makes it a suffocating environment during tours to the UK.
With many members of the team continuing to recover following events in Christchurch, any assessment of their chances should tread cautiously.
What’s their gameplan?
Bangladesh bank heavily on starting well with bat and ball. They usually want one of their top three batsmen to stay until the 35th to 40th over, before letting their experienced middle order blast through the last 10 overs. They don’t have a designated big-hitter so rely heavily on set batsmen.
Bangladesh are confident that their bowling can contain sides to 250 to 270 and if they bat first, they are likely to set around 280 to 320 runs, a score that they have defended successfully 12 out of 18 times batting first since the 2015 World Cup.
Who’s their key player?
Mashrafe is perhaps the most valuable and vulnerable cricketer in their line-up. His captaincy has acted as the glue to a talented but often indisciplined side. But he is 35 years old, has had several knee operations and is now a member of parliament too, although he is unlikely to be distracted by his political career. Often, his teammates are inspired by his words, but when Mashrafe has taken three wickets or more in an ODI, Bangladesh have won 22 out of those 33 games.
What’s the realistic aim for Bangladesh and why?
As they showed in the Champions Trophy, Bangladesh are capable of beating higher-ranked sides in big tournaments under pressure. They also made it as far as the quarter-finals in the 2015 World Cup. If there is less chaos around them off the field and they can beat one or two of the top ranked sides, a spot in the semi-final isn’t an impossible dream for this improving side.