The Asian juggernaut in the farcical ‘first round’ of the ICC World T20 has rolled into the ten pin game. After Afghanistan won all their games, Bangladesh have done the same and booked their rightful place in the WT20 Super 10s. And on current form, they should win one or two more as well.
Having to play the qualifiers despite making the final of the Asia Cup could actually be a good thing for Bangladesh. It helped them quickly shake off the loss to India in the final and get back to winning ways. The victory against the Netherlands did just that, and they continue to ride the wave of momentum that they gained in Dhaka. But do they have the wherewithal to progress to the semi-finals? I analyse them closely using the SWOT matrix:
The fast bowling department: Egged on by the green pitches in Dhaka (a sentence I never imagined
writing), Bangladesh pace bowlers have gone from strength to strength. Young Taskin Ahmed and Al-Amin Hossain made sure that nobody is missing Rubel Hossain, Bangladesh’s 2015 World Cup hero. They have taken wickets in the first six overs in four out of five matches in the Asia Cup. Along with Mustafizur Rahman, the trio has good control over yorkers, and is difficult to get away in the death overs. Mashrafe Mortaza’s medium pace in the middle is more than handy as well.
Form of the top three: With the return of Tamim Iqbal (from paternity leave), and the return of Soumya Sarkar’s form (from wherever it had gone), Bangladesh look a different batting unit. Both openers have given Bangladesh flying starts in first round, and the Tigers would want Sarkar to emulate his senior partner and bat deeper into the game. And whoever thought of promoting Sabbir Rahman to one-down should be given Bangladesh’s equivalent of the Padma Shri. Sabbir’s presence has had a calming effect on the batting, without lowering the run rate. He has been like a high speed train — fast from the word go, but never looking like it will fall off the rails.
Mahmudullah the finisher: If Marvel had a movie character named The Finisher, Mahmudullah Riyad must play that role. Mahmudullah’s efforts in the Asia Cup, where he batted with a strike rate of almost 160, gave Bangladesh the kick they needed at the end in four out of five games. His skills will be tested in this competition but his presence at the end of the innings has been reassuring.
Momentum: While momentum is a tricky word to use in sport, as it can change in one ball, the recent wins have certainly given Bangladesh one thing — self-belief. Their wins against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the Asia cup means that they have tasted the feeling of beating an established team, and like a tiger turning into a man-eater, they will be hungry for the scent of another big catch.
Spin department: With veteran Shakib-Al-Hasan blowing hot and cold, and Arafat Sunny reported for a suspect action, Bangladesh look thin in this department. As the tournament progresses pitches are likely to slow down a bit, particularly in Kolkata where they play two games. The part-time skills of Mahmudullah and Nassir Hossain may be called upon but cannot be a source of reliance.
Form of the senior batters: Mushfiqur Rahim had a quiet Asia cup, managing just 40 runs in the whole tournament. To add to his woes, he got out for a duck against the Dutch, and did not bat against Ireland or Oman. Shakib too, barring the game against Oman, has not fired with the bat the way the team would have liked. In such a situation, there is added pressure on the young shoulders of Sarkar and Sabbir.
Better their best: With form and momentum on their side, Bangladesh have a chance to better their best WT20 performance, which is making the second round. This may be their best chance of creating a few more ripples in Group 2. Their clash against Pakistan will be a high intensity one; Pakistan would be keen to take revenge for the Asia Cup loss. Bangladesh meanwhile, will try to take advantage of the off-field issues that have plagued Pakistan, and go for a double whammy. The other teams in the group will provide stiff resistance though. While Australia have the pedigree to see off a challenge, their team is far from settled, as the West Indies proved in the warm ups. India however, will be a mountain to climb, and New Zealand, too, are looking formidable. Bangladesh will need to play out of their skins to progress to the semis.
Fielding: The greatest enemy is always the one within. It has been a repetitive theme of my writing that if a team wants to beat a stronger side they must out-field them. Bangladesh had a number of forgettable butter-finger moments in the Asia Cup, and must make every half-chance count if they are to get into the semi-finals.
Turning tracks: With not much pedigree in the spin department besides Shakib, Bangladesh could fall victim to a slow turning track that does not assist their pace bowlers. While Bangalore, where they play India and Australia, is likely to be a flat, hard deck, Kolkata could be just the kind of wicket they are not looking for. Coach Hathurusingha will need to remind his boys to ‘control the controllables’, and adjust his plans accordingly.
Cloud hanging over Taskin and Arafat: With two of his bowlers having been reported for possible illegal actions, bowling coach Heath Streak will have his hands full keeping them focussed on the task at hand. They cannot afford to let the negative press get to them, and must wear blinders until their WT20 campaign is over, or their test results come out.
Mustafizur’s fitness: Cricket is a team game based on the performances of individuals. And Mustafizur is one individual who has been a talisman for Bangladesh since his debut last year. He has played a pivotal part in their home series wins as well as the Asia Cup campaign. Four overs of his deceptive off-cutters and and yorkers will be worth more to the side than his weight in gold. If he cannot recover before the first game in the Super 10s, it will be a big blow to the Tiger’s chances.
The people of Bangladesh have been fed a bounty of cricket this summer. First in appetising doses through the U-19 World Cup. Then in large, star-struck, gluttonous bites through the Asia Cup. And yet they still crave for the dessert in the WT20. They want their team to give them a final effort, the icing on the cake, the mishti doi after the fish curry. They want their team to do what the colts did. They want a semi-final. And judging by the way they are playing, the team wants one too.