The 2019 World Cup is the biggest platform for Bangladesh to build on their 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2018 Asia Cup exploits and that's what skipper Mashrafe Mortaza is hoping for.
Ranked seventh in the latest ICC ODI Team rankings, Bangladesh are undoubtedly a force to reckon with in limited-overs' format, especially when it comes to 50-over cricket. With an experienced and versatile squad, this is the format the Tigers enjoy the most and it is clearly evident from their performances in ODIs since their first appearance at the knock-out stages of the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
In 2018, Bangladesh were the second best Asian team in 50-over cricket after India in terms of win-loss ratio amongst the full-members of ICC. The cherry on the cake was their campaign in the Asia Cup where, with a depleted side, they qualified for the final beating Sri Lanka, Afghanistan as well as a much-fancied Pakistan along the way. The came tantalisingly close to outclassing India in the title clash only to lose on the final ball of the match.
Bangladesh have arguably picked their strongest ODI squad ever for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales. Hence, it won't be a surprise if Bangladesh go on to make a few big boys sweat.
Their 15-member squad for the World Cup primarily revolves around the fab-five of Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Tamim Iqbal, and Mahmudullah. Along with them, there are plenty of talented youngsters who add depth in quality in this line-up. The selectors have packed the squad with a lot of all-round options, which provides flexibility to this team. Overall, the contingent seems to have a perfect blend of youth and experienced cricketers.
Going into the World Cup, the greatest strength of Bangladesh is going to be its core group of cricketers, which has largely remained unchanged since their semi-final appearance in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017. In fact, from that squad which played the eight-team event in the UK, barring Imrul Kayes, Sunzamul Islam, Taskin Ahmed, and Shafiul Islam; the rest of the squad features in their current World Cup team. So, most of these players are well aware of their specific roles in this side.
Mortaza's inspirational leadership often gets the best out of his teammates. Furthermore, the Bangladesh skipper will be playing his final World Cup, which is an extra motivation for his side to put up a grand show in this pinnacle event of the cricket world.
Nevertheless, apart from their fanatic followers, this time most of the experts are not expecting Bangladesh to make it to the semi-finals. For the Tigers, this low-profile image can be a blessing in disguise as they have had a tendency of going overboard with the occasion.
"We must work really hard, and it is important to find out if we are prepared to do that," Mortaza said in Dhaka in April. "The best teams sometimes don't make it to the semi-finals, let alone win the World Cup. There's no pressure on us to win the World Cup or even reach the semi-finals. We just want to play well."
In order to acclimatise with the conditions in the UK, Bangladesh participated in a tri-series in Ireland involving the hosts and the West Indies. The Tigers clinched their first-ever multilateral ODI series by beating the West Indies in the final. Mortaza's men remained unbeaten, much to the delight of the management and fans. More importantly, their seamers, such as Mustafizur and Mortaza were in good rhythm and bowled exceptionally well against the flamboyant Windies batsmen on the flat Irish wickets.
The conditions in the World Cup will be quite similar – flat batting tracks with lightning-quick outfields, in which 330 would a par score batting first. With hardly any spin on offer from those surfaces, it is the prerogative of the seamers to do the job up-front. With the day matches commencing at 10.30 am BST, which according to English standards is an early start, the pacers have to make the two new balls count by using the early morning moisture.
Bowling has not been Bangladesh's strength on pitches which do not have any spin on offer. So, their fortunes in this World Cup will largely depend on the performances of the likes of Mustafizur, Rubel Hossain, Mohammad Saifuddin, Mortaza, and the uncapped Abu Jayed, who has been picked in this squad ahead of much experienced Taskin due to his ability to swing the new ball.
Bangladesh have a barrage of slow bowlers in their line-up but on the English pitches, apart from Shakib, there is hardly anyone whom Mortaza can trust as a wicket-taker. However, judging from their bowling plans in the ongoing Ireland series, it is expected that in the first half of their World Cup campaign, the think-tank will pick Mehidy Hasan, the off-spinner, along with Shakib in the playing XI, especially while taking on the non-subcontinental teams. Perhaps, the logic is that slow bowlers would be able to control the game much better than a seamer all-rounder in the middle overs.
From a batting perspective, Bangladesh have a settled unit with plenty of experience. The likes of Tamim, Mushfiqur, Mahmudullah, and Shakib have been around for ages. In fact, some of these senior pros will be playing their fourth 50-over World Cup. In Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das, Sabbir Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain, and Mohammad Mithun, Bangladesh have batsmen more than capable of playing the supporting roles.
Most importantly, this team bats deep, with someone like Mortaza, who is a decent slogger down the order, expected to come out at No 9. Overall, if this batting line-up plays according to its potential, it has the skill-set and depth to reach 320-330 very often. However, for them, consistency will be the key.
Interestingly, in Ireland, Shakib has batted at No 3 and he has openly expressed his desire to retain this position in the World Cup.
"There was a time when I had to come on to the crease before first 10 overs even if I batted on No 5. But now things have changed (Bangladesh top-order has started to show more resistance), I don't get a chance to bat before 35-40 overs if I bat at number five position," said Shakib, who has scored an unbeaten 61 and 29 in the ongoing tri-series.
"For me, I think (batting) the earlier the better. So personally speaking, I want to bat at number three. I have also expressed my desire to the coach and the captain (and it is up to them to decide). But I don't have any problem to play anywhere for the team."
Though the think-tank is yet to take a final call on whether to promote Shakib higher up the batting order, in a high-pressure event like the World Cup, Shakib's experience is an absolute necessity in the middle-order. Ideally, he should not expose himself against the new ball. Rather, Bangladesh will be better served if someone like Liton Das, who is the third opener in this team, comes in at No 3.
Bangladesh will start their World Cup campaign against South Africa at the Oval on 2 June. Before that, they will play two warm-up games against Pakistan and India.
If this team can play expressive cricket and perform to its true potential, they can scale greater heights than before. This is the biggest platform for Bangladesh to build on their 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2018 Asia Cup exploits and that's what Mortaza is hoping for.
"If you ask all the experts, analysts and former players about their favourites for this World Cup, none of them will pick us," he explained. "I think we can change some perceptions if we can do something this time, more than how much it changed in the past. It is a great opportunity for us."
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