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Champions Trophy 2017: Bangladesh no longer minnows, but English conditions will be a stern test

After an absence of more than 10 years, Bangladesh make a welcome return to the Champions Trophy – the first time they have made the cut since the tournament was reduced to only eight teams in 2009. That in itself is a mark of the improvement that they have shown as a side in recent years. No longer simply the whipping boys of the international stage, Bangladesh now rank among the top eight ODI teams of the world; in fact they currently find themselves sixth, above both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both former world champions.

Bangladesh's last major ODI tournament, the 2015 World Cup, has to go down as a big success, with the side making the quarter-finals, and since then the Tigers have enjoyed series wins over Pakistan, India and South Africa. However, their record away from the subcontinent has been less impressive – their recent tour to New Zealand, where the conditions are perhaps the most similar to those they are likely to encounter in England, ended without a single win in eight matches across all formats.

 Champions Trophy 2017: Bangladesh no longer minnows, but English conditions will be a stern test

Bangladesh players celebrate after dismissing Virat Kohli in the 2015 World Cup Q/F. Reuters

Bangladesh have been warming up for the Champions Trophy with a tri-nation series against Ireland and New Zealand, and enjoyed a fairly encouraging set of matches, comfortably beating Ireland and recovering from an early defeat to New Zealand to beat them second time around – a win that took them up to sixth in the ICC ODI rankings.

However, they will face much sterner opposition when the tournament actually starts, drawn in a tricky Group A with hosts England, as well as Australia and New Zealand – two sides that are likely to prosper in English conditions.

While Bangladesh face a difficult path to the knockout stages, they are no strangers to being the underdogs of world cricket and could find the lack of expectation a boost as they look to spring an upset or two – England fans remember all too well what that feels like, having been dumped out of the 2015 World Cup by Bangladesh and suffering a defeat to the Tigers in the 2011 World Cup as well.

Bangladesh go into the tournament as perhaps a bit of a mystery, something their coach Chandika Hathurusingha has admitted: “It is going to be a bit unknown for us. We haven't played in England for a long time. It is going to be a big challenge for us,” he said. “We are playing against three of the best sides in the world. I can't predict what we are going to do, but whatever we achieve in any of those games is going to be a big achievement.”

Warm up games against Pakistan and India give Bangladesh ample opportunity to adjust to English conditions, and so it will be fascinating to see how they ultimately get on.

In Shakib al Hasan, the Tigers have the top-ranked all rounder in Test, ODI and T20 cricket, and while rankings aren’t everything, there can be no doubting the left-hander’s class with either bat or ball and with more than 270 international games under his belt, his experience would surely be invaluable during the tournament.

However, Bangladesh are far from a one-man team, with Tamim Iqbal, arguably their best batsman, hoping to make up for lost time in global tournaments – after averaging 26 in the 2015 World Cup and only 19 in the 2007 edition. Fortunately, for Bangladesh fans, Tamim currently looks to be in fine form with the bat, clubbing 127 against Sri Lanka in March and an unbeaten 64 against Ireland only last week. If he can keep that up, Bangladesh would certainly be a fearsome prospect.

While Bangladesh will undoubtedly be hoping that the pitches in the tournament offer a bit of assistance to spinners, even without that, they still possess a genuine threat with the ball in Mustafizur Rahman. ‘The Fizz’ effectively bowled Bangladesh to victory in their recent clash with Ireland, taking 4/23 and would be dangerous in English conditions as he demonstrated very briefly last season in a frustratingly short spell as one of Sussex’s overseas players in the T20 Blast.

If all of Bangladesh’s star triumvirate can remain injury-free and find their best form, then despite their tricky draw, the Tigers could certainly spring a surprise or two.

Essentially, the biggest unknown with Bangladesh will be how they fare in English conditions, something that should become a little more apparent after their warm up matches against subcontinent rivals Pakistan and India.

The Tigers’ first fixture is the tournament opener against England – a side they have beaten in their last two ICC tournament encounters, in Chittagong in 2011 and memorably in Adelaide in 2015. The defeat in Adelaide in the 2015 World Cup caused England to completely rethink the way they played ODI cricket, leading to the resurgence that sees them now installed as one of the tournament favourites.

While Bangladesh currently have the longest odds of any side going into the tournament, they do now boast of a side that blends the experience of players like Mashrafe Mortaza, Tamim and Shakib with the youthful promise of Mustafizur, Mehedi Hasan and Mosaddek Hossain, among others, and should they manage to hit the ground running, then that combined with a lack of expectation could see them emerge as something of a tournament dark horse.

Squad: Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Mahmudullah, Sabbir Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain, Mehedi Hasan, Sunzamul Islam, Mashrafe Mortaza (c), Mustafizur Rahman, Taskin Ahmed, Rubel Hossain, Shafiul Islam.
Standby: Nasir Hossain, Nurul Hasan, Subashis Roy, Md Saif Uddin

Fixtures: 1 June vs England at The Oval; 5 June vs Australia at The Oval; 9 June vs New Zealand at Cardiff.

Best result: Group stage – 2002, 2004

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Updated Date: May 30, 2017 14:39:53 IST

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