At the start of this World Cup, not many would’ve fancied Bangladesh making it to the semi-finals. Popular opinion suggested that the big three, along with either New Zealand or West Indies, would reach the knockouts. Although things have panned out on expected lines, barring the Windies’ capitulation, the Tigers remain very much in contention as we enter the business end of the league stage.
Mashrafe Mortaza and his men notched up their third victory of the tournament on Monday with a comfortable outing against Afghanistan. The win was achieved on the back of another fine performance by Shakib Al Hasan, who picked up his third player of the match award.
Against Afghanistan, Hasan, the leading run-scorer in the tournament at this point, scored 51 and returned with sensational figures of 5/29 from 10 overs. He became just the second player in World Cup history to get a half-century and take a five-for in the same match, and the first man to score 400-plus runs and claim 10 wickets in a single edition of the marquee 50-over event.
While Hasan seems to be operating in a league of his own, there’s another senior pro in the Bangladeshi ranks who’s picking up steam at the right time. Mushfiqur Rahim played a crucial hand in his team’s victory on Monday. The diminutive right-hander, having scored a century against Australia in the previous game, continued his good form to get an 87-ball 83 against Afghanistan. He assessed the conditions perfectly, realised that 300 wasn’t a total worth aiming for due to the large outfield and slow-ish pitch, and paced his innings smartly. “Rahim’s 80-odd would be worth around 120 on any other ground,” said a commentator on air.
This World Cup has had several matches where the losing team has squandered opportunities from a promising position. West Indies and Pakistan are two sides that could’ve been higher on the points table had they held their nerves in crunch situations. In a tournament as big as this, the importance of maturity and experience cannot be overstated. And that is where Bangladesh hold a slight edge.
Hasan, Rahim, Mortaza and Tamin Iqbal have played over 800 One-Day Internationals between them. The presence of these four players lends incredible balance to the Bangladeshi team. They have the No 1 ranked all-rounder in the world, one of the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world, a captain they look up to, and an opener who has close to 7,000 ODI runs to his name.
Mortaza hasn’t set the tournament ablaze with the ball in hand, taking just one wicket in six games. But it isn’t about numbers when it comes to him, at least as far as the Bangladeshis are concerned. The 35-year-old is his country’s most successful ODI captain and someone the team rallies around at all times.
Iqbal, too, hasn’t had the best campaign. The left-hander has scored 205 runs from six innings with just one half-century. But again, the 30-year-old is playing in his fourth World Cup and brings a vast amount of experience to the table. For the better part of his career, he was someone who’d attack from the get-go. But the crucial partnerships he has had at the top of the order in this World Cup show how he has grown as a batsman.
Bangladesh are the second most experienced team at this World Cup, and their next game is against the team which is ahead of them on this list – India. The Tigers have seven points right now and can get to a maximum of 11 with just two more matches to come. They’ll fancy their chances against Pakistan in their final league encounter, but will need to bring their absolute best to get the better of Virat Kohli and Co.
“They [India] are the top side. They are someone who are looking at the title,” Hasan said after the win against Afghanistan. “So it’s not going to be easy, but having said that, we’ll give our best shot. We have to play our best cricket in order to be able to beat India. They’ve got world-class players who can take matters in their own hands. As I said, we have to be at our best, and I believe that we are a capable enough team. We have the belief that we can play well in next two matches and get the result. That’s all we can do at this moment.”
By defeating Afghanistan, Bangladesh have safely negotiated the first third of their mini Asia Cup at the end of the league stage. However, their biggest test lies a week away. The Tigers need to bring their A-game against India on July 2 at Edgbaston, and their four most experienced players will need to hold it all together.