For Bangladesh, few other teams invoke as many ghosts from the past as India.
It hadn’t quite reached this stage a decade back. Bangladesh’s barnstorming defeat of India in the 2007 World Cup in sunny Port of Spain, Trinidad was game-changing and era-defining. Before MS Dhoni took over the reins, India faced uncertainty and were in the throes of indecision. Bangladesh contrastingly were a team on the rise and were slowly building a reputation of stepping up from the “minnows” tag.
Twelve years and two World Cups later, all eyes will be on Edgbaston on Tuesday. Bangladesh face India in a must-win encounter to entertain any chances of qualifying for the semi-finals. The pressure, the hype, is unprecedented. Bangladesh must pause and reflect. Because when it comes to clashes against India, it’s not just the same. The ghosts from the past hover, the pain from crushing defeats rankle. Chances are they may not be extinguished without something very special from the Bangla boys.
A tale of grudges and injustice
Simple head-to-head records would make you believe that the hype is unwarranted. India have not lost against Bangladesh in any format since 2015. That’s 11 straight wins on the trot. Despite the loss to England on Sunday, they still look like a team that is currently operating a much higher level than Bangladesh.
You could even argue that India’s best performance is still to come – for starters, Virat Kohli has already hit five fifties but still hasn’t yet got a ton. Bangladesh can well argue that they have put in their best performance at a World Cup, but all they have to show for it is two must-win games against India and Pakistan to retain any chance of qualifying for the last four.
But statistics don’t reveal the backstories. The grudges. The mental block. The sense of injustice that prevails among Bangladesh cricket fans. It doesn’t make sense but when has logic ever played a role in fuelling hysteria? It all kicked off with the Rubel Hossain “no-ball that wasn’t” in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final which Bangla fans still fume about to this day.
If Mushfiqur Rahim could go back in time, would he still pump his fist in premature celebration with two runs still required off three balls on that fateful night in Bengaluru? Would Mahmudullah still try and slog a six over deep mid-wicket the next ball? Would they just try and keep the ball on the ground instead of going for glory?
Flash to Colombo and the Nidahas Trophy final. Would captain Shakib Al Hasan still hand over the ball to Soumya Sarkar to bowl that last over to Dinesh Karthik with 12 required? Could Sarkar have pitched it anywhere else to Karthik with five needed off the last ball rather than outside off?
The burden of doubt
These are the ghosts that haunt Bangladesh. Ironically, they may never have arisen if, say, India had dismantled Bangladesh comprehensively. Bowled them out for 70-odd or won by more than 100 runs That would have been the end of it – a sense of self-realisation among Bangladesh fans that though they were on a rise, they were still far behind India’s level.
But the tantalising reminder for Bangladesh is that they were so close. They matched India at every step in those matches and for periods of time, were ahead of the game. They could have, should have, won it. But both times, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
These kinds of results leave more of an impact. They start making teams question logic and their own self-belief. The voice at the back of your mind asks questions you want to sweep away – Why does it only happen against India? Why can’t we ever win against them despite throwing everything we have? It’s an endless circle of what-ifs and doubts. The ghosts multiply.
The only way to end it, once and for all, is to win. To beat India. To prove a point to both themselves and their fans. That it can be done. And there would be no better occasion than Edgbaston on Tuesday with a spot in the semi-finals at stake.
Easier said than done, though.
A chance to change the narrative?
Bangladesh aren’t a flaky team anymore. In Shakib Al Hasan, they have the world’s best all-rounder and possibly one of the all-time greats. In Mashrafe Mortaza, they have an inspiring captain. These two, along with Tamim Iqbal, Shakib and Mushfiqur Rahim are Bangladesh’s Fab Four. Experience, skills, oodles of talent – they possess it all. This is probably their last World Cup together. Once they depart, Bangladesh will face a rebuilding phase where things may not be as shiny. This is the best they have. This is the best they must do with.
But it all pales when faced against India. Virat Kohli’s men may well have some questions to answer – whether it’s the No 4 spot or the mystery about MS Dhoni’s lack of intent, but they still remain a well-drilled, experienced, multi-faceted unit. The spinners had an off day against England but their pacers remain in prime form. Jasprit Bumrah has troubled the best in the business with his pinpoint accuracy while Mohammed Shami has 13 wickets in three matches at a bowling average of just 9.61.
How do you possibly compete against them? For Bangladesh, it boils down to two choices.
One, crumble. Crumble under the weight of India’s power, but also under the weight of their own self-doubt. Continue the circle of self-defeatism and leave another World Cup where they will be remembered fondly as punching above their own weight but not really doing much more.
Or two, dig deep, find gumption and use it. Use the match as a stepping stone, as a reminder, that if they can match India blow for blow and not lose their heads, they can finally do it. Finally, draw a finishing line to those ghosts of the past. Extinguish them forever and possibly, put themselves in a position to have a go at the ultimate prize.
After all, the future has no ghosts.