Bangladesh will start the most important year of their cricket history with a tri-series featuring India and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh enjoyed a successful 2009 and bagged overseas Test and ODI series wins against a weakened West Indies and successive ODI series wins against Zimbabwe, their favorite opponent in international cricket. Tigers will now have a great opportunity to see where they stand when they face the more threatening opponents in India or Sri Lanka at the Tri-series ODI tournament starting on 4th January 2010.
Bangladesh also started their 2009 cricket calendar with a tri-series involving Sri Lanka and went on to the final only to lose out at the hands of batsman Muralitharan after defeating the same opponents at the group stage. The third team was Zimbabwe who stayed on for the first of the three ODI series played between these two teams in 2009. This time Bangladesh must raise their game for a similar result as Zimbabwe has been replaced by India who easily overpowered Sri Lanka in several recently concluded high scoring encounters. For a change, India will stay on after the tri-series for a 2-match Test series, their first one after becoming the top-ranked nation in the longer format of the game.
Bangladesh rattled a hapless Zimbabwe and a weakened West Indies in 2009 under the much praised leadership of Shakib-Al- Hasan. Shakib admirably raised his game after being forced to step-in after the injury of newly appointed skipper Mashrafe Mortaza. Bangladesh initially named Mashrafe captain for the tri-series and the Test series which follows, but had to revert to Shakib-Al-Hasan due to the fitness concern of Mashrafe. This last minute change gives Shakib the opportunity to continue his good work with the team he led for most part of 2009.
Bangladesh recovered well after the sudden ICL shock when some of their leading players deserted the national team for the more lucrative but unsanctioned Indian Cricket League. While the experienced ICL bound players were in the middle of a losing streak, the new breed of players who replaced them transformed the luck of the Tigers and won matches against teams like New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies. The ICL storm has recently died down and Bangladesh players have cut their ties with the league and they are up for selection after serving a six month cooling down period as suggested by ICC. However, there is no surprise that Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons, who faced a very difficult challenge with the new breed, is reluctant to make any major changes and wants to keep faith in his boys who have time and again showed their talent and determination, and have won matches at the top level of cricket.
Bangladesh cricket is going through a rebuilding phase and it is far from a finished product. They do not have the luxury of being able to ignore the ICL recruits and a couple of them, Aftab Ahmed and Shahriar Nafees, is already making a strong case for their inclusion into the playing XI for the up-coming series. The Bangladesh selectors have included them in the 15-man squad which sends a strong positive signal to the resumption of the international careers of other promising ICL mercenaries like Alok Kapali and Mosharraf Rubel.
Despite making giant strides in the recent Test and ODI series against West Indies, Bangladesh are languishing in top-order batting and also in the pace bowling department. Bangladesh’s success in the tri-series will heavily depend on how these two inconsistent departments perform on any given day. Since their inception into the cricket elite, Bangladesh’s struggle in the top order batting has been ardous. Bangladesh has tested more than 20 opening pairs in the last five years and could not yet settle on a single pair! The latest pair of Tamim Iqbal and Zunaed Siddique came to a premature end after the regular failures of Zunaed Siddique. Zunaed had enjoyed the backing of the coach but lost the support of the selectors. Bangladesh has included the in-form opener Imrul Kayes in place of Zunaed, but he will face stiff competition from Shahriar Nafees who has also returned to the national fold.
Shahriar Nafees looks to be set for a return as an opener and if he can utilize his experience and rectify his past mistakes, he and Tamim Iqbal can forge a solid opening partnership for Bangladesh in both Tests and ODIs. Aftab is one of the hardest hitter of the cricket ball in Bangladesh and he can be an asset during power play overs. But, just like Ashraful, he lacks maturity and often throws his wicket recklessly after a good start. He has expressed his determination to amend his past mistakes and become a permanent fixture of Bangladesh after a 15-month lay-off from international cricket. If Aftab’s words are transformed into action on the field, Bangladesh can expect better days in the upcoming Tri-nation ODI series.
The pace bowling department of the current Bangladesh team lacks direction in the absence of leading pacer Mashrafe Mortaza. Shahadat Hossain has lost his venom and is currently out of favor. In the absence of these two frontline bowlers, the return of Syed Rasel from injury is the only consolation for Bangladesh. He is likely to share the new ball with Nazmul Hossain who has made significant improvements over the past 12 months. As part of an on-going tradition to include a rookie pacer in every other series, Shafiul Islam has earned national call after leading the bowlers tally in the domestic limited overs competition. He will face stern tests against power hitters from India and Sri Lanka. The Bangladesh team management must handle this promising pacer with care and support him for a reasonable period of time.
Bangladesh’s strength lies in their middle order batting and spin bowling department. A middle order consisting Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah and Naeem Islam is comparable to that of India and Sri Lanka and they have routinely rescued Bangladesh after the almost religiously regular shaky starts by the top order. Bangladesh has arguably the best spin attack of the competition. In addition to the world leading SLA duo of Shakib and Razzak, Bangladesh have variations in tidy off-spinners Mahmudullah and Naeem Islam. Mohammad Ashraful is another useful spin bowler who has repeatedly come to the assistance of his captain to break partnerships. Bangladesh can expect at least 35 overs of uncluttered spin action to tie up the opposition batsmen on helpful Mirpur conditions.
It will be difficult for Bangladesh to reach the final of the tri-series which features two of the most explosive one day teams of modern cricket. Sehwag-Gambhir-Yuvraj of India and Dilshan-Tharanga-Sangakkara of Sri Lanka can tear away the opposition on their day. Bangladesh’s initial target should be to go after Sri Lanka who will field a relatively inexperienced side due to the injury of key players. In that respect, the opening match against Sri Lanka on January 4 may become the most important fixture for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has not played a team ranked above them since January of 2009. The leap from playing Zimbabwe to playing India will be a big one. Bangladesh is expected to compete and make the opponents fight to beat them. If the big boys slip up a little, then the Tigers will pounce on them and can win games. If Bangladesh can build their momentum early-on, Shakib-Al-Hasan led team has the potential to break new grounds in the Tri-nation ODIs which they have regularly done in 2009 albeit against weaker opponents.