Ashraful: You can’t write off Bangladesh

“We have a balanced side. With a bit more consistency from the bowlers, things would definitely go in our favour,” says the former Bangladesh captain.

India had crushed Bangladesh in a one-sided match, but former Bangladesh skipper Mohammad Ashraful says it will be a different ball game this time around.   -  AP

If one were to find a similarity between Birmingham and Port of Spain, he would invariably search the Internet, think a thousand times, and then leave a blank face. Because, the comparison is as good as chalk and cheese.

But there is one person, who can well connect the English town with the Caribbean land — Mohammad Ashraful!

The former Bangladesh captain, who was a key member of the Bangladesh side that had stunned a star-studded India in Port of Spain in a World Cup 2007 fixture, can distinctly connect the two venues, and even comes up with a perfect answer. “As far as Bangladesh cricket is concerned, both the cities have memories attached to them,” he tells Sportstar from Dhaka.

Once considered the poster boy of Bangladesh cricket, Ashraful’s international career (he is cleared by the Bangladesh Cricket Board to play domestic cricket) has gone into the dark after an involvement in a match-fixing controversy. But as Bangladesh gears up to face India in the Champions Trophy semifinal in Birmingham, Ashraful is all optimistic. “India is a good side, a star-studded one. But then, you can’t write off Bangladesh. I know it is tough to beat an in-form India, but it is certainly not impossible,” he says.

The swashbuckling batsman justifies his point by drawing reference to the fascinating batting display by Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah in the last group game against New Zealand. “Shakib’s return to form is certainly a big boost ahead of the semifinal. The way he and Mahmudullah handled the pressure was outstanding. That would definitely keep the morale high,” he says, warning his once upon team-mates not to be complacent.

In the warm-up game, India had crushed Bangladesh in a one-sided match, but Ashraful says it will be a different ball game this time around. “It would be unfair to compare this game with the warm-up game. This will be an intense match. All we need is a bit of luck. Because, in big matches like these, it is important that things go your way,” he says, adding that in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinals, a few umpiring decisions didn’t go Bangladesh’s way. “Who knows what would have been the result had a few things gone our way,” he wonders.

Ashraful admits that it is important for the Bangladesh cricketers not to go overboard before facing India. “We shouldn’t be shifting the focus. In such high-tension matches, emotions flow high, and players often tend to go overboard. That should be avoided,” he says.

His vast experience has also taught him another major lesson — never take your critics seriously before a big match. “The players should come with a fresh mind,” he says, adding: “I would have been happier had Bangladesh faced any other team in the semis. That would not have put the players under so much pressure. A match against India always drains out a player.”

But then, he also believes that with experienced guns like Mashrafe Mortaza and Tamim Iqbal around, Bangladesh can certainly spring in a surprise. “Tamim is in good form. All we need is some runs from Soumya (Sarkar). If that happens, we can again beat India,” the former captain says. “We have a balanced side. With a bit more consistency from the bowlers, things would definitely go in our favour,” he adds.

It’s been 10 years since that afternoon in Port of Spain, and Ashraful still remembers each and every moment of it. And as another dream-catching begins, the former captain hopes his team would emulate a Caribbean summer all over again. After all, impossible is nothing!

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