Competent Bangladesh stands between India and final

India will have no illusions of invincibility when it meets Bangladesh in the semifinals of the Champions Trophy here on Thursday.

India coach Anil Kumble, left, and captain Virat Kohli at a practice session ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy semifinal match against Bangladesh at Edgbaston in Birmingham.   -  AP

 

India will have no illusions of invincibility when it meets Bangladesh in the semifinals of the Champions Trophy here on Thursday. Bangladesh goes into the match ranked sixth in the world — above Pakistan and Sri Lanka — and justifiably so. This is a team that has beaten India, Pakistan and South Africa in one-day series at home, and now stands on the brink of a monumental achievement.

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Indeed, its presence in the last four is already a triumph in itself for no Bangladesh side has made it this far in a major tournament. It would be a monumental step forward for the nation's cricket if it advanced to the final of the Champions Trophy; this is a shot at history.

 

The challenge for Mashrafe Mortaza's men will be to treat this, as their coach put it, as an opportunity and not be overwhelmed by the occasion.

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Too often, Bangladesh has been overly passionate, overly excited, losing its head when common sense was perhaps called for. But it is no minnow. This is a competent, experienced outfit, with five players having earned in excess of a hundred one-day caps; Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim have more than 170.

Mashrafe Mortaza catches a ball during a practice session in the nets ahead of their ICC Champions Trophy semifinal match between Bangladesh and India at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Wednesday.   -  AP

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Last week, Bangladesh rallied from 33 for four to chase down 266 against New Zealand; it was a sensational recovery, rendered possible by the country's highest partnership in one-day cricket. But nobody was truly astonished that Shakib and Mahmudullah could bat. There has been some luck along the way too; had four more overs of play been possible at the Oval against Australia, Bangladesh would have been on a flight home. But this is not the first team to profit from good fortune in big tournaments — Pakistan (1992) and Sri Lanka (1996) went on to win World Cups.

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India will not be complacent, especially after having tasted defeat once. The team left nothing to chance against South Africa, bowling, fielding and batting flawlessly. Virat Kohli's men have big-game experience, and will neither be nervous nor afraid.

All other things being equal, this should not be much of a contest. Bangladesh and India have met 32 times, and India has lost only on five occasions.

There is no comparing their pedigree: the eleven that played for Bangladesh against New Zealand have 24 one-day centuries among them; Virat Kohli has 27 on his own. Yuvraj Singh, a man who has finished player-of-the-tournament in a World Cup and a World T20, is set to play his 300th ODI; this is Bangladesh's first ever Champions Trophy appearance.

Those fond of recalling the bilateral one-day series of 2015 would do well to remember the warm-up game from two weeks ago, when India gave Bangladesh a hiding. Kohli will not lose focus. He is one win away from leading his side into a major final and will not be distracted by all the palaver about this being a 'grudge match'. This tournament has thrown up enough surprises already, India won't want to be on the receiving end of another.

The pitch: Edgbaston has rolled out a strip not used in the Champions Trophy so far. The surface is expected to be dry and full of runs.

The weather: A cloudy morning is expected to be followed by a sunny afternoon, with a maximum temperature of 20° C.

Players to watch out for:

India:R. Ashwin: After defeat to Sri Lanka, India drafted Ashwin in for Umesh Yadav, and it worked. The off-spinner bowled with control, taking one for 43 from his nine overs. “Ashwin was brilliant in the last game, and I don't see any good reason to change that,” Kohli said on Wednesday. “The team played really well. It was a complete performance, and I certainly don't think that there's any need to change anything.” Ashwin's role will mainly be defensive here, but Bangladesh, with three left-handers in the top order, will be wary.

Bangladesh:Mustafizur Rahman: 'The Fizz' rocked India in his debut series, taking 11 wickets from the first two ODIs of his career to propel Bangladesh to a historic series victory in 2015. But after a brilliant first season in international cricket, he has struggled with injury and form. He will be desperate to make the world take notice again; there can be no bigger stage. India's batsmen will no longer be surprised by his cutters, but they will still need to deal with them.

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