Underdog but dangerous

For a team that played its first one-day international match only in 1986 — in the Asia Cup — and took another 12 years to score its first ODI victory, when it defeated Kenya in a triangular series match in Hyderabad (India) in 1998, Bangladesh has done remarkably well to feature in all editions of the World Cup since 1999.

Bangladesh also has earned a reputation for being a dangerous team, having pulled off some amazing victories against Pakistan (1999), India (2007) and England (2011). Therefore, it is not surprising that the team’s Sri Lankan coach, Chandika Hathurusinghe, has expressed the hope of going all the way in the 2015 tournament. It is also a clear message to the other teams that Bangladesh is no pushover.

Like many other coaches, Hathurusinghe too says that it is necessary to take “one game at a time instead of thinking too far.” However, his objective is to make it to the quarterfinals.

Apart from pulling off the odd upset wins, Bangladesh’s overall record in the World Cup has been modest, having made it to the second round only once in the four editions it has featured. This was in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies when it knocked out India in the group stage and qualified for the Super Eight.

However, the fact that Bangladesh has some natural players, such as openers Tamim Iqbal and Anamul Haque, who are known for their aggressive batting, seasoned all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and fast bowler Mashrafe Mortaza, who is also the skipper, cannot be disputed. With players of such calibre, the team is capable of testing the best in Pool A, which also includes Australia and New Zealand among others.

Mashrafe Mortaza is aware that his team’s opener against Afghanistan is crucial, and could well set the tone for Bangladesh’s campaign in the tournament. Incidentally, Bangladesh had lost to Afghanistan in a league match in the 2014 Asia Cup.

Soumya Sarkar is one of the young talents expected to make an impact in the tournament. The all-rounder will be the third opener after Tamim Iqbal and Anamul Haque and more importantly, will be an option for a fifth seamer (after Mashrafe, Taskin Ahmed, Al-Amin Hossain and Rubel Hossain) in the Bangladesh attack.

The team also includes Taijul Islam, who took a hat-trick on ODI debut, and Taskin Ahmed, who had a five-wicket haul against India on debut.

Players such as Mashrafe, Tamim, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim, who will be playing in their third World Cup, will lend experience to the side.

Clearly, Bangladesh can produce better results if it plays to its potential.

* * * BATTING IS STRONG POINT

Unlike many of the big teams in the 2015 World Cup that boast of formidable bowling attacks, Bangladesh might have to look to its all-rounders and frontline batsmen to achieve its objective. Though the team's thrust in the bowling department is on pace, it is the left-arm spinners, the experienced Shakib Al Hasan and the young sensation Taijul Islam, who could play crucial roles in the middle overs in the event of the pace bowlers going for runs early in the innings. With the exception of Mashrafe Mortaza and Taskin Ahmed, the other medium pacers could be really tested.

However, batting is Bangladesh's strong point. The openers, Tamim Iqbal and Anamul Haque, who are capable of handling well the best of new-ball bowlers, will be the key. And with players such as Mominul Haque, Mohammed Mahmudullah, all-rounders Soumya Sarkar and Nasir Hossain, the team's batting looks capable of not only chasing big totals but also setting defendable targets for their bowlers.

* * * PLAYERS TO WATCH

Shakib Al Hasan: The experienced Bangladesh cricketer would be in the mood to prove a point or two at the 2015 World Cup, after having been in limbo in the latter half of 2014 following a six-month ban slapped on him last July for allegedly misbehaving with coach Chandika Hathurusinghe. His rich experience would be crucial to Bangladesh's fortunes in the tournament.

Widely perceived as the best ever cricketer from his country, the onus is on Shakib to live up to the expectations as a matchwinner. A batsman with a wide range of strokes and a wily left-arm spinner, Shakib is one of the few players in the Bangladesh team capable of changing the course of a game.

The 27-year-old all-rounder had led his team to victory against England in the 2011 World Cup. He, for sure, knows what it means to be part of a winning team in a mega event as the World Cup.

Tamim Iqbal: This freestroking batsman does not care for reputations. On his day, he could put any attack to the sword. It speaks volumes about his talent that Tamim, in the last six years, has been the key performer in many of Bangladesh's significant victories

In the company of fellow opener Anamul Haque, Tamim is capable of giving Bangladesh the early momentum - be it setting targets or chasing them.

It is to the delight of his team that Tamim made a quick recovery from a kneeinjury - he had to go to Australia for treatment - to be fit for the World Cup.

The 25-year-old flamboyant opener can well be a huge factor in Bangladesh's campaign. "I think the conditions out there in Australia suit my style of batting. All we need is to stay positive and don't commit any hara-kiri," says the batsman.

* * * THE TEAM

Mashrafe Mortaza (captain), Al-Amin Hossain, Anamul Haque, Arafat Sunny, M. Mahmudullah, Mominul Haque, Mush?qur Rahim (wicketkeeper), Nasir Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Taijul Islam, Tamim Iqbal and Taskin Ahmed.

V. V. Subrahmanyam