The Hyatt Regency in Birmingham became a busier hotel over the last two days. When the Bangladesh team arrived here on June 25, it became a hub of sorts for subcontinental visitors in the stronghold of the south-east Asian community in Britain, but it reached another level on Friday when the Indian team arrived at the same hotel. For once on their World Cup trek through the UK, Bangladesh’s supporters will be in the minority.
Bangladesh had faced the full volume of Indian support during their Champions Trophy semifinal in 2017 here, and Indians swamped the streets on the day of the match and overwhelmed the Bangladeshi support inside the arena, much as their team did to their opponents. So when Bangladesh take on India in their World Cup match at Edgbaston on July 2, they will be underdogs in every sense -- in terms of playing ability, tournament position and recent results between the two teams.
It is an encounter that, depending on whether or not India beat hosts England today, Bangladesh will have to win to stay alive in the race to the semifinals. On Friday night, while Birmingham was abuzz with weekend revellers, Mashrafe came out in front of the hotel for some fresh air and while that would have caused a small commotion of Bangladeshi selfie-hunters on other nights, Mashrafe was more or less left alone as Indian fans tried to talk their way through tough hotel security and failed. Mashrafe recalled how overwhelming the support for India was the last time.
Although the match was still four days away, the wheels in Mashrafe’s head were already turning about finding a way past a team that was yet to be defeated in the World Cup. Would it be better to bat first or bowl first if they won the toss? They lost by nine wickets after batting first and scoring 264 in 2017. Bowling first would open the possibility of them being batted out of the game as they were done by the two other strong contenders for the title -- Australia and England.
He had in the past expressed relief after losing the toss. Would it be better to lose the toss this time too?
“Maybe,” Mashrafe mused as the deluge of Indian fans swept past. He was wondering what score would be enough to win against the strong Indian lineup if they did bat first. 340 seemed to be the number. But for that, they would have to see the wicket, and Mashrafe did not yet know which strip they would use for the match. Such were the worries and conflicts that constitute the mind of a captain heading into what may become a sudden-death match against the strongest team of the tournament. It could be said that Bangladesh, ranked eighth, had done enough by staying alive this deep into the tournament and impressing all and sundry with their performance in hostile conditions.
“To tell you the truth, none of my team are satisfied with what we have done so far. We have played well, but while it would surprise many outsiders if we reached the semis, I can say for sure that no one in the team would be surprised,” Mashrafe said.
Having played their last match against Afghanistan on June 24, many Bangladesh players were away in various places of the UK on vacation. Mashrafe and opener Tamim Iqbal were among those who came back on Friday. Others joined the team yesterday and today Bangladesh are set to undergo a practice session to prepare for the crucial World Cup encounter. There will be much for the team to finalise over the next two days.