At the business end of a tournament, skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was once more faced with an all-too-familiar hurdle. In the last two ICC 50-over tournaments, it was India that stopped Bangladesh’s march -- in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal and the 2017 Champions Trophy semifinal. After an impressive run in the ongoing World Cup, Mashrafe and Co are left having to win against India today to stay alive in the race to the semifinals.
Mashrafe was under no illusions about the size of the task at hand when speaking at the pre-match press conference in Birmingham yesterday.
“Look, every time we play, we want to win, but India were the better side in the last few World Cups,” Mashrafe said when asked about his team’s chances. “We go out onto the field to play at our best, and let’s see. You never know. If you have a very good day, play every area, and if we are 100 percent correct, then you never know. It’s a sport that on your day you can beat anybody.”
All sportsmen present a veneer of confidence ahead of a contest, but Mashrafe seemed to struggle to maintain his.
“I’m not surprised,” Mashrafe answered when asked whether he expected the team to last this long in the World Cup. “I think there’s not too much left. We have to play at our best. If we can manage to win, that will be great, but to be honest, both sides [India and Pakistan, their next opponents] are very strong. It’s not going to be easy, but we have to play hard and have to be 100 percent in every area. Good thing that we’re still in the tournament, maybe, maybe not [after tomorrow], but let’s see. We have to play a lot better than what we have played.”
And that is the nature of the challenge facing Bangladesh. Most observers have been impressed by Bangladesh’s progress through the tournament -- beating West Indies, South Africa and Afghanistan and almost beating New Zealand. But with how the teams stack up -- India have the most varied bowling attack and the best players of spin bowling, Bangladesh’s strength -- Mashrafe knew that his team would have to play even better to stand a chance against the 2011 and 1983 champions.
“Whenever we have beaten big teams, I don’t think we have ever won by playing well in one department,” Mashrafe said when asked if there was one area in which he would put Bangladesh ahead of India. “It has always been batting, bowling and fielding. If we can do well in all sectors, then of course we can win.”
There may be one chink in India’s armour and that is their top-heavy batting department. Opener Rohit Sharma and skipper Virat Kohli, at number three, have scored a lion’s share of their runs and getting them early could expose a softer middle order. But Bangladesh seem ill-prepared to exploit that as well, as they have managed to take a wicket in the first 10 overs just twice in six matches. Pacers Mustafizur Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin have taken 10 wickets each, but only one of those wickets, that of Chris Gayle’s wicket by Saifuddin, was taken by a pacer. Mashrafe meanwhile has just one wicket from six matches.
“It has not been ideal, for sure,” Mashrafe said. “You need early wickets against India, otherwise they can get a very big score. But just because it has not happened before does not mean it won’t happen tomorrow [Tuesday].”
That seems to be Bangladesh’s way forward -- they have to find something that they have not yet found in the tournament.