By R Kaushik in Mirpur
A loss for a struggling Bangladesh will not only formalise the team’s exit from the World T20, but also eliminate Australia
It’s not often that, in a tournament whose main draw lasts all of 17 days, a team gets the luxury of six days between matches. Having played two games in three days right at the start of the Super 10 phase of the ICC World Twenty20 2014, Pakistan finally gets to return to the park on Sunday (March 30) afternoon when it squares off against Bangladesh in a contest that won’t necessarily alter the qualification balance in Group 2, but which has the potential to usher two teams out in one fell swoop.
Over the last two match days, the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium has witnessed a fairly predictable turn of events. On Tuesday, and then again on Friday, the fans packed the venue hopeful of a miraculous fightback by the host nation; on both nights, long before the final delivery had been bowled and the match had reached its logical conclusion, the fans had made a hasty beeline for the exit, the prospect of watching the formalisation of their team’s defeat too painful for them to experience.
Another defeat on Sunday against a team with inarguably the best bowling attack of the competition will not merely ensure Bangladesh’s elimination, it will also kill off any mathematical chance Australia, winless after two matches, might entertain of progressing to the semifinal. It will not, however, do much for Pakistan, who has one win and one loss to date, beyond keeping it in the hunt and rendering the last Super 10 fixture of the tournament – Pakistan vs West Indies next Tuesday – a virtual quarterfinal.
But that’s looking too far ahead into the future. Pakistan’s immediate goal will be to rouse itself back into match mode, because while a break of any sort is most welcome during a tournament as high pressure as the World T20, the possibility of rust of some kind following lack of game time for this long can’t be ruled out.
Rust has come to form a heavy, somewhat overbearing, coating over the Pakistan top order, which has battled unsuccessfully to express itself in both natural and artificial light. That bowling is Pakistan’s stronger suit is without question; the batting is a different matter altogether. It can oscillate between the exceptional and the ordinary, as it already has this tournament. Collectively, Pakistan came a cropper against India, when it was restricted to 130 for 7 in its opening Super 10 clash on March 21. Two evenings later, it needed an innings of rare quality from Umar Akmal to bail it out against Australia.
With the showdown against West Indies looming, Pakistan will seek to make optimum use of the opportunity to play the weakest link in the group. Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez, the captain, are in more need of batting time and runs than anyone else. They should welcome the chance of batting in natural light, where the pitch has behaved much better than it has later in the night; meaningful runs will put them in the right frame of mind going forward, just as a third straight failure could dent their confidence further. It’s a tightrope Pakistan must walk if they are not to overburden the classy Umar, as well as the spin-heavy bowling attack with Saeed Ajmal in the vanguard.
For all its batting travails, Pakistan is in a far better place than Bangladesh. An improved display against India – never mind the margin of defeat, by a comprehensive eight wickets – has done nothing to lift the morale of either the team or the country. Bangladesh has revealed its uncertainty and the general air of unsettledness by constantly shuffling the side, making changes galore in every match with no success worth the name.
One of its biggest letdowns has been Tamim Iqbal, the flashy left-hand opening batsman who has hardly put bat to ball. A firing Tamim has been pivotal to Bangladesh’s successes in the past, because not only does he put pressure on the opening bowling, he also sets a platform for the middle-order virtuosos, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim, the captain, to build on. Without the early impetus, and walking out with two, sometimes three, wickets down inside the Power Play, neither experienced campaigner has been able to impose himself.
Shakib and Rahim have batted below their preferred slots in preceding matches, given the relative experience of the other members of the batting group barring Tamim. It’s a ploy that has backfired spectacularly. The situation is crying out loud for Shakib, himself having hit a trough in the last three matches, to move back up to No. 3 and for Rahim to bat at No. 4, giving Bangladesh’s two best batsmen the chance of not only batting out a majority of the overs but also batting without the pressures of having to both consolidate and accelerate.
This constant chopping and changing – there were four changes for the match against West Indies, and a further two for the misadventure against India – has done little for the confidence of a group already short on morale, if not motivation. The fans have been patient, even if the president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board hasn’t been. As much for its own credibility as anything else, Bangladesh needs to put up a fight. Victories in the qualification phase against Afghanistan, heralded with such fanfare, and Nepal are no more than distant memories now. It’s time for the host nation to arrest a streak of losses against the bigger boys of world cricket. Pakistan is far from ripe for the taking and Bangladesh on current form seems to have not even the slightest of chances. It’s generally against this backdrop that fairytales are scripted.
Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal, Anamul Haque, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim (capt, wk), Sabbir Rahman, Nasir Hossain, Mahmudullah, Mashrafe Mortaza, Ziaur Rahman, Sohag Gazi, Al-Amin Hossain, Abdur Razzak, Mominul Haque, Farhad Reza, Shamsur Rahman.
Pakistan: Kamran Akmal (wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Bilawal Bhatti, Umar Gul, Saaed Ajmal, Zulfiqar Babar, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Talha, Sohail Tanvir, Sharjeel Khan.