Nepal doesn’t have the pedigree of the hosts, but there is a quiet confidence about the players that makes them hard to write off
Of course, it’s one thing to let it rip when the ball is coming to you at perfect hitting height, dead straight and gentle pace, but the manner in which Rahim made clean contact and the distance the ball travelled told their own story. The seeds of doubt that had been planted by Afghanistan, when it beat Bangladesh in the Asia Cup recently, had not been allowed to sprout. The rout in Mirpur had the Tigers roaring once more.
That Bangladesh has got its mojo back is a good thing, but given its tendency to be unpredictable, the risk of confidence spilling over into overconfidence is ever present. On paper, it should not lose to Nepal, not once in ten attempts, but there is a quiet confidence to cricket’s newbies that make them hard to write off.
It would also not be farfetched to suggest that the pitch at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur was tailormade for Bangladesh, even if that was not the explicit intention. There was turn from the word go, not enough pace to give the quick bowlers anything to work with, just enough grip for the odd ball from the spinner to rear and even the occasional puff of dust.
There will be none of this in Chittagong. For a subcontinental pitch, there is more grass on the surface than is the norm, but not the kind that encourages exaggerated and consistent lateral movement. Certainly, skillful seamers will be able to get the new ball to dart around a bit, but beyond that, the closely cropped grass only serves to bind the surface. In the evening, which is when Bangladesh takes on Nepal, under lights on Tuesday (March 18), the ball tends to skid through, especially for spinners who bowl with a flat trajectory.
While Bangladesh has no shortage of talented left-arm spinners, Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak are lethal in tandem when in the mood, Nepal is not lacking in this department either. Shakti Gauchan and Basant Regmi don’t have the experience of their elder peers, but in terms of control and guile neither were found lacking.
What could play a significant part is just how the two teams bowl and counter the quicker bowlers. Bangladesh’s fast bowling stocks have seen better times, with Mashrafe Mortaza fighting a constant battle to stay fit, and the duo of Al-Amin Hossain and Rubel Hossain not quite in the groove as consistent matchwinners. Bangladesh said it was considering playing an extra seamer, and this would mean including Farhad Reza, but that would mean dropping either a batsman or a spinner, neither of which is something Rahim traditionally does.
Nepal’s bugbear has been the inconsistency of their openers, but Subash Khakurel and Sagar Pun delivered the goods in their first game. Neither is afraid to attack the quick bowlers, and if they can deny Bangladesh the early breakthrough, it would go a long way in allowing the likes of Paras Khadka, the captain, and Gyanendra Malla the chance to express themselves more freely when the spinners come on.
Both Bangladesh and Nepal come into the game with the cushion of having won their first matches, but this is a slightly artificial thing. Given that only one of four teams can go through to the next round, the one bulletproof way to qualify is to win all the games you play. For Bangladesh, this should be the bare minimum target it sets itself, given how long it has played at the highest level compared to Nepal, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. The time has come for the Tigers to show that they are not a hit-and-miss team, but you can be sure Nepal won’t make it easy for it to do so.
Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal, Anamul Haque, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim (capt, wk), Mominul Haque, Nasir Hossain, Mahmudullah, Farhad Reza, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Sohag Gazi, Al-Amin Hossain, Shamsur Rahman.
Nepal: Paras Khadka (capt), Pradeep Airee, Binod Bhandari, Amrit Bhattarai, Naresh Budayair, Shakti Gauchan, Avinash Karn, Subash Kakurel (wk), Gyanendra Malla, Jitendra Mukhiya, Basant Regmi, Sagar Pun, Sompal Kami, Sharad Vesawkar, Rahul Vishwakarma.