Who would have thought, at the start of the Super 10 stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2014 some ten days back, that Australia will be engaged in a battle with Bangladesh to avoid the wooden spoon in Group 2?
Australia came into the tournament as an overwhelming favourite, its recent T20 International form encouraging enough for it to strongly believe that it had what it takes to go all the way in the one competition it has failed to crack thus far. Having soundly beaten England at home, it then overpowered South Africa in its own backyard earlier this month, bringing with it bundles of confidence to go with plenty of runs and wickets.
And yet, here it stands now, vanquished by champions past and present in the Group of Death that has certainly lived up to its lofty billing, never mind if Australia has barely turned up. Edged out by 2009 winner Pakistan by 16 runs in its first game, Australia was stunned into silence when Darren Sammy orchestrated a six-wicket win for West Indies, the defending champion, three nights back. By the time Australia took the field for its third fixture, against 2007 titlists India on Sunday (March 30), even the mathematical possibility of going through to the semi-finals had disappeared.
Whether that reflected in its cricket is open to question. Australia on Sunday night looked like it would rather be in Melbourne than Mirpur. Another World T20, another misadventure, so what are we doing here? George Bailey’s men were certainly embarrassing themselves if nothing else, a series of poor strokes culminating in an unseemly rout by 73 runs after they were bowled out for just 86.
Bailey termed it the most disappointing performance in his three years at the helm of the T20I side. If he had used harsher words, no one would have complained, but given his own poor run, Bailey is in no position to do so. What he can do is ask for one final, big effort from his boys, most of whom have had a wonderful summer, but also a prolonged one – ‘unending’ is how Shane Watson termed it.
Victory on Tuesday afternoon at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium will do nothing to resuscitate another doomed campaign at the World T20, but it will at least give the team something to smile about. In addition to the fact that, after several weeks on the road, they will finally be on their way home, for a couple of weeks of R&R before many of them fly back to this part of the world for IPL duties.
Where Australia’s implosion has been unexpected, Bangladesh’s hasn’t been quite so. It hasn’t won a game in the World T20 since the inaugural competition in 2007, its form coming in to this tournament was underwhelming but, even so, no one expected it to perform as poorly as it has done in its own backyard. Having swept the associates away in its opening two qualification games, Bangladesh has then hurtled from one big defeat to another. The first of those wasn’t big in terms of the margin – by two wickets in a chase of 109 – but in terms of who the victor was. Hong Kong, barely competitive against Nepal and Afghanistan, played a big part in pricking the Bangladeshi balloon, and once the Super 10s started, the difference in class between the host, which doesn’t have the best T20I record, and the big boys became all too obvious.
Bangladeshi fans, eternally optimistic and largely forgiving, haven’t even had the energy to summon up anger or outrage despite the horribly sub-par performances of their Tigers. Mushfiqur Rahim’s side has been beaten by 73 runs, eight wickets and 50 runs in its three Super 10 games; the playing XI has varied from match to match, the batting order has been shuffled around, bowling combinations have been rejigged but nothing has worked. Within the ranks, there is massive uncertainty. Players are playing for their places, not collectively as a unit, and when the need to perform to justify your spot becomes paramount, the first casualty is the oneness a team needs more in the T20 game than in any other format.
Victory on Tuesday will mean more for Bangladesh than for Australia, to whom the abortive World T20 campaign is nothing more than a tiny blip on a radar otherwise brimful of extraordinary victories. Australia can afford to forget this tournament in a hurry even if it returns home with an all-loss record; egos will be bruised and pride will be hurt, of course, but for only a brief while because there is plenty to fall back on. Another embarrassment for Bangladesh will be harder to digest locally, especially with thinly veiled threats of changes to the team structure being bandied about.
Soon after Australia’s loss to India on Sunday night, someone called the clash against Bangladesh a ‘nothing game’. Far from it. This is an ‘everything game’ for Bangladesh. As for Australia, we will get our answers come Tuesday evening.
Australia: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, George Bailey (capt), Brad Hodge, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Doug Bollinger, Brad Hogg, James Muirhead, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Dan Christian, Cameron White.
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.