Are Bangladesh the New “Cornered Tigers” of World Cricket?

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Are Bangladesh the New “Cornered Tigers” of World Cricket?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

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fter witnessing the wanton slaughter that the ICC attempted to pass off as a cricket match between Afghanistan and England, it was impossible except for the most heartless of fans to not feel sorry for the minnows. The Afghan side is still finding its footing on the international stage, and right now belongs at the bottom of the subcontinent’s cricket pecking order. An order where India sits comfortably at the top – by some margin – but between the highest and lowest rungs of this ladder, something very interesting is happening.

This World Cup has exposed the weak and strengthened the diligent. Sri Lanka and Pakistan have appeared to fall from grace, while a young Bangladeshi side has sneaked up on them, raking in praise and shaking up the status quo. Whereas once Pakistan was India’s closest rival for cricketing supremacy in the region, Bangladesh’s superior sporting system, IPL exposure, and ability to host games have led it to leapfrog Pakistan, spurring me to ask: Is Bangladesh the new Pakistan of the subcontinent? They are certainly no longer the minnows they were once thought to be.

In fact, a few players in the current Bangladesh squad were part of the 2016 Under-19 World Cup team, which finished third. This was their best effort since they first featured in 1998. The current Bangladesh side clearly boasts of a lot of youngsters as opposed to a relatively senior Pakistan side that had to include older hands like Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz, and Mohammad Hafeez for the tournament.

In this small country, cricket culture has been gradually developing. The Board recently launched a domestic T20 league that will primarily feature and groom talents from within the country. Another step in strengthening grass-root cricket, even if in the shortest format. But beyond leagues like the domestic T20 league, the National Cricket League, and the Bangladesh Premier League, there is also administrative foresight and careful planning at work.

A cricket team’s approach is irrevocably influenced by the atmosphere that engulfs them at home.

Former Australian cricketer Dav Whatmore, who coached Bangladesh from 2003 to 2007, sheds some light: “The Bangladesh Board spent their money wisely; they created a superb national academy, then the high performance came along. A-Team matches grew and they are still pumping money into that. And we are seeing the result of that initiative bearing fruit. The younger guys right now – Mosaddek and Liton Das to name a few – came through that system. These are the fellows who justify the good work that the board has implemented in the right area, in their bid to get their cricket up and running and more consistent.”

One feature of this consistency has been more opportunities to improve by playing host to the top teams in the world. Australia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, West Indies, and England are all set to tour Bangladesh over the next two years. According to Whatmore, who has coached almost all the sub-continent teams including Pakistan and Sri Lanka, victories at home against some of the best sides like India, New Zealand, and England acted as massive confidence-boosters for the Bangladeshi squad.

A cricket team’s approach is irrevocably influenced by the atmosphere that engulfs them at home. The mindset affects the way you play, interact with your teammates, and your brand of cricket. Over the years, Bangladesh as a country has been able to insulate cricket from its political occurrences. It influences the freedom with which a country would play. That is a state Pakistan is yet to achieve. The country and its cricket have been caught in the cross-hairs of its political developments all too often. How much of that has been responsible in hindering the growth of the sport and preventing cricket from flourishing, is for anyone to surmise. The candour and exuberance with which Bangladesh seems to be playing its cricket these days, is a stark reminder of how Pakistan of the earlier years used to perform on the field.

The mindset affects the way you play, interact with your teammates, and your brand of cricket.

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In their Nottingham fixture against Australia at the ongoing World Cup, Bangladesh lost the game, but won over even more hearts with their spirited display. They’ve come a long way from that match from around 14 years ago in Cardiff, when a minnow Bangladesh upset the Aussies in what was one of their first major victories in world cricket. It’s not only different personnel today, but a different frame of mind as well.

“They have pulled off some pretty decent victories in World Cup matches in the past as well. So I think winning against West Indies will give them a boost for the matches yet to be played. The frame of mind going into the games will be terrific for them. They are led by a guy with a lot of experience. [Mashrafe] Mortaza is respected and he is able to gel and get the guys together and all of that makes for some good ingredients,” says Whatmore.

Bangladesh has clearly shed the psyche of a minnow. Today, they take the field against their opponents as equals with a strong sense of belief that a place in the top four of the World Cup is just as much theirs as any of the other big teams competing.

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