Former Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar claimed in an interview this month (click here) that opposition teams were treating his team with more respect since their victories against India and South Africa in the 2007 Word Cup. Following a chastening foray into Test cricket earlier in the year Bangladesh now return to the format they are most comfortable with in a five match ODI series and one Twenty20 against Pakistan.
Bangladesh have had mixed results under Basharâ€™s successor Mohammed Ashraful and new coach Jamie Siddons. They have not won a single ODI against a top-ranked side since their success in the Caribbean last year, but did whitewash Ireland 3-0 last month. Ashrafulâ€™s men need to play well against Pakistan to prove they are an improved one-day outfit.
The Siddons regime has come under criticism from both the media and fans for its emphasis on youth. Critics contend that the inclusion of older players from the domestic circuit would bring some cool heads to the fray. But Siddons is insistent that he has identified the players with the most potential and now needs time to nurture them.
Mohammad Ashraful is keen to see some improved performances from Bangladesh.
Batting has been Bangladeshâ€™s Achilles heel, so much so that Siddons has introduced a new team rule whereby only the top three batsmen are allowed to play their shots. Tamim Iqbal has shown promise at the top of the order as has his opening partner Shahriar Nafees, who was reinstated as opener following Zunaed Siddiquiâ€™s alarming slump in form. The team management have indicated that the opening combination will continue, but Siddiqui will be keen to reclaim his spot while Nafees will be equally as keen to shed his tag as a â€œminnow-basherâ€.
Other newcomers looking to make an impression with the bat include Rakibul Hasan,the only Bangladeshi batsman to have first class triple century to his name, and Nazimuddin. However, most responsibility will fall on the more experienced players such as Aftab Ahmed and the captain Mohammed Ashraful.
Aftab only recently returned from a head injury which he sustained in the second Test against South Africa, courtesy of a Jacques Kallis bouncer, and will now be eager to regain his form. Ashraful was made captain in the hope that this would improve his consistency as a batsman. Unfortunately this has failed to materialize so far and he is under increasing pressure to perform. The series victory against Ireland have provided some respite, but the Bangladesh captain needs to lead from the front, and getting out to reckless shots cannot be excused forever.
Bangladeshâ€™s bowling is in better shape, but there is still a question mark over the opening bowlers. In the past Mashrafe Mortaza and Syed Rasel have opened the attack, but Farhad Reza took the new ball against Ireland in the absence of Rasel. Shahadat Hossain has improved leaps and bounds in test cricket, but Ashraful does not look like he has much faith in the paceman in the limited overs game.
The slow bowling takes care of itself. Abdur Razzak, the only Bangladeshi player to be selected for the Indian Premier League, will lead the spin attack, ably assisted by Shakib Al Hasan and the all-rounder Mahmudullah Riyad. Riyad made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka last year. After being overlooked against New Zealand and South Africa, he has only returned to the ODI squad against Ireland, and has a point to prove. Riyad, a firm striker of the ball, will be hoping to prove his worth in this series.
One notable absentee for Bangladesh is the young wicketkeeper and former under-19 captain Mushfiqur Rahim. Once touted by the coach as the future â€œgolden boyâ€ of Bangladesh cricket, Rahim faltered against New Zealand and South Africa and has been dropped in favour of Dhiman Ghosh. Ghosh needs to prove his mettle in this series. He has looked assured and tidy behind the stumps since his debut, but with Rahim scoring heavily in the Dhaka Premier League, the battle for the Bangladesh gloves may have only just begun.
Pakistan must start as firm favourites though, as Shahid Afrid recently said, they should be wary of taking Bangladesh too lightly. There has also been some disharmony in the Pakistan camp. As if Australia pulling out of the test series wasnâ€™t enough, fans also witnessed a very public disagreement between the coach and the selectors. Coach Geoff Lawson, who curiously is not a selector, has indicated that in his view the sideâ€™s most illustrious batsman, Mohammed Yusuf doesnâ€™t have a future in the one-day side. He has been overruled by the selectors and Yusuf is likely to take his place in the middle order.
Nevertheless Lawson, together with captain Shoaib Malik, are determined to build for the future and a number of new faces were blooded in against Zimbabwe. Nasir Jamshed, Wahab Riaz, and Sarfraz Ahmed may not be household names yet, but they have made enough of an impression to be retained for this series and will seek to enhance their reputations. More experienced players like Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq indicate a potent mix of old and young.
Pakistanâ€™s bowling attack is obviously missing two key players. However, the absence of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif should be more than offset by the presence of Sohail Tanvir and the return to full fitness of Umar Ghul. Moreover, Pakistanâ€™s seemingly never ending assembly-line has produced yet another fast bowling sensation in the form of Sohail Khan.
Captains Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Ashraful will have similar concerns. Both have yet to firmly establish their captaincy credentials and need a good showing to keep the critics at bay. For the first time Bangladesh are not participating in the ICC Champions Trophy this year and Pakistan have been hit hard by Australiaâ€™s refusal to play in the country. Both teams will be keen to prove their critics wrong, which promises to make for an intriguing series.
Players to watch:
The two Sohails. Sohail Tanvir has been in devastating form recently, taking 7-34 in an ABN AMRO cup match last week. In the right conditions he could be as much of a handful for the Bangladeshi batsmen as Dale Steyn was. However, Tanvir could be eclipsed by newcomer Sohail Khan who has been fast-tracked into the senior side.
Tamim Iqbal and Mashrafe Mortaza. Having scored his maiden ODI hundred against Ireland and a swashbuckling 82 against South Africa, Tamim will be eager to demonstrate he can play with the big boys. Mortaza has been in lacklustre form recently, but an improved showing against Ireland indicates he may be back to his best.
Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Mashrafe Mortaza, Tamim Iqbal, Zunaed Siddique, Aftab Ahmed, Nazimuddin, Shariar Nafees, Shakib Al Hasan, Raqibul Hasan, Dhiman Ghosh (wk), Abdur Razzak, Shahadat Hossain, Mahmudullah, Farhad Reza, Syed Rasel.
Shoaib Malik (capt), Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wk), Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Rao Iftikhar Anjum, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Fawad Alam, Bazid Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk).