Preview : New Zealand in Bangladesh, 2008 - Out of the frying pan into the fireâ€¦
Bangladesh face their first international assignment following the player exodus that led to 14 Bangladeshi cricketers defecting to form the Dhaka Warriors, part of the Indian cricket League (ICL). The exodus included a clutch of recent internationals such as former captain Habibul Bashar, retired spinner Mohammed Rafique and explosive stroke-maker Aftab Ahmed. After a daunting one-day whitewash in Darwin against the number one ranked side in the world, Mohammed Ashrafulâ€™s men now face the prospect of three one-day internationals against New Zeland, a team intent on becoming the number two side in 50-over cricket.
New Zealandâ€™s sole warm-up game in the series was washed out, nonetheless the New Zealand camp are in confident mood. A disappointing test series loss on tour against England culminated in an impressive one-day series win. The Black Caps will view this series as a test of their abilities in sub-continental conditions. Captain Daniel Vettori has been circumspect so far and refuses to succumb to complacency. He has already noted that the recent ICL shenanigans have left Bangladeshâ€™s bowling attack largely intact. Nonetheless, Bangladeshâ€™s batting remains suspect and Vettoriâ€™s men could be forgiven for coveting a series whitewash.
New Zelandâ€™s batting looks strong. Their most elegant batsman might be Aaron Redmond, but we will have to wait for the test series before seeing him in action. Instead, enigmatic opener Jesse Ryder returns to the fold having recovered from a run-in with a glass window. Ryder made an impressive debut against England earlier this year and will look to enhance his growing reputation. He is complemented by dashing right-hander Ross Taylor, a young man who oozes class and a cool temperament. Together with danger-man Brendum McCullum, and all-rounders Jacob Oram and Scott Styris, fire power is not something the Black Caps are lacking.
New Zelandâ€™s bowling is as dependable as ever. Chris Martin, who tormented the Bangladeshi batsmen earlier in the year, has been withdrawn from the squad, but his replacements will prove just as tough a prospect. Captain Vettori and Jeetan Patel will provide the slow bowling options while Mark Gillespie and the recalled Michael Mason are likely to lead the seam attack. Exciting pace prospect Tim Southee could also rattle the Bangladesh batting order.
Bangladesh are forced to make at least three changes to the side that faced Australia in their last ODI. Farhad Reza, Dhiman Ghosh and Alok Kapali have headed for the bright lights of the ICL. Ghosh was only included following an injury to Mushfiqur Rahim, so Bangladeshâ€™s first choice keeper will reclaim the gloves.
As ever, the bowling attack will be led by vice captain Mashrafe Mortaza. His new-ball partner in Australia was tall paceman Shahadat Hossain, but he has been expensive in one day cricket and may be replaced in the final XI. Popular left-armer Syed Rassel has been recalled and could either fill the void or complement the bowling attack. Newcomer Mahbubul Alam is also included and could make his debut in this series. Brisk but not particularly fast, the medium pacer from Faridpur has bowled well in domestic cricket and for the Academy side. Reports suggest he is a useful swing bowler with a good yorker in his armoury.
The spin duo of Abdur Razzak and Shakib Al Hasan will lead the slow bowling attack and they could both prove a handful for the Black Cap on turning wickets. Test spinner Enamul Haque Junior was included in the original squad of 24 probables, but did not feature in the final 14. Instead Razzak and Hasan are likely to be assisted by off-spinning all-rounder Mahmudullah Riyadh or batting all-rounder Mehrab Hossain Junior, who made a disappointing debut opening the batting against Australia.
The batting is a major concern for Bangladesh and the ICL exodus might be a blessing in disguise. Experienced players such as Rajin Saleh, Tushar Imran and Tamim Iqbalâ€™s older brother Nafis were all considered for selection, but none made it through to the final squad of 14. They may feature in the test series to follow.
Bangladeshâ€™s most consistent batsman Rokibul Hasan is out injured but hopes to return for the test series and, as mentioned earlier, Alok Kapali has departed for India. Their absences could lead to a debut for newcomers Imrul Kayes and Naeem Islam. Kayes is 21 years old and a specialist opener. He topped the first class averages in 2007/08. Naeeem is a middle order batsman, who plays for Rajshahi. He can bowls tidy offspin and has featured in under-19 cricket and for the â€˜Aâ€™ team. With Zunaed Siddique continuing to fail with the bat, either of these youngsters could stake a claim to partner Tamim Iqbal at the top of the order.
Mohammed Ashraful is still Bangladeshâ€™s most likely match-winner but his failings continue to haunt him. A recidivist when it comes to getting out to reckless shots, Ashraful took a short break in England during the ICL saga and fans will hope he has returned refreshed and reinvigorated. He may choose to drop down the order to play himself into form. Alternatively, if he insists on playing with a broad bat, he could opt to open the innings with Iqbal where the fielding restrictions would at least ensure such expansive shots are not played in vain. The return of Mushfiqur Rahim should bring some much-needed stability to Bangladeshâ€™s middle order. Shakib Al-Hasan missed some cricket earlier in the summer due to his studies and he will be keen to regain the form that saw him score his first hundred against Pakistan in Multan in April.
The stakes could not be higher for Bangladesh. Observers, such as former England captain Tony Greig, are continuing to question Bangaldeshâ€™s test status in light of their woefully inept performances against the top sides. The list of defeats is indeed growing; since the 2007 World Cup Bangladesh have now been comprehensively outplayed by India, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia and have only managed wins against the United Arab Emirates and Ireland. It seems only a matter of time before the outcry becomes a chorus. It seems the only way for Ashrafulâ€™s men to avoid an ignominious exit from the international stage is by pulling together some competent performances.
The ICL player exodus deflected attention from criticism of both Jamie Siddons and Mohammed Ashraful for the time being. But a similarly mediocre performance against an eminently more beatable side could make the positions of the coach and captain untenable.
As the elusive search for a victory against a top side continues, Bangladesh supporters and administrators are becoming increasingly impatient. The team are fondly referred to as â€œthe tigersâ€ and it is now time for Ashrafulâ€™s men to live up to that description. In the meantime, New Zealand will fancy their chances.
Players to watch:
Tim Southee - Southee, will be familiar to some of Bangladeshâ€™s teenagers from their experiences in Under 19 cricket . He made an impressive test debut against England this year where he took a 5-fer and his pace and height could trouble Bangladeshâ€™s fragile batting order.
Ross Taylor â€“ The Black Caps are blessed with gifted batsmen and the likes of Brendum McCullum and the returning Jesse Ryder will undoubtedly generate many headlines. But Ross Taylor is an aggressive batsman and a great one-day player who will expect to fill his boots.
Shahadat Hossain â€“ Shahadat is a bit of an enigma. He seems to prefer the red ball to the white one and almost single-handedly bowled out South Africa (taking 6-27) in the first test in Mirpur. His one-day performances, however, have been below par. Not as fast as heâ€™d have us believe, Shahadat still fails to use his height to optimum effect. However, when he gets his line and length right he can be world class. He picked up a near hat-trick (three wickets in four balls) against the Australian lower order and will hope this signals a turning point in his one-day fortunes.
Tamim Iqbal â€“ Iqbal was the only shining light for Bangladesh in the Australia series and played with a confidence that was sadly lacking in his team-mates. He has an almost Pieterson-like swagger and will be keen to convert some good starts into some match-winning scores.
Bangladesh squad: Tamim Iqbal, Junaid Siddique, Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Shakib Al Hasan, Mehrab Hossain jnr, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Shahadat Hossain, Syed Rasel, Mahmudullah, Imrul Kayes, Naeem Islam, Mahbubul Alam.
New Zealand Squad: Daniel Vettori (capt),Grant Elliott, Daniel Flynn, Mark Gillespie, Gareth Hopkins (wk), Kyle Mills, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum (wk), Michael Mason, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Daniel Flynn.