Cricketâ€™s latest (and arguably most popular) incarnation is a strange beast. Since Twenty20 cricket was endorsed by the ICC in 2005, international teams have played very few matches in an official capacity. Curiously, it is Australia and New Zealand that are the most experienced sides, each having played 21 matches. Bangladesh in comparison has played a paltry ten; losing seven and winning just three.
Bangladesh are pitted against India and Ireland in the group stages and neither side will be easy to beat. Ireland are an experienced team who will be better used to early summer English conditions. India were initially unenthusiastic about embracing Twenty20 cricket but are now as fluent in that form of cricket as any other. On 6th June 2009 at Trent Bridge Bangladesh will hope to repeat history of their opening 2007 World Cup game where they surprised everyone and comprehensively defeated a much-fancied India side. However, the form book indicates that India will be hard to beat.
Bangladeshâ€™s chief selector Rafiqul Alam has said he has high hopes for the national side, particularly as they progressed to the Super Eights the last time the competition was held. This is perhaps a tad optimistic, Bangladeshâ€™s performances even in cricketâ€™s most abbreviated format has been lacklustre. Of Bangladeshâ€™s meagre three wins, only one was against a reasonably ranked side (the West Indies in 2007). It will take a significant effort on the part of Ashrafulâ€™s men to make an impact in this yearâ€™s competition.
The 15-man squad looks reasonable enough. Ashraful and his vice-captain Mashrafe Mortaza are the most experienced players in the side and could arrive in England with a bit of form under their belts, depending on how they fare in the IPL. So far both men have played only game one game each; Mortaza for the beleaguered Kolkata Knight Riders and Ashraful for the Mumbai Indians. They are joined in the squad by familiar names such as hard-hitting opener Tamim Iqbal, cherub-faced wicket-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim and the worldâ€™s number one-ranked one day all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan. Missing in action, however, are Bangladeshâ€™s ICL â€œrebelsâ€. Aftab Ahmedâ€™s audacious hitting seemed tailor-made for Twenty20 cricket and he played a major role in Bangladeshâ€™s victory against the West Indies in 2007. Alok Kapali by contrast seemed less than comfortable when he represented Bangladesh in the last World Twenty20 but has since been on fine form for the Dhaka Warriors, scoring the first and only century in last yearâ€™s ICL. Despite the Bangladesh Cricket Boardâ€™s talk of an amnesty for such players, neither man will be involved in this yearâ€™s event.
There are two rookies in the squad, both of whom have graduated from the Under-19 side. Shamsur Rahman is a right-handed batsman from Comilla who has been filling his boots in domestic cricket for the last two years. He may yet get a chance to prove his worth in Bangladeshâ€™s fragile middle order. Mohammad Mithun Ali is a wicket-keeper with significant batting prowess. He set tongues wagging with his coruscating stroke play in the Dhaka Premier League and the unassuming 19-year oldâ€™s penchant for hitting sixes has now elevated him to the big stage.
Bangladeshâ€™s bowling looks if not impressive then at least workmanlike. Mortaza as ever will shoulder the responsibility of the new ball and the choice of his new-ball partner will be interesting. The tall, brisk, but inconsistent pacer Shahadat Hossain is a surprise inclusion given his tendency to be expensive. Left arm medium bowler Syed Rasel returns after a long injury lay-off. He has tasted success before on English shores having first broken into the Bangladesh side following a successful â€˜Aâ€™ tour here when he decimated Sussex in a four-day game. Rubel Hossain bowls with a Malinga-esque slinging action and made an impressive ODI debut earlier this year taking 4-33 against Sri Lanka. He will be keen to develop his game on Englandâ€™s helpful greentops.
The spin attack will be led by Shakib ably assisted by Razzak. The management will want to handle Razzak with care as he has played precious little competitive cricket since remodelling his action. Naeem Islam is primarily a batsman but has proved an effective ODI bowler. Twenty20 cricket favours versatile cricketers and so he and captain Ashraful may also be required to turn their arms over.
As in test and ODI cricket, it is Bangladeshâ€™s batting that is likely to be their undoing. The statistics make for alarming reading; Bangladesh have a top score of just 166 in Twenty20 cricket and the team have managed to bat out their full overs in only two of the ten matches they have played so far. Mohammad Ashraful has the ability to win matches single-handedly, but more often he is reckless and indiscreet. In the absence of Alok and Aftab, opener Tamim Iqbal may have the game most suited to the frenetic pace of Twenty20. It is likely that he, together with Bangladeshâ€™s most successful player in 2008 Shakib Al Hasan and possibly his namesake, the redoubtable Rokibul Hasan, will be Bangladeshâ€™s most reliable batsmen.
Bangladesh have a history of underperforming when the spotlight is on them and often when it is not. Those who question Ashrafulâ€™s suitability for the captaincy have not yet been silenced and the pressure remains on the skipper to perform. Chief selector Rafiqul Alam indicated as much recently when he publicly proclaimed that Mortaza and Rahim were being considered as potential successors.
Twenty20 cricket is more capricious than its older siblings and despite the challenges they face, Bangladesh will be disappointed not to get a few wins under their belts. Preparation will be the key. In the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, Bangladesh acclimatised well and began by winning warm up matches. They must do the same in England this year. Unless they string some wins together they may well be heading back to sample Bangladeshâ€™s summer fruits sooner than they would like.
Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Mashrafe Mortaza, Tamim Iqbal, Junaid Siddique, Raqibul Hasan, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Naeem Islam, Abdur Razzak, Shahadat Hossain, Syed Rasel, Mohammad Mahmudullah, Rubel Hossain, Shamsur Rahman, Mohammad Mithun.