Wear your gloves, put on the headgear, strap down your pads because on February 19, 2011 in one of the most anticipated bouts of the year it's going to get down and dirty not to mention bloody. Throw in the salt, pinch some in as you see the mismatched weigh-ins because any signs of complacency is bound to leave you with a bitter taste.
Four years elapsed since India was knocked out of the World Cup in 2007 by Bangladesh. Lot has happened since then to both sides. Gritty India is determined to make sure that the repeat of the past incident would likely be aÂ jamais vu, while Bangladesh would be keen to prove otherwise.
Undefeated against New Zealand for a convincing 5-0 lead, a near pound-four-pound matching against South Africa despite a 3-2 series loss and defeating the defending champions Australia in 2011 World Cup warm up should foreshadow the shadowing Indians clock in in the nets. On the far corner in blue and white is a team with glute-whopping 5357 points as the King of the Ring. And at the corner the dwarf to the Leviathan in green and red are Tigers with paltry 131 points but menacing enough for Rumble in the Jungle. But as they say, bigger they are, harder they fall...and falter the Indians did once. And since we all know it's not the size of the underdog in the fight that matters, it gives us twice the pleasure to stay glued for an anticipated overthrow.
Bangladesh celebrates yet another Indian wicket at the WC 2007
However, if the recent display of Yusuf Pathan's match winning century against New Zealand on December 7, 2010 was any indicator of India's powerhouse, then the Bangladeshis have a lot to worry about as men who can pack a punch like him are dime a dozen, more than enough to give the Bangladeshis a run for their money. Bettors need not rack their brains much as scales are tipped in favors of the Indians with odds as low as 20:1.Â
Gone may be Ganguly and Utthapa with Patel as a distant memory but most of the heavyweights from the Indian squad of theÂ 8th matchÂ of previous World Cup are still around having found themselves to contend with explosive new batsmen funneled from IPL.
Among the most egregious of the players in the pack comprising of the likes of Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina, Harbhajan, Zaheer would undoubtedly be Sachin Tendulkar and his 200* innings surrounding The Saint like halation in a country where sports is a religion. It is perhaps of note that the man who is currently in the form of his life - Abdur Razzak- with his recent hat-trick being on the cusp of achieving highest number of wickets in a bilateral series is the same person who suckered the almighty Tendulkar to floor on an unlucky 7 facing 26 balls with an arm ball in 2007. Abdur Razzak would be an automatic inclusion.
Raging bull marauder Tamim, who cuts, swings, and jabs anything that comes to him, has progressed into a much mature fighter from the haymaker that he used to be as evident from the exhibits of his sparkling Lord century, 151 against India in Test, 154 versus Zimbabwe being nominated Wisden Magazine's Cricketer of the Year after pouring in relentless hours in the nets with coach Salahuddin and Siddons.
Cricket has evolved to be a lot more dynamic since the Caribbean calypso and along with the territory came many ungentlemanly behavior in the form of trash talks where players like Sehwag would take below-the-belt shot labeling the Bangladeshi as ordinary in the last encounter while Ishant Sharma had to be reminded who Shakib-al-Hasan really is. And reminded he was for the man left footnotes not only in the category of the number 1 ODI batsman, but also in one of the top ten ODI bowlers, as well as marshaling in a troop over the same Caribbean soil for their first ever test victory and of course single-handedly bringing down the house versus the Kiwis. The man has an average of 35 in ODI and 31 in Test and lives by the mantra that when he steps in the ring there is no second best and became the first ever Bangladeshi to get a County contract with Worcestershire in 2010 only to be renewed this current year.
The world learns of BanglaWash - the team celebrates a Kiwi whitewash.
Imrul Kayes possibly remains as the subdued choice as in most cases he seems to be overshadowed by Tamim's aura. But, the left handed opener can go the distance once he gets a solid start as witnessed by some of his memorable innings including a salient century in Christchurch versus New Zealand. His glorious textbook coverdrives may be in stark contrast to his shaky hooks and pulls; however, he has been a consistent performer with an ODI average of 30 and as fifth highest run getter in 2010 with 867 runs at an average of 32.11.
Raqibul and Mushfiqur would take the corresponding spots. After his withdrawal, Raqibul returned solidly in domestic circuit, banked a solid 65 in a recent match, and has proven himself not only as an anchor but someone who can rev at higher gears too. Another consistent performer has been the keeper, though concerns are raised about his skills with gloves. Moved up the order Rahim would function at his optimum level building the foundation for power hitting.
Mohammad Ashraful has lately gone down the queer street as a journeyman. He may not be dazzling in their last encounter scoring only 8 runs but he was the chief architect in one of the subsequent World Cup match against South Africa. He has been kissing the canvas ever since but unlike the way he did so in Cardiff. However, cognizant of all the above mentioned worries, the temptation to not to use Ashraful - keeping knuckles crossed for an Eid innings- is just too great. He gets the cut if anything just for the intimidation factor and he comes down the order during Power Play overs.
It must however be noted that while Mahmudullah Riyad has lately been out of touch, his record shows a bell-curved peak of performance given hisÂ test scoresÂ rising from 69 and an undefeated 96 against this very Indian opponent, quickly followed by his patient 115 against New Zealand and a couple of 50s against England -all, mind you, in a very short frame of 2 months. Despite the fact his score tapered off since he reached his peak earlier as well as failing to make any impression with his bat in ODI as he vouches about his focus on power hitting in the nets lately, remains a strong contender.
To clinch the first win against a team full of heavyweights where hitting big matters, Naeem Islam, in my book would get the nod as well as the newly arrived Suhrawadi Shuvo part of the slew of slow,left arm bowlers that the country keeps producing. Despite a 47.62 bowling average, Shuvo puts his money where his mouth is given a modest economy of 4.23 with best figures of 3/14.
Bowlers are expected to flight the ball like a butterfly with enough venom to sting like a bee. Mashrafe Mortaza, the real star from the last tussle with 4 wickets, although not selected in the 15 man squad due to his injury will be with the team in spirit. Heavily built speed-freak Rubel Hossain and a lanky Shafiul Islam, both who have been crucial during the New Zealand whitewash have put enough blood and sweat with the newly appointed genius Bowling coach Ian Pont and would be raring to shed some teardrops looking to do early damage in the openings overs that has been the signature attack of Bangladesh in both New Zealand and Zimbabwe series.Â
Thus my final eleven would be Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Raqibul Hassan, Shakib-al-Hasan (c), Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mohammad Ashraful, Mohammad Mahmuddlah, Naeem Islam,Â Suhrawadi Shuvo, Abdur Razzak, Rubel Hossain.
Odds however may it be in favor of the Indians, Bangladeshis are not expected to throw in the towels that easily. As much as Indians squad seems to be full of players having rockstar like status, over the past four years, Bangladeshis can bank on the players who have refined their games since their last faceoff. Whereas in the past the team would rely on only one or two key performances, now the team has gelled into a much cohesive unit to deliver punches. What the players lack in charisma and personality of #1 ranked Indian team's firepower, lower rung Bangladeshi players make up with sheer determination and hard labor. Last blow dealt was severe, but the forthcoming one will be deadly.Â It's not curtain call yet; crowds- rather chant.... Encore!