A lot has been talked about regarding World Cup 2007. Much of the chatter consisted of legitimate concern over Bangladesh's "cupcake" schedule over the past year or so. Since 2006, we have played 34 ODIs, of which only 8 were against the top teams. Bangladesh's record was a minnow bashing 22-4 against the weaklings of international cricket, and a very humbling 1-7 against the top dogs.
In spite of all the hue and cry about second-tier and "minnows", one important thing was learned by playing such a soft schedule; a lesson which would, in all likelihood not have been possible if we had played mostly against big teams. This was the strengthening of the mental aspect of the Tigers' game, a facet that good teams utilize to win games in clutch situations.
Close wins against Zimbabwe and Canada earlier this year, where the Tigers honed their "never say die" tenacity, paved the way for an exciting victory against New Zealand. Considering, the Kiwis had just handed the world champions Australia a majestic 3-0 white wash only less than a fortnight ago, the - albeit practice - win against New Zealand appears to be strong proof that we have learned to keep our cool even against a major world cricketing powerhouse.
The match against NZ, where Bangladesh played without two of its most consistent performers in Shahriar Nafees and Mohammed Rafique, also allayed any fears that Bangladesh were not well prepared to fight this World Cup battle. These fears had arisen after the Tigers had to overcome major jitters against relative non-powerhouses Zimbabwe, Bermuda, and Canada within the last month (rather than winning handily).
The final, and perhaps most important takeaway from the Tiger's Word Cup preparations could be that they highlighted that the performance in the game day is all that matters. Thus it is imperative that come our games against India, Sri Lanka, and Bermuda; our boys know what to do. It is in that light, that I present what I feel is our best possible war plan.
The very first thing needs to be addressed is the playing XI; which 11 players make the cut and which 4 do not. Obviously arbitrary biases hurt not only the players, but the team as well. There must be adequate reasoning for or against anyone's inclusion or exclusion from the starting XI. Here is my playing XI:
- Shahriar Nafees
- Tamim Iqbal
- Aftab Ahmed
- Sakib Al Hasan
- Habibul Bashar
- Mohammad Ashraful
- Mushfiqur Rahim
- Mohammad Rafique
- Mashrafee Mortaza
- Abdur Razzak
- Syed Rasel
Nafees' spot is written in stone and no one argues about that. Tamim's place is probably nearly as unanimous: Tamim has proven that he can go on attack against good teams. Smashing Shane Bond's 95 mph thunderbolts out of the park is no laughing matter. Granted, he is still very much of a 'lucky hitter' type, but the alternatives are Javed and Rajin, neither of whom can be expected get us off to a great start. If Tamim gets out cheaply, it needs not be a big deal because we have Aftab at #3 who will blast around for at least 30 runs or so. On the upside, if we are lucky, Iqbal could get a 50 or 60 and the RR will most certainly be around 5 or 6 an over - the kind of start any of the big eight teams would relish.
If we go the Javed or Rajin route this is what will most likely happen: Javed and Nafees, or Rajin and Nafees will both start out slowly. As a result the first 5 overs might only yield 15 odd runs. At least one batsman will get out, and pressure would then build up on the brittle middle order leading to more wicket loss.
Nafees' slow batting is no problem for 2 reasons. Firstly, he plays the sheet anchor role, and there is room for another and at most 2 anchors in a side. Secondly, Nafees has the ability to accelerate when the time is right; two things, Javed and Rajin just can not bring about.
So I believe the role for both Tamim and Aftab will be to fire away and hopefully they can take us to 100-2 after 20 overs. That would drastically take the pressure off of the middle order. If we are extremely lucky, the score might even be better than 120-1 or 120-0 after 20 overs.
Enter the middle order of Saqib, Bashar, Ashraful, and even Mushfiq. Saqib fulfills the other anchor role, though he is largely untested against quality attacks. We can be reasonably sure that he will not contribute to a collapse because his temperment is solid, and even without any eye-catching technique, his grit can take us a long way (just as Javed once did). Bashar has really been running between the wickets poorly, but if he can score 20 or 30 quick runs, as he has been doing nowadays, Ashraful can shine in the last 10-15 overs.
Ashraful is best suited at his late middle order spot for the forseeable future. Yes, it is a tremendous disservice to his talent to bat way down at #6, but he enjoys it, and most importantly he seems to be finding his niche. The pressure of being the lone hero was too much for him. Along with Rafique and Mortaza, he should ensure that Bangladesh get a 250ish score at least.
Mortaza's batting is another point which I want to harp on. He may be a mug on sporting wickets, but on the subcontinent-like slow tracks of the Carribbean, he could be a huge boon. Scoring 50 runs in the last 5 overs never looks a tall task when the Narail express is wielding the willow.
Bowling wise, it is going to be Mashrafee and Rasel opening, with Rafique and Razzak spin the spinning. Saqib, Aftab, and possibly Ashraful may sport the 5th spot either singularly or as a combo.
As much as I would like a bowler who could fling 140 k missiles at Ganguly's throat, Shahadat is out of form. His line and length are just not there. He still ranks above Tapash in the depth charts, and should Rasel struggle against India, I wouldn't hesitate inserting him into the XI for the do-or-die match against Sri Lanka.
I would rate Sri Lankan batsman as weaker against quality pace, especially on a seaming wicket, and thus we may even play all 3 of Mashrafee, Rasel, and Shahadat against the Lions.
We will have to watch the Sri Lanka-Bermuda match to see how the pitch behaves in the 2nd innings. If there is no appreciable deterioration, I say that we should opt to field first if we win the toss against India.
Firstly, the Indians are expert chasers. They ran down opponents a record 18 straight times just about a year ago. Further, with their star-studded lineup even a target of 350 is not safe, and our boys are unlikely to get anywhere near 350. Secondly, remember the Lords Test from 2005? Remember when we all decided it would be best for Bangladesh to field first to settle the nerves? Well, no matter what Nafees says about these being just "another game", our boys will be nervous. But so will be the Indians. Why not make them bat first. Guys like Sehwag, Uthappa, Yuvraj, Dhoni will all be anxious to prove themselves. Keep them guessing; they won't know how many runs would be safe. Thirdly, by chasing, we will know exactly how many runs we need to get. We must remember that net run rates are of no use to us if we don't win.
For the Sri Lanka match, we can use just about the same strategy. A few of the differences are that the Lankan batsmen might be more susceptible to swing and seam bowling. Thus, it might be a good idea to include both Rasel and Shahadat at the expense of Razzak (Rafique's experience and batting get him the lone, specialist, spinner spot). Against Lanka, it may also be wiser to bat second since Jayasuriya can single-handedly chase a small target. It will also, again, be easier on our batsmen's nerves to chase, after all they have done it successfully many a times.
As for the Bermuda match, this should be an easy win, though Bangladesh would be foolish to underestimate the Islanders. If we are in the unlikely position of a tie-breaker situation with India and Sri Lanka, we will have the advantage of playing the final Group match against a relatively easier opponent. We will know exactly what run rate we must achieve to advance. Thus in this situation only, it is absolutely necessary that we bat first and post a massive score. The bowlers should take care of the rest.
If we do qualify for the second round, the strategy does not require any tweaks, it would be to merely keep doing what we did to get to the Super 8s to begin with because, by then Bangladesh will be already celebrating.