“People think that this time we will take the Champions Trophy home.”
Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladesh captain, could not control his laughter. No, Mashrafe was not trying to pinch himself while talking about expectations of his team back in Bangladesh. It’s likely the laughter was just a way of Mashrafe being realistic about his side’s chances in a tournament where they have not passed the group stage in four previous attempts.
At the same time, the Bangladesh captain would not come across as pretentious if he were to drum-roll his team’s chances, for they go into the Champions Trophy with their best-ever ICC ODI ranking: No. 6 – ahead of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The Champions Trophy offers Bangladesh the opportunity to assert themselves and to walk the talk that they can compete with the best and improve. They start in the tougher of the two groups – Group A, alongside England, Australia and New Zealand. Their first match, on Thursday, is against the team that boasts the best win-loss ratio in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. England, as many agree, are firm favourites in home conditions. But, for once, Bangladesh are undeterred.
Bangladesh last played a series in England in 2010. They have been in England since April 27, and participated in a two-week training camp, in Sussex, which allowed them to get acclimatized. Thereafter, they moved to Ireland for the tri-nation series, where they won two of the four matches, with victories over the hosts and New Zealand.
Any complacency the team might have accrued over the preceding month was shaken off by the 240-run drubbing they suffered at the hands of India in their second warm-up match of the Champions Trophy. Before that, they failed to close out the warm-up match against Pakistan, allowing Faheem Ashraf to announce himself to world cricket.
Both Mashrafe and coach Chandika Hathurusingha have refused to attach too much concern to the warm-up defeats. The focus, the duo stressed, was on the positives. Bangladesh have a good blend of youth and experience in their ranks. Their old warhorses will continue to be their trump cards: Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah and Mashrafe. And when such a wealth of experience is clubbed with the potential of Soumya Sarkar, Mustafizur Rahman and Mehedi Hasan, it will be little surprise if the unit shocks the heavyweights.
However, if they are to better their rankings, the foremost question Bangladesh would need to address urgently is: can they win the clutch moments? Can they adapt quickly, be responsive to change? Can they muster the required proactiveness to clinch the critical moments when they present themselves? Can they beat England?
“The thing is that we all know that on a given day, we can beat anybody,” Mashrafe said, on the eve of their tournament opener. “But we have to start well; if you can start well, then things will come easier.
“There will be a lot of pressure, but I think we can cope up. Also, if you go back to the England side, I think they also feel more pressure than us, because they want the trophy. Especially, because this is happening in their home. So, it’s both sides, there is a little bit of pressure, but who can cope up, they will perform their best.”
Bangladesh got the better of England in the last two editions of the ODI World Cup, in 2011 and 2015. However, Mashrafe said the England teams on those occasions played a brand of cricket starkly dissimilar to what Eoin Morgan’s men have become known for. The hosts have never looked as fit and fiery as they do at the moment. They can raze 300-plus targets and raise 400-plus mountains with seamless ease. Their bowlers can defend any total and they are one of the most athletic fielding units currently.
But Mashrafe remained unfazed. The Oval is sold out for the first match, and Bangladesh are likely enjoy a healthy presence of supporters. The weather forecast bodes a clear and warm day – at least, for the most part of it. All Mashrafe wants his players to do ahead of the clash is relax, without losing focus.
Bangladesh’s recent results in the tri-series and overseas have given Mashrafe the confidence that his men can stand their ground, come the hour.
“There is a lot of expectation. But we have to understand where we are, and the main thing is that we are progressing or not. Little by little, we are coming up. We are starting from ten to nine, now seven, eight, now six. So, that means that the graph is coming up. So, that’s most important to me, and this trophy, there is a lot of hope, but realistically, we have to play at our best, to be honest.”