Sunday, February 18, 2018

What Bangladesh will prove

No time to relax. No time to reflect.

We’ve only just come to the end of five weeks of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League, culminating in an anti-climactic rain-ruined finale last Saturday night in St Kitts, and now attention shifts immediately from the T20 franchise format of cricket to One-Day Internationals and the countdown to the 2015 World Cup.

Not too many would have noticed of course, given the preoccupation with the LCPL and the eventual triumph of Kieron Pollard’s Barbados Tridents, but the Bangladeshis are here.

They can hardly be described as high-profile, although the West Indies, for all the spectacular big-hitting and general flamboyance that makes them powerhouses in the shortest version of the game, are also considered to be among the also-rans when serious discussions take place over who will be lifting the trophy as kings of the 50-over game following the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia on March 29 next year.

That tournament is now less than six months away, so the start of the three-match ODI series against Bangladesh in Grenada on Wednesday has more context and significance to it with the Caribbean side keen to use upcoming fixtures for important fine-tuning ahead of their opening World Cup match against the Phil Simmons-coached Ireland side in the New Zealand town of Nelson on February 16.

Apart from the two daytime matches in St George’s and the day/night affair in St Kitts – a lone T20 International at Warner Park and two Tests in St Vincent and St Lucia follow – the regional side will have another ten official competitive ODI’s ahead of the World Cup Down Under. They will be heavily favoured to overwhelm the Bangladeshis, but the five matches in India in October against the World Cup holders and the five in South Africa over the latter half of January will give a much clearer indication as to whether the side led by Dwayne Bravo has any realistic prospect of challenging for the prize the West Indies last won way back in 1979.

A lot can happen over that seemingly short period of time. Apart from injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, there can be fluctuations in form or the realisation that certain players, previously thought to be essential, are either surplus to requirements or incapable of filling specific roles. Has Bravo done enough to ensure that he will remain at the helm come World Cup time? Will the new members of the selection panel, headed by former captain Clive Lloyd and including outstanding former fast bowler Courney Walsh, have a different philosophy and will that result in any friction with head coach Ottis Gibson?

All of that speculation will obviously keep us interested. First and foremost though, Bangladesh must not just be beaten. They must be annihilated. No disrespect to Mushfiqur Rahim’s team, but if these three one-dayers are even reasonably competitive, then it will be a clear indication that the regional side are a long, long way from the standard they will need to be at to be a force to reckon with in New Zealand and Australia.

This is not like five years ago, when the Bangladeshis enjoyed their most successful series ever, sweeping the Tests 2-0 and the ODI’s 3-0 before losing the lone T20. However the circumstances are vastly different. All of the first-choice home players were missing then as a result of yet another dispute between the West Indies Cricket Board and the Players Association. To put in perspective, of the 13 selected for upcoming ODI’s, only three – fast bowler Kemar Roach, all-rounder Darren Sammy and left-arm spinner Nikita Miller – played in that 2009 series.

In contrast, the tourists were at full strength and even though they lost tour captain Mashrafe Mortaza through injury during the first Test in St Vincent, all-rounder Shakib al Hasan stepped up to the leadership role and enjoyed an outstanding campaign with bat and ball. Mortaza is back in his role as senior fast-medium bowler but Shakib is absent, as he was for the Tridents, while he serves a six-month international suspension handed down by the Bangladesh Cricket Board.

As with most teams, Bangladesh are also much more competitive in home conditions. In the last ODI series between the two teams in Khulna and Dhaka at the end of 2012, Mushfiqur’s men prevailed 3-2, winning the decisive final match by two wickets amid scenes of great jubilation on the same ground where they were humiliated by the same opponents at the World Cup 21 months earlier.

But this is the Caribbean, and if a side of well-established limited-over specialists can’t overwhelm these visitors, then it’s almost pointless, even from this distance, entertaining thoughts of ending the prolonged World Cup drought next year.