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Showtime again

Bangladesh hope to arrest post World Cup slide as they take on Pakistan in Asia Cup opener

Teeming with cycle rickshaws,three-wheelers taxis,buses,cars,cycles and jaywalkers,the roads around the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium can become a nightmare to traverse. Sidewalks are owned by hawkers,while speeding trucks and buses have right of way over the broken asphalt. All the chaos will,however,be drowned by the frenzy that consumes its citizens when the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium,an Oasis among the mofussil environs,hosts the Tigers — the Bangladesh national cricket team.

Extreme emotions have poured onto the Milk Vita road,outside gate No.1,reserved for players’ entry. Victory,like one over Ireland during the World Cup last year,has held up the team bus for hours during all-night street parties,while defeat has triggered a stoning of the player convoys.

During the World Cup fever,Shakib-Al-Hasan’s team dealt with both ends of the spectrum,as wins over England and Ireland failed to get the side beyond the knock-out stages of the biggest sporting spectacle.

A year later,Bangladesh meet Pakistan in the opening game of the Asia Cup. Box-office one-day cricket has returned to cricket-crazy Mirpur but with it has come controversy. Dashing opener Tamim Iqbal was picked by the selectors,headed by his uncle and former skipper Akram Khan,only to be axed by the president of the cricket board. Khan resigned but came around after Iqbal was reinstated and a further promise was made by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,that he would have a free hand henceforth.

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Yet,in spite of all the mollycoddling – from fans when they win,politicians and heads of state — the cabinet at the headquarters of Bangladesh cricket doesn’t hold a major trophy.

Off-field issues

On the eve of the match against Pakistan there is apprehension whether the team will shut out the recent controversies and play to their potential,but a string of poor results home and abroad in 11 months has increased the fear about how the one-dimensional and by now predictable bowling attack will fare.

“We have traditionally relied on left-arm spinners and that is our strength but also our weakness. Though there is variety in our left-arm spin attack we don’t have a quality fast bowler and in foreign conditions we are bound to suffer. There is an urgent need to unearth fast bowlers,” chief selector Khan told The Sunday Express on Saturday.

Khan had hopes of finding the next speedster from the inaugural edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) but most teams still had up to four-five left-arm spinners in their squads. The need of the hour is to play more Tests than T20s,a form in which their batsmen excel,but the team will not feature in a five-day game until August.

Bangladesh lost to Zimbabwe,a team that was returning to the Test fold in Harare last year,and also crumbled in the ODI series. They also lost to Australia,West Indies and Pakistan at home.

The dip in form since the World Cup has forced the Bangladesh Cricket Board to plan a four-day tournament,which will involve the BPL teams,to compliment the existing National Cricket League (four-day). Incidentally,the final round of the National League had to be postponed to accommodate the BPL,their biggest show after the World Cup.

“Our failure to reach the knock-out stages of the World Cup was a setback but I don’t think it was the reason for our dip in form. There have been lot of changes in the team and that hasn’t really helped. But we want to play good cricket and win this Asia Cup now,” Al-Hasan,who has been replaced by Mushfiqur Rahim as captain,said.

When the champagne was uncorked during the World Cup party,Bangladesh had gone to bed. At the Asia Cup,the die-hard fans will come to cheer the bottom-ranked team again. There are signs of another party in Mirpur.