A few years back during a series in Bangladesh, local journalists in Dhaka invited India’s touring reporters for dinner. It was an evening of entertainment and interactions. After the meal, the microphones got passed around for those who wished to be heard. The Indian contingent felt obliged to deliver a vote of thanks. A reluctant young reporter was pushed forward. Being polite and factually correct at the same time, he made an opening statement that got him an instant standing ovation. “If Shakib al Hasan was born in India, Ravindra Jadeja would have never played Test cricket.” Till date, the boy with the sugary tongue rarely buys lunch, or dinner, when in Dhaka. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
Bangladesh likes to hear nice things about its cricketers, and loves those who say them. Though, for a team that has historically recorded a poor catch, fishing for compliments can get embarrassing. Overall, they have lost 80 per cent of their Tests and 70 per cent of the ODIs they have played. At the World Cup, before 2015, they have upset top teams but haven’t lasted till the real action starts.
Not for the Tiger fans, but for neutrals, Bangladesh’s World Cup triumphs have come with a rider. In 1999, they beat Pakistan, but it was an inconsequential game. In 2007, they upset India and South Africa, but ended up losing to Ireland when it mattered. In 2011, they got the better of England, but did they reach the last eight? No.
Even this time, Bangladesh’s historic last-eight entry has unflattering footnotes. The only Test nation they have defeated so far here is England. The new format and the rain-abandoned game against Australia combined to give longevity to the sub-continent’s youngest cricket nation. The good news was followed by bad news. And after the never-seen before euphoria at home, as luck would have it, Bangladesh bump into India. If given a choice, Bangladesh would have opted for anyone but the bullies next door. The two nations have a past, they aren’t rivals or best of friends.
India was responsible for Bangladesh getting Test status but they would rarely call them home for cricket tours. They lost to them in 2007 World Cup but before the opening game of the next edition, Virender Sehwag called them an ordinary side. He walked the talk on the field and proved his point. Bangaldesh’s mega stars, men who are treated as demi-Gods in Bangladesh, are bench warmers in a dug out ruled by Indian cricketers, or in case of Shakib, one of the boys in IPL. If there is talk about Bangladesh having an India complex, those aren’t unsubstantiated whispers.
At this World Cup, forget Bangladesh, no team would prefer to play India. Even the other all-win team struggled to win their last game but India has swaggered back and forth the Tasman sea like all-conquering buccaneers. They aren’t just winning, individual players are building a reputation for themselves, the team exuding an aura around itself and you can vaguely see the halo emerging behind captain MS Dhoni’s head.
India is the team that has 60 wickets from 6 games. Their new ball bowlers have made Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith and Marlon Samuels look like have-beens trying to turn back the clock in inter-corporate tournaments. The one change bowler can make Hashim Amla suspect against the short ball. R Ashwin can bowl dot balls against Pakistan’s batsmen known to handle wily spinners since early days. The Indian batting line-up has taken turns to do well and this has seen a couple of chronic ailments getting cured. The openers are having partnerships while Dhoni and Raina are finishing games. If not Raina, there is always Ashwin to be Dhoni’s sherpa on those long tough chasing treks.
Mashrafe isn’t a Shoaib Akhtar, so he didn’t do the imprudent thing of challenging India, a better-ranked, in-form and superior-ranked team. He called Dhoni a “genuine match winner”, and added that “Virat Kohli is also there” and ended up saying that “Indian batting is the best in the world.” Earlier, Raina had said how India knows that they cannot take ‘chhoti teams’ lightly. Indians were cautious, they weren’t going to be the presumptious, sleepy hare in this race against the eager, excited tortoise.
For those eternally optimistic Bangladesh fans, there were enough non-cricket reasons, mostly unfounded, to be positive about tomorrow. India has peaked too early, law of averages will catch up with them and, finally, the weather forecast, are the things that will be heard in those few patches where the Bangladesh fans will sit. There are also those who feel that there will be a downpour, it will be a rain-curtailed game and Bangladesh will stun India in an anything-can-happen-T20 kind of game. Wishful thinking, is something that has been the staple of the ever-smiling, forgiving and foregetting Bangladesh fans.
The more convincing Bangla voice at MCG has been that of Shakib, who the other day was asked endless questions in Bangla. On most occasions he had this charming opening to his answer. “Shotti kotha bolbe” he would say — Bangla for “Honestly speaking.” There was also a sprinkle of words like chaap (pressure) and Aasha (expectations) in the press conference. He also dropped a pearl, it was the most significant statement that Bangladesh players need to keep in mind. “Bangladesh needs to be fearless,” he said with glassy eyes brimming with resolve. Shotti kotha bolbe, he is surely better than Jadeja and Bangladesh isn’t better than India.
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