Bangladesh v Pakistan, Asia Cup, Mirpur March 10, 2012

Our target is to be champions - Shakib

Fans in Sri Lanka may still be coming to terms with the narrow defeat in the CB series finals, those in India may still be coming to terms with the retirement of one of their greatest batsmen, but for fans in Bangladesh, the Asia Cup can't start soon enough. Tickets went on sale four days ago, and the response has been hearteningly enthusiastic.

Another sign of the fervour for the tournament was in evidence at Shakib Al Hasan's press conference today. It was a routine pre-match media interaction, but a horde of around 70 reporters, photographers and cameramen, a large proportion being locals, filled out the press conference hall at the Shere Bangla stadium.

The zeal for cricket remains high though it has been a dispiriting 12 months for Bangladesh cricket, with many reverses after the high hopes going into the 2011 World Cup. Shakib was bullish about Bangladesh's chances in the Asia Cup. "Our target? To be the champions," he said. "We want to play our best cricket, though we are not able to do it all the time. It is possible at home. This tournament is a good place for us to know where we stand in world cricket at the moment."

There hasn't been any international cricket in Bangladesh for three months, but Shakib felt the Bangladesh Premier League had made them ready for the Asia Cup. "We had very good preparation, not as a team, but in domestic competitions. If we play to our potential, I'm hopeful we can do well."

Bangladesh were swept aside by Pakistan in the one-dayers three months ago. Their only victory over Pakistan remains the famous one in the 1999 World Cup. "We haven't won against Pakistan for a long time but in the last series we had a good chance in the third ODI," Shakib said. "We did well in the second Test. This is an opportunity to prove ourselves."

Pakistan's success in that series, and over the past year, has been built on their troika of tweakers - Mohammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi. "Their three spinners will be a challenge for our batsmen," Shakib said. "If we can put up a reasonable total, our bowling can hold the opposition."

Besides strong opponents, Bangladesh have to deal with plenty of off-field issues as well. The naming of their captain for the Asia Cup was delayed by a day, prompting speculation that perhaps Mushfiqur Rahim would be punished for his disparaging remarks about the BPL. The drama over the exclusion of one their best batsmen, Tamim Iqbal, lasted several days, revealing a dispute between the chief selector and the board president that has now been resolved, at least temporarily, after the prime minister's intervention.

Hasn't all this affected the team's focus? Shakib vehemently denied it. "We have not discussed the issues in the dressing room so it won't distract us in any way with regards to our preparation in this tournament."

Bangladeshi fans retain a craving for cricket despite the regular defeats and the many controversies. An early victory for Bangladesh will be reward for their perseverance, and also the shock the tournament needs to lift its profile outside the host nation.

Edited by Abhishek Purohit

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo