Have Bangladesh picked freshness over momentum?
Bangladesh will go into their first game of the 2015 World Cup without having played a single ODI in the last two months, one of only two teams to do so. Instead, they have chosen to prepare for the tournament in the domestic one-day competition and a nine-day training camp at home, and will have another training camp in Brisbane from January 26.
Bangladesh depart for Brisbane on January 24 and their two-week training camp focuses on acclimatisation and includes two practice matches. They will head into the official part of the World Cup build-up to play their two warm-up games in Sydney against Pakistan and Ireland on February 9 and 11. It's a build-up that, according to coach, Chandika Hathurusingha, will leave the team fresher than the other sides, albeit with a slight disadvantage.
"[The build-up] has an advantage as well as bit of disadvantage too," Hathurusingha said. "Ideally we should play a bit of cricket in Australia and New Zealand, but that's not the case. The advantage is that I think we are a bit fresher than the teams that played a long series."
Bangladesh have been playing regularly since their home series against New Zealand in October-November 2013. Following a two-month break after New Zealand's visit, they played against Sri Lanka in a home series, the Asia Cup and the World T20 from January to March last year. India came in June, Bangladesh went to West Indies in August, and Zimbabwe were in Bangladesh from October to December.
Player fatigue has been a major concern behind the lack of cricket between December 2014 and the start of the World Cup, but it is also true that in the past few years, top Bangladesh players have complained about lack of cricket before bilateral series.
The fact remains that after their last ODI on December 1, the Bangladesh players took part in the Dhaka Premier Division League before starting the training camp in Mirpur on January 12. Shakib Al Hasan, through his four-match Big Bash League stint for Melbourne Renegades, is the only player to have a taste of Australian conditions ahead of the World Cup. Six of Bangladesh's World Cup squad members have played in Australia and/or New Zealand, while the rest have never even played in a World Cup.
Exactly a year ago, former head coach Shane Jurgensen had submitted to the BCB a plan for a two-week preparatory camp in Brisbane, preferably in September 2014. He had planned to catch the Sheffield Shield teams' pre-season so that Bangladesh could have played some matches against them, soon after the side had returned from the West Indies and just before the Zimbabwe series. The idea was to give the batsmen and bowlers up to six months before the World Cup to work on chinks in their technique which they would have recognised during the camp. Eventually, it was thought that the camp could give selectors a clearer idea about players with the ability and technique to handle the bouncier wickets. The BCB, however, shot down Jurgensen's plan. One of the reasons given by the board was that he had spoken to the media about it before the board's approval.
The board also declined an offer from Zimbabwe Cricket to play three ODIs in Harare in January, while also saying no to some ODIs in Dubai against the World Cup-participating Associate Nations. ESPNcricinfo has learned that the team management didn't want the Zimbabwe tour while a section of the board directors weren't interested in playing lesser ranked teams in January.
As a result, from January 12 when Bangladesh started their home training camp to February 3, eleven of the World Cup's participating teams would take part in 24 ODIs. Sri Lanka and New Zealand are scheduled to play six matches each; South Africa and West Indies will play out their 5-match ODI series, India; England and Australia will take part in the tri-series. Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan are also playing in a tri-series, and even Pakistan are scheduled to play two ODIs. The only teams to miss out are Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and UAE.
But two senior players defended Bangladesh's World Cup preparation. Mushfiqur Rahim, who has missed just two T20s in the last four years, said that playing a lot of international cricket could have been detrimental to the players, with mental and physical exhaustion setting in at a crucial time.
"It could be seen differently. Playing two or three months before a big tournament like the World Cup is a bit of a tough job. Maybe some players got injured. So in that regard, it is a different process. We are getting well prepared with these training sessions.
"What if four or five of us didn't get runs while playing matches at this stage, and there wouldn't have been a chance to train," he said. "In that regard, I am quite happy. We will train for two weeks in Brisbane and play two practice matches. Two weeks is a long time, we have to make use of it."
Mahmudullah said that playing in the Dhaka Premier Division in the interim was enough for the players. He played eight matches for Prime Bank Cricket Club, helping them to a maiden title.
"I don't think it would be a problem," Mahmudullah said. "The last international matches we played was against Zimbabwe, after which we were busy with the Dhaka Premier League.
"I don't think it would have an impact. We are spending a lot of time training here. We are going there quite early too, and play two practice matches as well as the two official practice matches. It will be good preparation."
During the nine days in Dhaka, the Bangladesh players trained on the centre pitches at the Shere Bangla National Stadium. The pitches were reportedly prepared to replicate those in Australia and New Zealand, and the curator left a lot of grass. In addition, granite slabs were used as batting surfaces when the batsmen took on the bowling machines.
"Top-order batsmen are practising in the morning, the lower-order in the evening. We are trying to bat according to the situation," Mahmudullah said. "We are also batting on the granite slab, against the bowling machine. The pitches have been given a bit of grass. We are trying to recreate the condition we will face in the World Cup here at home.
"It seems the condition there is going to be tough. There will be steep bounce in the first 10-15 overs with the two new balls, but I don't think we should think much about it. If we play positively and aggressively, be mentally prepared to play good cricket, we can do it."
Towards the end of the camp, the Bangladesh players were set match scenarios where the batsmen had to score a certain amount of runs and bowlers and fielders told to stop them. The boundary rope in Mirpur was extended to its limit to replicate the larger Australian outfields.
"We were asked to score 20 runs in four overs without losing a wicket, then 40 runs in four overs," Mushfiqur said. "We had to make 30 runs in the Powerplay overs and if we lost a wicket, we had to score more runs.
"On most occasions the batsmen came out on top while the bowlers had their impact towards the latter stages of the session. I think overall it went well. We are working on fielding and running between the wicket. The boundaries were stretched for today's session so that we get a feel of Australian grounds."
Apart from the training simulations and replications, Bangladesh players have been regularly watching matches in the Australian summer on TV.
The team could have prepared for the campaign the way they have previously because they will be playing in two countries where they have never won an international game. Bangladesh played 25 ODIs between July 2006 and February 2007, winning 19 of them. Though the matches were played against Zimbabwe, Kenya, Scotland, Bermuda and Ireland, Bangladesh needed to play constant cricket to stay in touch with international cricket and build up a winning habit. The build-up paid rich dividends.
Bangladesh will look to bank on their relative freshness compared to their other Pool A opponents, but there is a chance that they could be rusty and take time to get in tune with the pace of international cricket. To do that at the start of a World Cup is perhaps asking for too much.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84