India in Bangladesh 2007 May 8, 2007

'There is big pressure, because of expectations' - Saqibul

Sidharth Monga in Mirpur

Saqibul Hasan: 'We won against India at World Cup; that's past. And this is home ground. There is big pressure, because there's lot of expectation' © AFP

In the Super Eights at the World Cup, Bangladesh were expected to win one match - against Ireland. They didn't. On the eve of the series against India, living up to expectations remains the biggest challenge for them. Now that they have been allowed the company of big teams - mainly after wins over India and South Africa at the World Cup - it's up to them to stay there. They are somewhere at a set and a break up in the course of making an upset in a tennis match. Winning a series against India will give them the second set.

Saqibul Hasan, one of Bangladesh's left-arm-spinner trio and more than a handy batsman, admitted today that there was a lot of expectation from their side, and playing in front of home crowds added to the pressure. "We won against India at World Cup; that's past. And this is home ground. There is big pressure, because there's lot of expectation."

The joke that they didn't get enough time to practise has become a serious question from the Bangladeshi press. But Saqib said it was not a major concern for them. "The last tour, the World Cup was good for us, so we do not need much time to practice."

The team, according to Saqib, are trying to not think about the expectations. Their practice session at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium was one of a team at peace with themselves. The first ones to walk out of the dressing room shouted in glee as they saw a game of football being set up. The bowlers played against the batsmen for 20 minutes. Mashrafe Moratza scored for the bowlers, and Aftab Ahmed equalised and then scored the winner for the batsmen. This was followed by fielding drills; one mini-stump was hit regularly by Bangladeshi fieldsmen throwing on the run. Fielding, as it should be, was enjoyed as much as batting or phutball. The nets focused at big-hitting too - they are not big power-hitters, most of the Bangladeshi batsmen.

The looks of the team do no suggest they have put too much pressure on themselves, but to prove - in front of home crowds - that their exploits at the World Cup were not a fluke has to be at the back of their minds.

This series is also the last series for Dav Whatmore as their coach. Bangladesh have spent a memorable time with Whatmore at the helm, so they would also want to give him a suitable farewell.

When Saqib said they would be under pressure, and looking at the way Bangladesh played against Ireland, one can't help but feel that they themselves are their first competition. India will feature later - after an inner battle is won.

The ground where they practised today so joyously will undergo a metamorphosis on May 10. Around 35,000 pairs of eyes will be watching them. They will be playing an Indian team which the people now believe they can beat. This will be an entirely new pressure for them. On paper, man for man, India are still a stronger team and Bangladesh will have to bring more than their A game. Welcome to the big league.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine