Bangladesh win shows how far they still have to go
Congratulations to Bangladesh on their first win against England! Now they have completed the set by beating all the top eight teams; presumably they can take their stamped bingo card to the prize counter in Dubai and get a lifetime supply of falafel or a giant fluffy rabbit.
As with their previous wins against the senior teams, the Tigers caught their opponents having a bad day (I was going to say “caught them on the hop”, but that would have been in poor taste given Ian Bell's unlucky injury). England's catching was poor, their bowling lacklustre and their batting as ghastly as it's been in quite a while, and Bangladesh were competent and cool-headed enough to capitalise. But it's a measure of how far they haven't come that their celebrations were so ecstatic: they will have truly advanced only when they are merely quite pleased rather than flabbergasted when they win.
Bangladeshi ODI wins are still rare enough that each prompts the odd reflection on their previous ones. I immediately recalled their last victory on a tour of England and Wales, when they beat Australia at Cardiff in 2005. That was based around a magnificent hundred by Mohammed Ashraful, who then seemed on the road to stardom.
As we now know, though, Ashraful has hardly scored an international run in ages and is one of the biggest disappointments of the last decade. The moaners who insist on disputing the Tigers' credentials will no doubt suggest that one couldn't expect anything better, but I doubt that it has anything to do with him being Bangladeshi and everything to do with him being a cricketer. If anything, the decline of Ashraful is an indicator of progress, albeit somewhat perverse. The growing chorus that he should be dropped because Bangladesh now have better batsmen who don't fail all the time is what you don't hear from emerging nations with no self-confidence.
Every country brings forward the odd player who has a spectacular rise and looks like a potential world-beater but fades almost as fast, for reasons no one actually understands although they spend forever debating them. Vinod Kambli and Steve Harmison were both going to become legends, and are now only legendary for their failures. Though they are obviously young enough to come again as Ricky Ponting did, JP Duminy and Ajantha Mendis have lost places which seemed to be theirs for the next decade and are nowhere near their predicted superstardom. These at least put Ashraful in reasonable company.
It underlines how uncertain sporting predictions are, and that the only sensible advice about them is contained in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: “Expect the unexpected”.
Which is what I was driving at in my last piece when suggesting it plausible that England could win the ICC World Cup final in a few months' time. I am thoroughly convinced by Michael Jeh's view that although West Indies are probably outsiders and New Zealand would have to undergo their customary World Cup transformation, any of the other six top teams can win without it being a huge surprise. Those commenters who earnestly mounted elaborate arguments to show my suggestion was utterly silly because of how marvellous other teams were are invited to consider how well similar pre-tournament punditry panned out with regard to the FIFA World Cup, in which England were supposed to lose their semi-final to Brazil.
However, despite their win yesterday, I am pretty confident that Bangladesh will not be a finalist: the interesting question is which of the fancied outfits they will fell.