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March 16, 2006
Kenya did well in Zimbabwe, drawing the five-match series 2-2 after the final game was washed out. Only once, in the fourth match, were they outclassed, while their other defeat was put down to jet lag as they were forced to play their opening match less than a day after arriving and without any chance to practice. Both Roger Harper, their coach, and Steve Tikolo, their captain, said that given the right preparation, they would have easily beaten the Zimbabweans.
But Tikolo is realistic about his side's chances this time round, pointing out that the international exposure for a side kept in the wilderness since the 2003 World Cup is as important as the outcome. He knows plenty about his opponents as well, having played regularly in Bangladesh club cricket for almost a decade.
Bangladesh should win this series at a canter, and their performances in the just-finished series at home to Sri Lanka will have further boosted their burgeoning confidence. Their win in the second ODI inspired wild celebrations across the country, and they should dispose of keen but out-of-practice opponents with something to spare. Whatever the ICC rankings might claim, they can now rightly claim to be No. 9 in the world by quite some way, and rather than looking down, they now have West Indies at No. 8 in their sights.
Their man of the moment is Mohammad Ashraful, who scored a gorgeous century on the opening day of the Test series against Sri Lanka, and who at the age of 21, is beginning at last to come to terms with the talent that made him, in September 2001, the youngest centurion in Test history, when he cracked 114 on debut against Sri Lanka in Colombo. And Bangladesh's bowling has a greater cutting edge these days as well, with the tall and aggressive paceman, Shahadat Hossain, coming into his own in their last Test at Bogra, where he took a career-best 5 for 86.
One player worth keeping an eye on is 18-year-old Tanmay Mishra who made his debut on that tour. Although he did not set the world alight, he showed enough glimpses of class to suggest he could well have what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
It's a shame that what could be a winning series for the home side could be played out in front of empty stands. Bangladesh is a cricket-mad country - look no further than the massive attendances during the 2004 Under-19 World Cup - but this series has failed to capture the imagination and ticket sales are sluggish to non existent. That the public have not been tempted is partially due to the perceived weakness of the opponents, partially due to the eyebrow-raising decision to increase prices from those charged for the Sri Lanka matches, but largely because of the glut of international cricket.
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