Bangladesh look at playing to their own strengths

Our gameplan doesn't depend on Australia - Bashar

Utpal Shuvro in Antigua

March 30, 2007

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'Ponting is talking aggressively because they are now playing well; where was this talk during their recent whitewash in New Zealand?' - Habibul Bashar © Getty Images
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Most of this Australia team doesn't know what it means to lose a World Cup match. Ponting, McGrath and Gilchrist have experienced that feeling but very possibly for them Australia's last defeat in this tournament, to Pakistan at Leeds in 1999, seems light years away. Since then they've won 22 matches on the trot.

Indeed, they have also probably forgotten what it's like to score less than 300 in a one-day international - their last six matches have seen them cross 300 with considerable ease, against opposition from New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies.

But this is no time, nor cause, for tension among Bangladesh fans. All they need to do is turn on the TV sets, put up their feet and enjoy the cricket. If anything, it's Australia that should be getting tense; Bangladesh have nothing to lose.

Will Australia score 300, maybe 400? They do that against every team. Will Bangladesh suffer a heavy defeat? That's been the fate of pretty much all of Australia's recent opponents.

For Bangladesh, this is a chance to shine even in defeat, to leave the field with some consolation wins. A strokeful fifty, a good bowling spell; these are the targets beyond winning and losing. Mashrafe Mortaza, their ebullient all-rounder, sees the positive in having Australia as the first opponents in the Super Eights: "We will make mistakes against them. But we can learn from those mistakes and use the experience in subsequent matches."

It's not just Mashrafe or even Bangladesh, Australia have put on a master class for the rest of the cricketing world. Even Clive Lloyd, captain of a West Indian team that was the best by far in its time, says Ricky Ponting's side would have given his boys a fight (he didn't say who'd have won).

That West Indian habit of sheer dominance has now passed on to Australia. To give you one example: Because these wickets offer something to fast bowlers in the morning, it's normal practice for captains who win the toss to send the opposition in. Ponting, though, has said unequivocally that to put Australia in is to invite disaster, and so far there's been no audible contradiction of that statement.

Mashrafe Mortaza: 'If you land the ball in the right areas no batsman can hit it'

Step up Habibul Bashar, who in this World Cup has made a habit of putting the opposition in, and piling on the pressure, every time he's won the toss in this tournament. So when this scenario was put to him, Bashar interrupted and offered a response that pulled no punches: "We don't frame our gameplan according to what Australia are thinking. If, in the morning, I feel the wicket is best for a first bowl, I'll put them in."

Put it to Habibul that it's natural to show some fear of the world champions, and his retort is swift and sharp: "Ponting is talking aggressively because they are now playing well; where was this talk during their recent whitewash in New Zealand?" Listening to him talk is, for a Bangadeshi, some sort of a cricket fantasy - Australia's captain being taken on by his Bangladesh counterpart.

Actually, just being in the Super Eights is sort of a fantasy come true for the Bangladesh team, and their coaches have told them to enjoy every moment, to imbibe every experience, for it will all come in handy later. And there's a general feeling through the Bangladesh camp that out in the middle anything can happen. Given that Australia's batting has destroyed all that's come before them, the focus is on the bowlers. And Mohammed Ashraful, the hero of that Cardiff match, murmurs, his eyes drifting back two years and several thousand miles, "If the bowlers can restrict them to 250-260, then..."

There is the small - sorry, extra-large - matter of Matthew Hayden, whose last two innings have seen a 65-ball century against South Africa and 158 against West Indies. His form will be a trial by fire for Bangladesh's bowlers. Shahriar Nafees is a huge fan of the Australian team, and of Hayden in particular. He believed there was a time when Hayden's batting was Bradmanesque in its number-crunching, yet he feels it's even better now. "Earlier it was largely power hitting. Now the sixes come through his superb timing."

If Hayden scores a century on Saturday he'll become the first-ever to score three on the trot in a World Cup. He's also probably aware that he's never scored a century against Bangladesh in seven previous matches. So the Bangladesh bowlers have their work cut out. Mashrafe puts it succinctly: "If you land the ball in the right areas no batsman can hit it."

Utpal Shuvro is sports editor of Dhaka-based daily Prothom Alo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Players/Officials: Habibul Bashar | Mashrafe Mortaza
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Cup
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