A test of Bangladesh's cricketing systems
Conditions, pitches and bounce. Preparations, expectations and pressure. Bangladesh would have to deal with these demons first and Afghanistan second in Canberra on Wednesday. Each player will have to accept a world outside their comfort zone for Bangladesh to have a successful outing from their first game onwards.
Since the 2011 World Cup, Bangladesh have played 36 out of 50 ODIs at home and none in Australia and New Zealand. There was, however, little doubt that this was the best cricket team in Bangladesh and there was little debate about who was left behind when the national selectors announced the squad in January. This match and the World Cup campaign is, essentially, an important test of Bangladesh cricket and the systems it has put in place, both natural and structural.
The players' individual progress, over a decade or the past few months, lends its own context to the transition of Bangladesh cricket over the last 15 years. With so much debate now over their future in international cricket, the World Cup is perhaps the best occasion for Bangladesh to show how each batch of cricketers has contributed to the bigger picture. Two of the players took to the game before Bangladesh gained Test status, while the next group of four players began training together in 2003 as part of BCB's first major development programme.
Most players in the current squad have followed in the footsteps of Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim - rising either through sheer talent, the U19 programmes or building themselves in domestic cricket, sometimes even a combination of the three. They are the sum total of almost every thought-process that has taken shape in Bangladesh cricket: the need for faster bowlers, all-round fielders, proper allrounders and stroke-playing openers.
Mashrafe and left-arm spinner Arafat Sunny are from Bangladesh's last innocent era - the late 1990s. They took to cricket moments after Hasibul Hossain and Khaled Mashud scampered a leg-bye in Kuala Lumpur in 1997. Like many kids across the country, they ran out of their homes to celebrate Bangladesh's victory over Kenya, having heard the delirious commentators.
After 14 years of playing and coping with as many as 11 leg injuries, Mashrafe is now in his third and most important stint as captain. Sunny, on the other hand, had almost given up the game, after he felt he was the "nothing" player of his era. He was only picked in the Bangladesh T20 team last year, 13 years after making his club and first-class debut, thanks to a large bag of wickets in domestic one-day and T20 tournaments.
If Mashrafe and Sunny came from the 'all-or-nothing culture' of Bangladesh's early days as a Test nation, the next batch of cricketers was expected to make something out of their own talent with the help of the training they received from a young age - a first for Bangladesh cricket.
The Bangladesh Cricket Board's first high-level cricket development programme brought Mushfiqur, Mahmudullah, Shakib and Tamim into international cricket, all within the span of a few years. Among the four, Shakib perhaps is an exception in the amount of international exposure he has garnered by playing in various leagues across the world. He is the only member of the current squad to have played in Australia a month before the World Cup, with a stint in the Big Bash League.
Between 2007 and 2010, Tamim, along with Shakib, was seen as one of the path-breakers of Bangladesh cricket, leading the way on the international stage. In that period, he was the highest run-getter for Bangladesh across formats - 4278 in 122 matches - closely followed by Shakib. Since then, however, he has crunched his game down to bare essentials and has lost his position as a batting leader within the team to Mushfiqur, who has flourished over the last two years.
Rubel was the first fast bowler after Mashrafe to generate excitement with his pace, while Nasir and Sabbir have evolved into two of the best all-round fielders in the country. Of the three, only Nasir received proper training in his formative years but is now on the periphery of the team due to a slump in form. Rubel's concentration on pace and a lack of subtlety has made him a one-dimensional bowler, while Sabbir, who made his international debut only last year, is still very new to international cricket.
Taskin, a fast bowler, was a YouTube sensation as an Under-19 cricketer, growing from his roots in taped tennis-ball cricket, and is seen as a successor to Mashrafe and Rubel. Mominul and Anamul made their international debut in the same match - against West Indies in November 2012 - but have different characters and have had different careers so far. The more flamboyant Anamul has notched up three ODI hundreds but Mominul, with a quieter personality, has put together strong performances in Test cricket.
Unlike many Bangladesh international players, who have risen through the ranks of Under-19 cricket, pacer Al-Amin Hossain and left-arm spinner Taijul Islam are almost entirely products of the domestic system, nurtured through the club and divisional leagues. Their wicket-taking abilities won them a place in the senior side last year and they have not disappointed so far.
Nine members of the Bangladesh squad are playing their first World Cup and it's a chance for them to show that cricket in the country is thriving. What they lack in experience they will have to compensate with natural ability and eagerness. For the older hands, the tournament is a chance to prove their status as big-stage players and leaders of Bangladesh cricket, and leave a memorable legacy.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84