Bangladesh 'never better prepared' - Ashraful
Mohammad Ashraful has pointed to Bangladesh's intensive preparation across three continents as their biggest asset as they head into the ICC World Twenty20. They have played a quarter of all their Twenty20 internationals this year, as well as two competitions where they played unofficial matches, all targeted towards a proper build-up to the event, a factor that went missing ahead of two of the three previous tournaments.
Ashraful has steadied himself as an opener during the past four months, having played 11 out of the 13 games and averaging a shade above thirty. He was also a late call-up for the Ruhuna Royals in the Sri Lanka Premier League, a tournament which also featured Bangladesh team-mates Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah and Nasir Hossain (though he didn't play a match).
"We have played a lot of Twenty20 matches during the past couple of months. If you include the practice games then we will have around 17-18 matches going into the first encounter of the World Twenty20," Ashraful said after Bangladesh's arrival in Colombo.
"This is probably the best preparation we have had before a World T20 event. Also, some of us have participated in the Sri Lankan Premier League last month and that experience could be crucial. I believe everyone has a better understanding of the requirements of the shortest version of cricket now."
When Richard Pybus moved him to open the batting alongside Tamim back in June, it was viewed with initial apprehension. While the numbers suggest only a run-of-the-mill improvement, it has had a positive effect on his mindset, which should be further aided by his experience of playing every Bangladesh tour to Sri Lanka.
"I have made good starts in recent times as an opener," he said. "I feel I am hitting the ball well. I have some excellent memories of Sri Lanka and I have been on every tour of this country since my international debut. I am really looking forward to the tournament."
After competing in Zimbabwe in a triangular series that also featured a South Africa XI, Bangladesh won four out of six T20Is in Europe during July. The last leg of their preparatory tour was to Trinidad & Tobago, where they played T20s against Barbados, Afghanistan and the hosts in a four-nation tournament. They finished second behind Afghanistan on net run-rate but Ashraful wasn't prepared to disregard the campaign due to the loss in the last game.
"I think we did fairly well," he said. "We won easily against Barbados and Afghanistan by chasing in rain-reduced games. We should have beaten Trinidad & Tobago in the last match after having them reeling on 12 for five but they got home in the final over."
He was also happy to see Ziaur Rahman make the most of his opportunities after being given a long-awaited break by the national selectors. Essentially a one-day specialist, Ziaur hasn't made an eye-catching amount of runs but his ability to hit sixes (he has 11 in the last 13 games) is more than handy for Bangladesh.
"We have found some ideal cricketers for Twenty20 to compliment the likes of Shakib [Al Hasan], Tamim, Mushfiqur Rahim and Abdur Razzak," Ashraful said. "Ziaur Rahman is a handy batsman to have as he is a natural big hitter. Mahmudullah is becoming a very useful allrounder in these conditions and Elias Sunny has proved his worth in this version. The return of Mashrafe [Mortaza] is a big plus and he has got into a nice rhythm. His lower order batting can also change matches."
Bangladesh play both their World Twenty20 group-stage matches in Pallekele, starting with New Zealand on September 21 and then against Pakistan four days later.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh