Mashrafe hoping for strong Kolkata support
If there is one venue in the world that could be home from home for Bangladesh, it is the ground they will begin their Super 10s on Wednesday. Kolkatans speak with a different inflection, and a recent trade embargo means Bangladeshi hilsa no longer makes it into this city's eateries, but still, Bangladesh is elementally tied with Bengal; through shared history, struggle and language.
It is on this common soil that Mashrafe Mortaza hopes to break ground on the next phase of their World T20 campaign. Dharamsala, where Bangladesh played their group stage, was so cold and wet, he said, it almost felt like Irish conditions. Bangladesh haven't played in Kolkata for 25 years, but if Mashrafe gets his wish, this game will feel a little like coming home.
"I think this is a good opportunity to play in this ground," he said. "I don't know if 90,000 people will turn up for tomorrow's game, but we are excited to be playing here and we want to make it memorable. As a Bengali, I can hope that Kolkata will be behind us."
Even for non-Bengalis, Bangladesh have become an easy team to get behind. Over the past 14 months, a distinct brand of cricket has developed around a battery of canny seam bowlers, of whom Mashrafe himself is Exhibit A. Their rise began in ODIs, but has now spread to their T20 game. Having been Asia Cup finalists in the past fortnight, they go into the tournament as dark horses of sorts.
"We were not really good in T20s but now we are playing fearless cricket," Mashrafe said. "We are giving it our best, and all our players have their role. When we do all this together, we know we can win. Our coaches have really helped us."
In a 12-month period populated with happy firsts, Bangladesh got their first T20 century-maker on Sunday, when Tamim Iqbal struck 103 not out against Oman. Mashrafe said his whole top order was poised to deliver in the Super 10s.
"Tamim is in good touch since the last World Cup. Not only Tamim, actually, but all the batsmen are fired up, especially in T20 cricket. In India they can do much better than at home, because the Asia Cup was played on seaming wickets. Tamim and Sabbir are scoring regularly and Soumya is doing it in patches too. I think when the top order does well, the pressure is off the middle order."
If there is a concern in that middle order, it is the relative lack of runs from Mushfiqur Rahim. He has been out in single figures in four of his five most recent outings. Shakib Al Hasan has also been a little quieter than usual with the bat, though he does have a much better string of scores behind him.
"I want everyone to perform but in this format, you don't always get time," Mashrafe said. "Especially for those batting in the middle order who don't get time to get settled in the crease. I think Shakib and Mushfiqur are trying their hardest and they have performed regularly in the recent past.
"Shakib is an important player for us. He has performed under pressure for the last seven to eight years. We can always bounce off ideas from him about this ground as this is where his IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders is based."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando