Bangladesh vs South Africa, Super Eights, Guyana April 6, 2007

Bangladesh aim to justify their elevation



'We expected to do a lot better in the last two games. The pressure should not be used as an excuse' - Bashar © AFP

On a day when India's players would have been asked to keep their eyes on the ball rather than the camera, the team that sent them packing from the World Cup prepared for their next adventure, a tussle against the side ranked No.1 in the world. In some people's eyes, Bangladesh have overachieved merely by being here at the business end of the tournament, but a young team untouched by the fear of failure expects far more from itself.

The expectation extends to the fans as well, though reports of Habibul Bashar's effigy being burnt are all the more disturbing in a tournament that has already felt the cold hand of death. To be fair, most of the fans are not the moronic kind, and Bashar accepts that harsh words will be inevitable as the team mixes it with the big boys.

"It's not so much pressure, it's more expectation," he said on the eve of the game. "We expected to do a lot better in the last two games. We've been playing good cricket. The pressure should not be used as an excuse."

The one issue that has divided the media and fans alike is the jettisoning of Shahriar Nafees, the exciting opening batsman who is also vice captain. Some publicly queried why Bashar hadn't dropped himself, and he fended off the question with a smile when asked about it. "If you don't do well, criticism will be there," he said with reference to his own form. "As for Nafees, he needed a break. He's not in the best of form."

Nafees is not part of the 12 to take on South Africa either, and Bashar revealed that the decision was taken only after talking to the batsman himself. "We had a word with him, and he thinks the break will help him."

With fast bowler Tapash Baisya ruled out, Bangladesh will once again rely on Mashrafe Mortaza and Syed Rasel for breakthroughs with the new ball, though hopes of an upset will undoubtedly depend on the form shown by the three left-arm spinners who took six wickets against India.

"These are great players," said Bashar when asked whether he felt there was a South African frailty against spin that could be exploited. "When we played India, we were up against those considered the best players of spin. It's all about how you play on the day. But yes, they [South Africa] don't play on slow tracks often."

The surface at the new stadium in Providence is certainly not lightning quick, and South Africa may well draft in Andre Nel for his extra pace. Bangladesh's batting imploded against three of the best sides in the competition - Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand - and Bashar is more than aware that a huge improvement will be required to stave off the sort of shellacking that will have critics questioning their Test status yet again.

"The gameplan is to keep wickets in hand," he said. "We need runs from the top five, and one person to bat through the innings. We can repeat that performance [against India]. I believe that."

Inevitably, much of the media attention centred around rumours that Dav Whatmore is on top of India's coaching wish-list. Having put his interest in the job on record, Bangladesh's board has been forced to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. The story has the potential to snowball into a massive distraction over the coming days, and Bashar was understandably reluctant to say too much about it.

"He's been working very hard with us, and given no indication that he's not enjoying himself here," he said. "I don't want to talk too much about his thoughts. It's purely for him to decide. But our performance shows what kind of hard work he has put in."

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo