Pressure, the invisible opponent
If Bermuda were the only opponents, this match preview would have been a short affair. After asserting a Bangladesh win, the only subject of discussion would have been the margin of victory. But today, Bermuda aren't the only opponents for Bangladesh at the Queen's Park Oval. Bermuda are the visible antagonists; the invisible one is far more powerful - one of pressure.
In the last World Cup, Bangladesh lost to even Canada. There isn't much of a difference between the Canada of 2003 and Bermuda in 2007. Everyone in the team is an amateur. One's a teacher, one a salesman, a third a policeman. They're all here on leave from work. For them, the World Cup is something to enjoy. And they are enjoying themselves. On the field and off it. The only niggling worry is about exhausting all their leave at the beginning of the year.
Bermuda now can be like Canada four years ago. But Bangladesh now are not like the Bangladesh of 2003, and haven't been so for a while. That's why a victory against Bermuda should be a walk in the park. That is how they won the tri-nation series in Antigua.
Yet, Habibul Bashar, the captain, is cautious. "At another time, the Bermuda match would have been inconsequential. But this match is different." Different, because a victory in this match will help Bangladesh create history, enter the Super Eight stage of the World Cup. A win in this match is a precondition to so much that the opponent doesn't matter. The invisible pressure is the major factor. Defeating that is crucial, not Bermuda.
The good news is that there is no vibe of "already in the Super Eights" at all in the Bangladesh camp. Bashar, in fact, refused point blank to talk about the next round. "We're not there yet. We're occupied with the Bermuda match, we don't want to think about anything else."
It's natural that Bangladesh will be careful, yet only Bangladesh appear to be so. Everyone else has already elevated Bangladesh into the Super Eights after India's defeat to Sri Lanka. Indian journalists have swallowed their own sorrows to congratulate Bangladeshi journalists. Several thousands of Indian fans, who flew into Trinidad, are running around to confirm their return tickets without waiting for Sunday's result. I even saw an ICC official replace "India/Bangladesh" in the Super Eight fixtures with just "Bangladesh". "What if Bermuda defeat Bangladesh?" I asked. He laughed, "Why don't you speculate about snow in the Caribbean?"
Asked to comment on India's untimely departure from the World Cup, Mahela Jayawardene said, "India has not left the World Cup yet." But the smile on his face gave him away. After India's defeat, the lobby of the Trinidad Hilton was all agog over Bangladesh's progress to the Super 8's; the Bermuda team was also present there. But who'd say they were under any pressure at all!
Captain Irvine Romaine is a schoolteacher, who teaches fitness training and drawing. Though not in the same league as Dwayne Leverock, his physique isn't bad. What will happen in the Bermuda-Bangladesh match? "We'll defeat Bangladesh," he guffawed.
Anticipating a tough follow-up question, he immediately sobered up and said, "Bangladesh is a very good team. We're also very happy at their progress into the Super Eight." When West Indies toured Bangladesh in 2004, their coach was Gus Logie. Even he's stunned at Bangladesh's improvement in three years. "Bangladesh", he declared, "deserve a place in the Super Eight." Gus Logie's current status? The former West Indian batsman is now the coach for Bermuda. With the coach-captain admitting defeat beforehand to put Bangladesh in the Super Eight, I think we can start the celebrations. Just don't tell the team yet.
Utpal Shuvro is sports editor of Prothom Alo, a Dhaka-based daily