An emotion-charged opener
March 16, 2014
Start time 3.30pm local (0930 GMT)
In the three host cities, street corners have been spruced up with more than just the extra coat of paint. Christmas-like lightings have made Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet look quite different. The cricket stadiums have been made to look like someone's wedding is around the corner.
Security men, thousands of them, have taken up their positions, flash mob videos have been YouTubed and almost everything else is in place in Bangladesh for the World T20. All except the host nation's cricket team.
They play on the opening day, against Afghanistan, with the threat of elimination hanging over both teams. Since only one team will qualify from Group A of the World T20's first round, result of this particular game will set the mood of the tournament in the country.
For Afghanistan, the extra pressure on Bangladesh is an advantage. They have already taken the upper-hand by beating the home side in the Asia Cup earlier this month, and have been talking up this exact phenomenon at every opportunity. They would like to latch on every opportunity, particularly with Shapoor and Dawlat Zadran with the new ball.
However, they have lost some momentum in their last four outings, particularly with the bat. Mohammad Shahzad, captain Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari have to take control of the top, middle and lower-order while at the same time, Nabi and Shenwari have a tough job ahead of them with the older ball.
The return from injury of Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza and Sohag Gazi will be a welcome boost for the home side, but the two senior pros still have be handled with care. Tamim has to be monitored daily for his neck strain while Mashrafe has to play with the sort of discomfort he has always played with. Gazi's finger injury has healed considerably, and he is match fit too.
Shakib Al Hasan will have a major say on the game too, particularly having claimed the No. 3 position in T20s. Bangladesh also have the luxury to pick either of Anamul Haque or Shamsur Rahman to open with Tamim, but a tougher call is required when they have to pick two among Mominul Haque, Sabbir Rahman and Mahmudullah. Conventional wisdom would be slightly harsh on Mominul but Sabbir and Mahmudullah are more useful after Mushfiqur Rahim in the batting order in T20s.
Shakib will also be the key bowler for Mushfiqur, but it will be rotating the others around the lead left-arm spinner that will be the real test for the captain. Bangladesh will want a good day for Rubel Hossain and Abdur Razzak, which would balance out the bowling attack.
Without taking a negative look at the outcome of this game, consider the possibilities for both sides. If Bangladesh win, they will have one foot in the second round, and a chance to ride on the wave of excitement and frenzy of a cricket-mad nation gone madder for its team. If Afghanistan does the same, they will have endless possibilities in front of them and all the bragging rights that an Associate nation can have in progress.
The match will be full of emotional highs and the tension will be at its peak. This, bear in mind, is the first game of the tournament.
(Completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
He has returned after a month-long break with a neck strain, and haven't Bangladesh missed Tamim Iqbal dearly? He will be tasked to take full advantage of the Powerplay against Afghanistan's impressive pace attack, which will be the sort of contest he relishes.
Mohammad Nabi has not fired fully in this trip to Bangladesh, so this is the big occasion for him. He is Afghanistan's captain and most talented cricketer, and will be expected to have a major influence with the bat and offspin.
Bangladesh will have to leave out Al-Amin Hossain if Mashrafe Mortaza is fit to play. There will be a last-minute call between Farhad Reza and Sohag Gazi depending on who offers Mushfiqur more safety. Either one of Mominul Haque and Sabbir Rahman would be given a place in the playing XI.
Bangladesh (possible) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Anamul Haque, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt & wk), 5 Mominul Haque/Sabbir Rahman, 6 Nasir Hossain, 7 Mahmudullah, 8 Farhad Reza/Sohag Gazi, 9 Mashrafe Mortaza/Al-Amin Hossain, 10 Abdur Razzak, 11 Rubel Hossain
Both Twenty20 specialists Najeeb Tarakai and Shafiqullah are likely to be given places in the final XI, making it difficult for Asghar Stanikzai to find a place. Mirwais Ashraf's medium pace will be handy in Mirpur, but he will have to fight for a spot with Gulbadin Naib, who has prior experience of playing at the ground.
Afghanistan (possible) 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Nawroz Mangal, 3 Karim Sadiq, 4 Shafiqullah, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Najibullah Zadran, 7 Gulbadin Naib, 8 Samiullah Shenwari, 9 Dawlat Zadran, 10 Shappoor Zadran, 11 Hamza Hotak
Pitch and conditions
The Mirpur wicket will cater to the demand of the organisers. There will be a flat, batting-friendly surface with short boundaries on at least one side, depending on which wicket is used for the tournament opener. By the time the match starts, the weather will cool down according to the forecast for Sunday.
Stats and trivia
- From the current Afghanistan team, Nabi has the highest strike-rate at 129.64, while Shenwari bowls at 5.87, the best economy rate.
- Despite being not out six times in his T20i career, Mushfiqur averages 18.33 with the bat in this format.
"When you're hosting a world tournament and you want to be in the tournament and you're afraid of getting out of it that is the sort of pressure that is on you. I personally think they [Bangladesh] are facing more pressure than us."
Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan puts a bit more pressure on Bangladesh
"I am sure if we can minimise our mistakes from here, we will be confident as a team, which we need the most on the 16th [of March]." Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal is looking to minimise the errors
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here