Bangladesh must show they've learnt how to win
The tri-nation Twenty20 series involving South Africa, Bangladesh and hosts Zimbabwe is unglamorous, unofficial and a speck in an overcrowded international calendar. It doesn't add to international cricket's overall context in any way. However, for Bangladesh, it holds significance; Mushfiqur Rahim will undoubtedly be hoping to pass one of his tougher tests since taking over the Bangladesh captaincy in September last year.
In his nine months in charge, Mushfiqur has seen more defeats than victories, but the wins he has been a part of in this period of have been dramatic. He won his first game in charge, literally: with four required to win off the last two balls, Mushfiqur lashed West Indies' Ravi Rampaul for a six in front of a packed home crowd. He also engineered Bangladesh's celebrated win against India in the Asia Cup, before seeing his deputy, Mahmudullah, steer the team into the tournament's final in a tense chase against Sri Lanka.
But these victories came out of nowhere, when the form-book listed the opposition as favourites and Bangladesh as the clear underdogs. As we all know, underdogs like being underdogs. They enjoy the spotlight better when it happens to fall on them all of a sudden.
Mushfiqur's first task on this Zimbabwe tour would be to convince his men that they can continue to build on the Asia Cup success. Defeating Zimbabwe and South Africa shouldn't be an alien experience to the same cricketers who were so impressive in their previous international tournament, but this is what has happened in the past. While on television commentary during Bangladesh games, Harsha Bhogle has often raised the question of smaller nations not knowing how to close out contests; essentially they have little knowledge of how to win a game when they are at the doorstep. It is a similar dilemma facing Bangladesh; their ability to sustain their new-found success on the field will be in sharp focus. The expectation would be for the players to think like winners.
The other test for the squad would be to find match-winners from among themselves in the absence of Shakib Al Hasan. Shakib, Bangladesh's main man, is not in the picture for the first time since his international debut six years ago. Mushfiqur has already hinted at picking an extra bowler or batsman (instead of another allrounder) to try to fill the void.
There is also the need for Bangladesh to grasp the intricacies of Twenty20 cricket, both mentality and physicality. The format has evolved rapidly elsewhere, but it has only just caught on commercially in Bangladesh. The inaugural Bangladesh Premier League offered most of this squad ample Twenty20 playing time, helping them gain experience in a format of cricket they have often looked under-prepared for.
Besides, it's the chance for several fringe players to impress. For someone like allrounder Ziaur Rahman, this tournament could do wonders for a fledging career. Having evolved into a batting allrounder after injuring his knee, the little-known 25-year-old has long been earmarked as a Twenty20 specialist in a country where such cricketers are rarely available. Mushfiqur has suggested that he will get games and possibly move around in the batting order.
Fast bowler Abul Hasan too could stake a claim, with Rubel Hossain and Shafiul Islam out with injuries. The young Anamul Haque, who was the leading run-scorer in this season's domestic first-class competition, is also in the squad. He would have to make do with limited opportunities, but his confident, bright demeanour could come in handy.
Richard Pybus, Bangladesh's new coach, is also on his first assignment with the team and has said that he is pleased to get the chance to assess the team away from their comfort zone. This tour could give him a window into what can be expected over the next two years. As the two practice Twenty20s, which Bangladesh lost to a Zimbabwe XI, have demonstrated, Pybus has a challenge of his own in acquainting the players with the foreign conditions.
The Harare Sports Club seems like the perfect setting for Mushfiqur to earn his next badge of honour as captain. This is where he first found out how good he could be as an international batsman, only to fall short at the very last hurdle; he has since learnt how to close out games. This time, it would be his team-mates who have to show that that Asia Cup showing was a turning point, when they learnt how to win and how put that knowledge to good use, even in what is just an unofficial Twenty20 series.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka