That Bangladesh have made it through to the quarterfinals of the Under-19 World Cup by finishing second in Group D may surprise most people, but it hasn't surprised them. They are a competitive team at this level and neither the captain Anamul Haque nor coach Sarwar Imran considered beating Sri Lanka to book their places in Townsville, where they will face Australia on Sunday, to be an upset.
"We are a capable Under-19 team," said Anamul after arriving in Townsville on Friday afternoon. "At Under-19 level, we aren't very different from other teams. We're equal. We beat Sri Lanka, it's not a big deal. We are capable of beating any other team."
Bangladesh were pooled in perhaps the toughest group of the tournament along with South Africa, Sri Lanka and Namibia. They played four warm-up matches in the lead-up to the group games and had positive results. Led by Anamul's century, Bangladesh beat Sri Lanka in the first group match but lost comprehensively to South Africa. They then swept past Namibia to book their tickets out of Brisbane and relegated Sri Lanka to the Plate Championship.
They've got to Townsville by overcoming ongoing challenges both on and off the field. It hasn't been uncommon to see players carrying bags of groceries to their rooms during this tournament and that's largely due to the difficulty they've had in eating the unfamiliar breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. For all but one - Noor Hossain - of the Bangladesh players, this is their first trip to Australia and they took a while to adjust to the cold weather in Brisbane, the food, having to cook meals and do their own laundry. These may sound like menial concerns but every bit of discomfort is accentuated when you're in the environment of a global tournament for the first time. Some of them still haven't adjusted entirely, said the coach Imran, but they're getting there.
The higher hurdle has been the cricket and to their credit the Bangladesh players haven't let their off-field issues affect their performances too much. They knew the conditions in Brisbane, a world away from those in Mirpur, Chittagong and Fatullah, would demand that they adapt techniques and approaches.
"I'm happy we've reached the quarterfinal. The wickets we've played on, it hasn't suited us," Imran said. "The bounce is more in Brisbane; we don't have the kind of pace bowlers [to exploit it]. We aren't as good as the others as a pace bowling team. Some of the pitches had no turn, it was easy to go on the back foot even to good length balls [against spinners]. Here [Townsville] it is hot, and that might help us."
The Bangladesh batsmen were instructed too, to temper the approach they use at home. "On a subcontinent wicket, we go for power play in the first 15 overs, but in this tournament I said you play 50 overs," Imran said. "We told them to leave the ball early, when it is swinging. You keep wickets in hand as much as possible and go for it in the last ten overs. They did that against Sri Lanka."
Apart from the game against South Africa, a couple of top-order batsmen have performed. Anamul made a hundred against Sri Lanka, while Asif Ahmed scored a half-century, and the opener Liton Das made 70 against Namibia. Imran said Anamul, Das and Soumya Sarkar, who made a double-century against Qatar in the Asia Cup, could play the short ball well. But Sarkar, in his opinion, has a penchant for playing one shot too many, and hasn't performed in the group stages.
Anamul holds his team to high standards. According to him, Bangladesh were better than they had been. "Not too happy with batting, two or three batsman are scoring, but not everyone," he said. "I'm not fully happy with spinners, they try hard but are not yet up to the mark. Everyone can improve."
Against Australia, however, the responsibility of steering Bangladesh to a competitive total, or controlling a chase, will rest largely on Anamul. He is their most experienced batsman, having been part of the senior team during the Asia Cup and the tour of Zimbabwe, although he did not play. He's also had the experience of playing international bowlers in the Bangladesh Premier League, where he plays for Dhaka Gladiators.
"I am very positive, I go for big runs, I like to play long innings," Anamul says when asked how he approaches his innings. "I'm very confident and have a strong mind."
Stuart Law, who coached Bangladesh before taking up his present role with Australia's Under-19 side, knows Anamul and said he'd been one of his favourite players. "He's wonderfully talented, he made a big impression during the Bangladesh Premier League last year," Law said. "He's one to watch. He got a hundred in the first game against Sri Lanka, so he's definitely a player of class."
That compliment, however, will mean Australia's bowlers - and there are four fast ones - will go hard at Anamul, looking to strike the body blow early in the contest. Bangladesh have had one day to come to terms with Townsville, while Australia played all their group matches here, as well as a quadrangular series in April. If Bangladesh should get past Australia, it will most certainly be an upset.