Bangladesh's qualification for the 2023 ODI World Cup has caught Tamim Iqbal by surprise ahead of the three-match home series against India that begins on Sunday. Bangladesh were one of seven teams to secure direct qualification for the World Cup after the second ODI between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan ended in a no-result in Pallekele.
"I was taken by surprise when I saw that we had completed qualification," Tamim told ESPNcricinfo. "I thought we would need to win one out of the last six games, but because of the other teams' results, it came early. It gives a bit of breather, but it is not the ultimate goal. We have to finish in the top four if possible."
Bangladesh have won five of their last six ODI series under Tamim's leadership, with the highlight being their maiden series victory in South Africa in March this year. Tamim's win percentage of 59.25 is currently the best for a Bangladesh captain in ODIs
"I think the way we qualified is a great achievement," Tamim said. " I felt that when this qualification thing came up, we took it up very seriously. We knew we had some away series too. We didn't want to wait till the very end to qualify. Going into the 2023 World Cup, we definitely want to do really well. If we qualify as one of the top three or four teams, it makes sense talking about wanting to play in the semi-finals or finals. If you go in as say the No. 4 team, it means you have done well over 20-23 games. For a team like us, it would give us some confidence."
Tamim's partnership with coach Russell Domingo is a significant factor in Bangladesh's recent success. Domingo had been under pressure after Bangladesh's twin series defeats in Zimbabwe, following which the BCB brought in S Sriram as a technical consultant - effectively the head coach - for the Asia Cup (in the T20 format) and the T20 World Cup.
Tamim, who had retired from T20I cricket earlier this year, has reunited with Domingo and the rest of the squad for key ODI and Test series in the coming months. Despite "some rocky times" earlier, Domingo said he and Tamim were on the same page now.
"We have a good understanding," Domingo said. "We have had some rocky times. Our relationship is good at the moment. We understand each other's roles. We understand what we want from our team. The next couple of months are important for the 50-over side. We really want to qualify for the semi-finals [of the World Cup]. We have a team capable of doing that.
"That's the sort of language that we are speaking in the last year and a half. We are not just going there to compete, we want to try to win the competition. In those conditions with our players, I think we have a chance. We need to share this belief because belief in Bangladesh cricket is not where it needs to be. There's going to be some speed bumps, we will lose games, but the end goal is to get to the World Cup semi-final."
Domingo returned to Bangladesh earlier this month after being on a break during the T20 World Cup. He put Bangladesh's ODI success down to their understanding of roles.
"We started well by winning against West Indies and Sri Lanka at home last year," he said. "We lost in New Zealand but we got close in one game, which gave us confidence. It is a format that the guys are good at playing. They have won big series before, so they are confident in this particular format."
Bangladesh then beat South Africa 2-1 in an away series, which Domingo considers as one of his best achievements as a coach.
"If we had lost in South Africa, we would have been in a different situation today with only six games in hand," Domingo said. "We would have had to win three or four games against England at home and Ireland, who are a serious team in their home conditions. South Africa was a big challenge at that time. We had never won a game in South Africa in our history. We never even competed there, so the way everyone contributed, especially the bowlers, was a great series win."
Bangladesh also beat West Indies 3-0 and lost 2-1 to Zimbabwe shortly afterwards, but both those series were not part of the ODI Super League. They then turned their focus to T20s ahead of the World Cup in Australia and Tamim is mindful of the lack of ODI game time in the lead-up to the series against India.
"The only worrying part is that we haven't played ODI cricket in the last three-four months," Tamim said. "We have played a lot of T20s due to the World Cup. These two are very different formats. To get into the ODI mindset is very important. You have to be mentally ready to play against a top side like India."
Domingo isn't as concerned about the transition from T20Is to ODIs largely because the core of the batting group - Tamim, Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim - wasn't part of the T20 World Cup.
"We know who our best 17-18 players are in this format," Domingo said. "It is time to get it down to 15 for the World Cup. Everyone understands their role. But there's one or two positions that you are looking for, so this series is good to fill in those spots.
Tamim also warned Bangladesh against complacency and said their ultimate goal was to make the knockouts of the ODI World Cup next year.
"Teams that have won trophies know exactly what needs to be done on a bigger stage," Tamim said. "But teams like us who haven't a trophy, we are confused sometimes how to go about it. We will be playing some really good teams like India and England before the World Cup, which will give us an opportunity to see where we are at.
"We can't relax just because we have qualified. That's not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to do well in the World Cup, and for that we have to do well in these series. If we are not doing well, we can find out where we have to improve."