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Under-19 World Cup title defence: Memories of 2020 drive undercooked but determined Bangladesh

Covid-19 has affected the build-up, but coach Naveed Nawaz feels the players have responded well to the challenges

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
The BCB felicitated the World Cup-winning Bangladesh Under-19 team in a grand ceremony at the Shere Bangla Stadium, Dhaka, February 12, 2020

The Under-19 world-beaters were felicitated in a grand ceremony at the Shere Bangla Stadium  •  AFP/Getty Images

It was a homecoming worthy of national heroes. Thousands lined the 15-kilometre stretch from the Dhaka airport to the Shere Bangla National Stadium as the bus with the Under-19 World Cup winners passed. There was then a rousing reception at the ground, in front of a few thousands more. The players cut a cake, they collected their rewards. "The memories are unbelievable," Naveed Nawaz, the coach of the team then and now, says.
This was still a month off from the first reported case of Covid-19 in Bangladesh. There was no restrictions. It was, after all, Bangladesh's first World Cup win, at any level. They beat Under-19 giants India in the final, and everyone who watched them loved the way the boys held their composure in tense moments.
Two years on, as Bangladesh attempt to defend the title in the West Indies, Nawaz remembers the tears of joy most of all.
"When we won the final, we understood that it was a big achievement for Bangladesh," Nawaz tells ESPNcricinfo from St Kitts, where the team is based this time. "We were all happy and celebrating [in South Africa]. But it didn't really hit us until the day we arrived in Dhaka.
"When we saw the crowd celebrating on the streets, and then in the Mirpur stadium, we were actually in tears. All of us were crying. We didn't realise the enormity of it until then, the impact that we had on the whole country."
The celebrations have, in a way, continued.
Just over a year later - Covid-19 stopped cricket, and much else, for some time - after three international series for Bangladesh following the World Cup triumph, Shoriful Islam, the left-arm quick from the triumphant squad, made his T20I debut against New Zealand in March 2021. He would go on to play in the two other formats within the next two months.
Shamim Hossain made an impressive T20I debut in New Zealand as well, before his fortunes took a nosedive, while Mahmudul Hasan Joy got his break more recently. Playing only his second Test, Mahmudul, as well as Shoriful, played a stellar role in Bangladesh's unexpected Test win in Mount Maunganui earlier this month.
"It's incredible, Joy, Patu (Shamim) and Shoriful going into the national team, and coping with the demands at the highest level," Nawaz says. "It shows their improvement, from the Under-19 programme to doing well in the senior circuit.
"I think I was the happiest person on the planet to see these Shoriful and Joy performing in New Zealand. They are both very close to me. How Joy tackled their highly skilled bowling attack, in their backyard, tells you a big story about him. We have discovered a star for Bangladesh, who can occupy the opening or No. 3 position for a very long time if guided properly.
"Shoriful's attitude and aggression on the field is an unbelievable change. When you look at him bowling, it seems like he has been playing international cricket for five-six years."


The 2022 team hasn't been able to prepare as well as the 2020 team had because of the Covid situation. Multiple cases affected the training schedules and camps, and travel restrictions meant they couldn't replicate the build-up of the previous group. While Bangladesh played 30 youth one-dayers, and won 18, in the lead-up to the 2020 World Cup, they managed to play only 12 such games this time, winning just three.
"Preparation-wise, we are far behind this time. Most of our [preparatory] camps were affected, so our preparation hasn't been ideal," Nawaz says. "We managed to get in a couple of series. Since there was no time, the main target was to get the players match-ready.
"We had to make sure we had the right players to form a strong team. We did our best within the time frame that we had. I think we got the best out of everything possible. In the West Indies, we will rely mainly on our strong bowling attack."
After reaching the Caribbean, Bangladesh beat Zimbabwe by 155 runs [DLS method] in a warm-up game. From their "strong" bowling pack, left-arm spinner Naimur Rohman (3-18), offspinner Ariful Islam (2-6) and right-arm medium-pacer Abdullah Al Mamun (2-15) stood out in that win.


It was a bit iffy prior to the team coming together as it has.
Following a 5-0 drubbing from the hands of Sri Lanka Under-19 in October last year, the BCB brought in 2020 team stalwarts Rakibul Hasan, a left-arm spinner and useful batter, and quick bowler Tanzim Hasan Sakib, appointing the former as captain.
"Rakibul and Sakib give us a bit of strength in our bowling department," Nawaz says. "It is good to have them back. They have been working with me for the last couple of years. They also played a couple of series with the high-performance squad, so they are more experienced and ready.
"Rakibul is very much a hands-on captain. He has built a very good rapport in a short time. He shares a lot of experience and knowledge with others. He is very much a dedicated team person. He puts the country before himself. It is a good example. He is very respected within the team."
Since Rakibul and Sakib joined the team, they won a triangular one-day series against two India Under-19 sides in Kolkata, and then made the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners India in the eight-team Under-19 Asia Cup in the UAE.


Bangladesh have had a decent development programme in place for a while now, but the 2020 World Cup win gave it the fillip it needed.
Nawaz was part of the leadership group led by Khaled Mahmud, chairman of the BCB's game development committee, with AEM Kawser, the game development manager, and selector Hasibul Hossain Shanto in the mix. "The trophy inspired the younger generation in Bangladesh," Nawaz says. "They have the belief that they can beat any team in the world. This is the difference winning a World Cup makes to a country. The whole culture and system will change."
Nawaz is himself a product of Sri Lanka's famed school-cricket system, although he only played a single Test and three ODIs at the senior level for Sri Lanka. When he joined the Under-19 team as coach in 2018, there were murmurs in local cricket circles that Nawaz didn't have the right credentials. But he has the results to show.
"I wanted to create a method based on which the players can succeed," Nawaz says. "I was successful in doing that in the first two years because of the unbelievable talent in Bangladesh. But talent alone is not enough. They had to play the mental game right. It was also important to create the right methods for batting, bowling and fielding. I am trying to do the same with the second group. They have responded quite well, though we see some inconsistency in their performances.
"My idea was to show people that if you can instil discipline and good work ethic, if you get them to believe in the concept of a team, complement and help each other, and work really hard as a team, you can achieve anything."
It worked once. Repeating the feat will, perhaps, be an even bigger achievement than the one two years ago.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84