Mashrafe dampens expectations but Bangladesh worthy of respect

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‘On our day, we can do anything’ – Mashrafe

It says much about Bangladesh’s improvement in ODI cricket that, for the first time, they go into a global event trying to play down expectations.

Generally, in the past, the talk has been about the possibility of causing a shock. It has been, after all, 11 years since they last featured in the ICC Champions Trophy.

But times have changed.

Bangladesh are now ahead of three former world champions – Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies – in the ODI rankings. They’ve won series against India, South Africa and Pakistan since the 2015 World Cup – where they defeated England and reached the knock-out stages for the first time – and they warmed up for the ICC Champion Trophy with a maiden win away from home against New Zealand on Wednesday.

They’re no longer plucky outsiders who could cause the odd embarrassment. They’re a dangerous side who will fear no one and have the weapons to go all the way. And they probably go into Saturday’s warm-up game against Pakistan – a side they defeated 3-0 the last time they met in ODI cricket just after the World Cup – as favourites.

They present dangerous opposition for England in their opening game, too. England may be the bookies’ favourites for the event, but Bangladesh have won have won four of their most recent seven ODIs against England – including one in Bristol – and know that all the pressure will be on their hosts when the sides meet at The Oval.

But Mashrafe Mortaza is no fool. He knows that anything he says now will be rendered largely irrelevant in a few days and, rather than ramping up the pressure and expectation upon his side, he spent the media session ahead of Saturday’s game dampening expectations and reiterating the size of the challenge facing his side, who have little track record in English conditions.

“This tournament is going to be hard for us,” Mashrafe said. “The group we’ve got is very hard: Australia, England and New Zealand. It’s not going to be easy. And the conditions as well.”

While he may be pleasantly surprised by conditions – there is no indication that the surfaces in the Champions Trophy will offer any great assistance to the sort of seam or swing bowlers that have created difficulties for Bangladesh on previous visits to England – he knows his side’s fielding will have to be better than it was on Wednesday if they are to reach the knock-out stages. Bangladesh failed to take four chances in the field as they defeated New Zealand. The likes of Steve Smith or Joe Root are likely to make them pay for such profligacy.

“Yes, we dropped four catches,” Mashrafe admitted. “It can’t happen on that bigger stage. You have to be concerned with everything. I hope that our fielding will be all right.

“Pakistan is a very good side that can destroy any team. It has a big chance in the competition. But whenever we have played them, Pakistan has been the bigger side and in this sort of tournament, the bigger side is under pressure.”

Beneath the modesty, however, you sense confidence in Mashrafe. He knows that he has, in Mustafizur Rahman, one of the most exciting bowlers in the tournament. He knows that, in Sabbir Rahman, he has a batsman who relishes the big moment and could be on the verge of launching himself as a global star. He knows they can go a long way in this competition; he just doesn’t feel the need to say it right now. Actions speak louder than words and all that.

“On our day, we can do anything,” he said. “And we have some quality players who can change the game. And we’ll have to play as a team as we’ve been doing so far and hopefully we’ll do something here.

“There are expectations. But we just want to play the way we have played over the past two years and execute our skills well.

“We’re ranked no. 6. And that is a pleasure for us. We are very happy with that. But we want to move on from here. We want to go as far as we can.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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