Professionalism will be pitted against passion when defending champions India square off with Bangladesh in the second semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy, here tomorrow. On paper, India are overwhelming favourites against the next door neighbours but in a game of glorious uncertainties, it will be foolhardy to count Bangladesh out of equation. Especially after their inspirational ‘come from behind’ victory against New Zealand that paved the way for their semi-final berth. India, after a clinical performance against South Africa, would like to maintain the same intensity against a team that could prove to be a proverbial banana peel for them. Batsmen in form, bowlers on target and fielding top notch — Virat Kohli’s men have covered all bases so far and Mashrafe Mortaza’s men — after their lucky entry into semi-finals — will have to pull off something really special at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground tomorrow.
For India, nothing short of a place in the summit round will satisfy them while Bangladesh are standing at the cusp of what could be the biggest day in their cricketing history, if they manage to pull off a victory. A victory for India will be par for the course for which they won’t possibly get the credit that one gets for beating Australia, South Africa or England. But a defeat will lead to unparalleled criticism from fans and critics alike with some of the uncomfortable behind the scene happenings (like the alleged Anil Kumble-Virat Kohli rift) again raising their head. It will be interesting to see if India retain Ravichandran Ashwin or bring Umesh Yadav back as his pace scared the Bangladeshi batsmen during their 240-run thrashing in a warm-up game.
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In case of Bangladesh, their aim will be to repeat the performance of the 2007 World Cup of opener in Port of Spain — still a ‘Red Letter Day’ in cricketing history. Four members of that side — skipper Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal — are stars of this current line-up. One day cricket is one format where perhaps Bangladesh have the best chance of beating India. This is a format which is neither too long like Test cricket where temperament is challenged nor too short like T20 where quick-on-the-feet innovation is required. Fifty overs is adequate time in which the tiny nation have gained its mojo in the past 3 years building a reasonably good unit that can put up a fight.
They have shown they could do that during the 2015 home series which they won 2-1, thanks to the then teenage sensation Mustafizur Rahaman and his deadly cutters. But the 50-over India versus Bangladesh contests have never been short of drama — thanks to the overtly passionate fans and media. ‘Tigers’, as they are referred to have such a passionate following that their country’s media has been successfully able to ‘marry’ nationalism with cricket taking it to an altogether different level.
An interesting anecdote will reveal how cricket and nationalism has been inter-linked in Bangladesh’s social life and even cricketers have been voluntarily a part of it. It is learnt that the entire Bangladesh team was watching the England versus Australia game together. Once England’s victory ensured Bangladesh’s qualification, their strike bowler Taskin Ahmed started singing a popular song with others joining in chorus. The song is the extremely popular Bengali rendition ‘Amra Korbo Joy’ of Pete Seeger’s iconic ‘We Shall Overcome’. The entire team joined in chorus and they uploaded the video on facebook, which acquired millions of hits.
Bangladeshis treat cricket as more than a game. If cricket is religion in India, it’s beyond that in Bangladesh. It’s a getaway from all the worries of poverty, unemployment and other teething issues. The 2015 World Cup quarter-final against India at the MCG still sticks out like a sore thumb for the Bangladesh players and fans alike. They still believe that Rohit Sharma was out as Rubel Hossain bowled a perfectly legal delivery. One can’t justify that given that even if 40 runs were deducted from Rohit’s final score of 137, Bangladesh would have still lost that game.
They believe that Mahmudullah Riyadh could have won them the match had Shikhar Dhawan’s contentious claim for a catch at the boundary line not been upheld by the umpires. The one-run defeat at Bangalore in a ICC World T20 match last year still hurts them bad — a testimony to which was Mushfiqur Rahim’s classless tweet after India’s semi-final departure. The former skipper had to delete it after instructions from the Bangladesh Cricket Board. While coach Chandika Hathurusingha tries to instill some sense of calmness playing the ‘underdog card’, there are people in Bangladesh camp, who already, in their dreams, have set their foot in the final.
Just man to man — Bangladesh are no match for the Indian team despite having quality in their ranks. The opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are far better than Tamim Iqbal or Soumya Sarkar. However, Tamim has been in good form in the tournament despite a strike-rate in mid 70s. No one in their dreams would compare Imrul Kayes or Sabbir Rahaman with Virat Kohli’s class. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a legend in 50-overs cricket where Mushfiqur Rahim is still an inconsistent player. Mahmudullah Riyadh is a gutsy match-winner but Yuvraj Singh playing his 300th match is in a different league. Mashrafe, Taskin, Rubel and Mustafizur are a good attack on a given day and that’s Bangladesh’s best chance to upset India. But even there, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya have more quality.
Squads: India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Shami.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (captain), Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Soumya Sarkar, Sabbir Rahaman, Mahmudullah Riyadh, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahaman, Taskin Ahmed, Mehedi Hossain Miraz, Mossadek Hossain, Sunzamul Islam, Shafiul Islam.