Bangladesh made their debut as a One-Day International team in 1986. Of the current squad of 14 players named to take on India in a three match one-day series that is crucial to the hosts’ chances of making it to the Champions Trophy, only skipper Mashrafe Mortaza was even born around then. The other, Mahmudullah, will be missing the series because of an injury. Still searching for consistent footing in the rarified atmosphere that the big guns inhabit in the international game, the strides Bangladesh have made in the recent past, the World Cup in particular, have been quite significant. But what has been more heartening for the legions of their devoted fans has been the emergence of young, confident and talented players who have had no fear in going toe to toe with the best players in the world.
The influx of youngsters can be seen as a demographic inevitability – the median age of the country, one of the most densely populated in the world, is 24 years* – but as the Indian football team’s shock defeat to tiny Guam (population : 160,000) reminded us yesterday, a higher population does not necessarily mean all skills are normally distributed across that population. Cricket has enjoyed higher profile and popularity in a country that since its 1999 World Cup debut has acquitted itself quite honorably in the limited overs game (since 2010, they have won 36 of the 92 games they have played). But the fact that they never were seen as anything other than plucky underdogs must have rankled. A whole earlier generation of players seemed visibly overawed when walking out into the middle to face superior opposition. That visual was blown to smithereens in the 2015 World Cup where their performances against England and New Zealand were as eye-catching as they were exemplary of a new found ‘can do’ spirit. The focus of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) on the youth development programs, and a more robust domestic structure were bearing fruit.
The body language of a Taskin Ahmed or a Rubel Hossain as they ran in to bowl telegraphed the intentions of fierce competitors unwilling to yield. This one day series is likely to see additions to that young, restless and willing-to-make-an-impact brigade. There is Soumya Sarkar, the allrounder who went into the World Cup with barely any one-day experience behind him but played key roles in that almost-win against New Zealand and the win against England where his partnership with Mahmudullah helped rebuild after Bangladesh were 8 for 2. Sarkar came into his own with a magnificent century against Pakistan in the home series where they humbled their Asian rivals. And then there are those who might just find themselves being baptized by the proverbial fire. Mustafizur Rahman, the 19 year old left arm medium pacer, is likely to observe the action from the sidelines but his inclusion in the squad is an indication of the fact that there will be bowlers emerging, an area that has been a historical pain point for the team. Litton Das, the wicketkeeper, likely to make his One-Day debut against India is another exciting prospect who has been exceptional in domestic competitions. International cricket would obviously be a step up but the 20 year old is hungry to leave a mark.
Many of the Bangladesh players have credited coach Chandika Hathurusingha with helping unleash their spirit by allowing them to ‘play freely’. For a young mind, those two words can be a double edged sword, but as most of their performances have shown, the young Bangladesh players have used their liberty to great effect. It has made their team an exciting one to watch; one that can no longer, as that Star Sports ad depicts, be treated with kid gloves.
(*CIA World Factbook; Interestingly, the median age of the Bangladesh squad for the India series is also 24 years.)