Why India's Semi-Final Entry Won't Be A Cakewalk

13/03/2015 9:26 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
SAEED KHAN via Getty Images
Bangladeshi fans celebrate their team's victory in the 2015 Cricket World Cup Pool A match between Bangladesh and England at the Adelaide Oval on March 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN --IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE-- (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

New Zealand may have won the match, but Bangladesh won hearts with their spirited performance, except perhaps in the Indian team, where I suspect there will now be growing trepidation about their quarter-final opponents.

Friday's game against New Zealand showed just how much Bangladesh have grown in confidence after their terrific victory over England the other day. The body language of the players was not of underdogs, but equal opponents -- which could not have been lost on Dhoni and Co -- simply because they have traversed a similar path.

India have been outstanding in the World Cup yet, not losing a single match and topping Pool B, irrespective of what happens in Saturday's match against Zimbabwe. But who would have thought this was possible before the start of the tournament?

Bangladesh batsman Tamim Iqbal plays a shot during a Pool A 2015 Cricket World Cup match.

Despite being defending champions, Dhoni's team was firmly on the back foot, as it were, having won nothing of consequence on the tour of Australia. The players had become the butt of skepticism. But once the World Cup began, the transformation has been as impressive as it was unexpected.

Bangladesh too have proved their critics wrong in qualifying for the quarter-finals. After a promising start in international cricket almost two decades back, the country had floundered. This was particularly true in Test cricket, though even in the limited overs, they hardly ever made an impact playing away from home.

For a cricket crazy country, with a fairly large pool of players (it exceeds that of Pakistan), Bangladesh's inability to make the progress everybody anticipated was a big disappointment. So much so that at one time it was hot debated whether their Test status (like Zimbabwe's) should be taken away.

The irony was that unlike Zimbabwe, which is hampered by politics and a very small base of players, Bangladesh always seemed to be flush with exciting talent. Maladministration has, however, been a serious and consistent drawback, leading to a constant chop and change selection policy, with captains chosen and dropped whimsically.

When the malaise of match-fixing gripped the Bangladesh team/players, there was doom and gloom all around. Cricket in the country seemed to have slipped into a rut from which rescue would be very, very difficult - if not impossible.

The quickest - and best - signal of recovery is always by how the team performs rather than proclamations of intent by administrators. Fans and sponsors are loathe to believe that latter. If the players start excelling, belief starts returning.

In terms of age, the Bangladesh side is the youngest in the tournament. But several youngsters are also veterans in terms of experience.

This is precisely what has happened with Bangladesh in the World Cup. Everybody acknowledged that the team had talent in youngsters like Mahmadullah, Mushfiqur Rahim, Soumya Sarkar, Rubel Hossian. The return of star all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan after a ban added heft to the side.

The captaincy passed on to veteran fast bowler Mashrafe Mortaza who, having been through the ups and downs of his country's cricket, had the maturity and resilience to keep his players focused on the job on hand.

In terms of age, the Bangladesh side is the youngest in the tournament. But several youngsters are also veterans in terms of experience. What was needed was something to revive élan, breathe life into dormant ambition.

Sometimes a stroke of luck can spark off a new line of thought, put self-belief back on track. The washed-out match against Australia gave them an unexpected point, and England's struggles succoured their ambition. Suddenly, a place in the quarter-final hinged on one exceptional performance. Were the Bangladesh players up to it?

If the hard-fought win against England left no doubt how determined they now were, the match against new Zealand showed how much they've grown in assurance in just a couple of days.

No team had topped 200 against the rampaging Kiwis, and chasing this big score put the batting of the home team under pressure.

Despite batting first in conditions where the ball swung alarmingly and suffering two early setbacks, Bangladesh recovered to make a daunting 288. No team had topped 200 against the rampaging Kiwis, and chasing this big score put the batting of the home team under pressure.

Some tighter bowling in the middle overs - perhaps the presence of Mortaza who missed the game because of injury - could have produced a different result. But for the discerning, there was ample evidence that Bangladesh are currently on a roll.

The batting has depth and sparkle. Two consecutive centuries by Mahmadullah topped some fine batting, especially in the middle order. The fielding has been sprightly, the bowling testing.

Shakib, as he showed against New Zealand, is someone even the best batsmen won't trifle with. Mortaza, despite his creaking knees, can come up with an inspired spell. The most impressive, however, has been Rubel Hossain, who has been quick, got the ball to swing, and given batsmen no respite.

True, Bangladesh still look a quality bowler short. Even truer, man to man, they don't match India on paper. But as a team, they have shown chutzpah and a healthy competitive spirit that can be dangerous.

As underdogs, they have nothing to lose and those from the Indian team who are inclined towards history, will know from the 1983 World Cup, how lethal that can be for smug opponents.

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