MELBOURNE — Playing 'fearless' cricket has been Bangladesh's war-cry at the World Cup but courage alone will not be enough to upset India and their army of blue-clad fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where the teams play their quarter-final on Thursday.
After a listless leadup to the tournament, reigning world champions India have turned into a juggernaut, winning all six of their pool matches and drawing as much admiration for their bowling and fielding as their renowned batting prowess.
Bangladesh, for all their chutzpah, will simply be happy to be playing off for a semi-final, having never previously made it to the knockout rounds.
While the term 'surprise package' hardly credits the Tigers' impressive tournament, Bangladesh were fortunate to take a point from a washed-out pool match against Australia and met an England side with morale at rock-bottom.
Perhaps more impressive than knocking out England was pushing New Zealand in the dead rubber loss.
Batsman Mahmudullah's second consecutive one-day international ton against New Zealand's quality attack was complemented by another disciplined effort by the bowlers, underlining the strides they have made since being flayed by Sri Lanka in their second completed pool match.
Captain Mortaza Mashrafe will need his rejuvenated seamers to heap pressure on India's powerful batting lineup early or it could be a long, noisy day at the MCG.
"We know that 95,000 people will come to the ground and most of them will be Indian supporters, but as a professional cricketer I have to concentrate on cricket so have to handle it," Mashrafe told reporters on Wednesday.
"Obviously, Bangladesh supporters will be there so we cannot ask for equal but we'll be fine."
Bangladesh have won only three one-day internationals in 28 against India but two have been at major tournaments.
The last was at the 2012 Asian Cup, which followed a shock win at the 2007 World Cup.
For a team whose place in the top tier has forever been questioned, Bangladesh's 2007 upset in the Caribbean did more to re-shape the tournament than any other result in recent decades.
India's unexpected demise in the first round caused financial carnage for broadcasters and the tournament was subsequently re-jigged to ensure cricket's most bankable team would be guaranteed a minimum six matches.
Melbourne's big Indian community and army of travelling fans will be in force at the MCG to cheer Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team into an eighth match, just as they were for the match against South Africa.
A crowd of 87,000 turned the venue into a deafening cauldron for the Proteas, who froze to be overwhelmed by 130 runs.
Bangladesh made their debut at the ground against Sri Lanka earlier in the tournament and were embarrassed by an abysmal fielding display.
They arrive a far different team to the rabble that were thumped by 92 runs by the Sri Lankans, though, and have nothing to lose.
A defeat for India by their subcontinental neighbours, who they have long dictated to both on and off the field, would be an unthinkable humiliation, however.
"People are really pumped up for the quarter-finals," India batsman Suresh Raina told reporters.
"It's the quarter-final stage now, you don't have much room for error. You just need to do everything right, whether you're bowling, batting or fielding."
Former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar expects India to beat Bangladesh in the match, but says it may not be as easy for the defending champions as people think it is.
"Bangladesh have a good batting line-up. Mahmudullah can take any game away, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib can do that. If they bat first and put up 250-odd runs and then the ball starts turning, it may not be easy to chase down the target for India," Gavaskar said.
The winner will bid for a place in the final against either Australia or Pakistan, who play their quarter-final in Adelaide on Friday.
(With inputs from PTI)
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