There are seven pitches adjacent to each other on the large square at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium. A couple of them are as green as the outfield, while a few are more subcontinental in colour, more light brown than anything else.
The greener ones were used for the first few games, including Bangladesh’s fixture against India in the tournament opener, but for the last couple of matches, the pitches have been less green, and run-scoring has become relatively simpler. There still hasn’t been a massive batting effort and bowlers have not fallen off the radar, but Sabbir Rahman’s 80 against Sri Lanka and the unbeaten 114-run stand between Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal against UAE suggest a bit of a change.
Against Pakistan on Wednesday (March 2), Bangladesh will be hoping for a similar more-brown-than-green track. Any additional advantage denied to Mohammad Amir, after all, would benefit the home team. His immense skill with the ball meant Amir was still able to weave magic in the game against UAE, returning 2 for 6 in four overs. Incredible as those figures were, it has to be said that Amir didn’t look terribly threatening even if he was almost impossible to score off. Against India, he looked like taking a wicket almost every ball.
Mustafizur Rahman hasn’t quite reached the heights Amir has, but there’s no doubt that he is Bangladesh’s best bowler and the man Mashrafe Mortaza would have turned to in times of strife on Wednesday. But a side strain has put him out of the tournament.
That’s a big setback for Bangladesh, but they are welcoming back Tamim Iqbal and they will hope he hits his stride straightaway and helps them get off to a good start for a change. Mohammad Mithun and Soumya Sarkar put on 46 against UAE, but scored next to nothing in the first game against India and literally nothing against Sri Lanka.
“Tamim’s absence is always a setback for us, he is Bangladesh’s best batsman in all formats,” said Mortaza on the eve of the match. “He is experienced, he has been playing for a long time. But Mustafiz’s absence is a big blow. We all know what he has done for this team. It’s really unfortunate for us. We would have liked both of them.”
Tamim’s return should logically mean an axe for one of Sarkar, Mithun or Mushfiqur Rahim, who has just not looked the part so far, managing 16 not out, 4 and 4. But it’s equally likely that Nurul Hasan, the wicketkeeper-batsman, might sit out with Rahim taking over behind the stumps.
As for the Mustafizur gap, Abu Hider is the backup paceman but Arafat Sunny, the left-arm spinner, is the frontrunner to slot in if it is not a grassy pitch.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have been up and down as usual, misfiring with the exception of Amir against India, but then putting in a good performance against UAE, where Akmal and Malik’s partnership would have done a lot to make the dressing room feel better.
But even at their best, despite Amir’s presence, Pakistan will be wary of Bangladesh, a team on the rise after bossing various limited-overs series in the same part of the world last season. In April 2015, Bangladesh won the three-match One-Day International series against Pakistan 3-0, all of them convincingly – by 79 runs, seven wickets and eight wickets – and also took the one-off Twenty20 International by seven wickets.
As is usually the case with Pakistan cricket, very few players who played that T20I are a part of the present squad – only Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed and Wahab Riaz remain, while the Bangladesh squad is largely the same.
Many of the personnel they have brought with them have looked out of sorts so far as well – Hafeez, Sharjeel Khan and Khurram Manzoor haven’t gotten going at the top of the batting order, while Mohammad Nawaz, the young left-arm spinner, was unimpressive against UAE, going for 26 runs in three wicketless overs.
“They played really well against us, in the ODIs as well as the T20 last year. I’m not really sure if that gives them an edge or not, but they are a very improved side in the last year or so, and are now playing good cricket. We’ve got to be really up with our A game to play against them,” said Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach.
Whether that bit of history gives Bangladesh an edge or not, Amir’s presence certainly gives Pakistan an edge. But Bangladesh, who are yet to make a name for themselves in the shortest format, are one strike away from sealing a place in the final of the tournament, and that would be a big motivation for them to play out of their skins, not let the opportunity slip, and script yet another chapter in their remarkable recent success story.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Abu Hider, Al-Amin Hossain, Arafat Sunny, Imrul Kayes, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Mithun, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Nasir Hossain, Nurul Hasan (wk), Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Anwar Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Sami, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz.