Normally indestructible at home, Bangladesh have had a winter to forget thus far. Last month, they were beaten out of sight by Sri Lanka in the final of a triangular One-Day International series with Zimbabwe as the third team. Last week, they were crushed by 215 runs, also by Sri Lanka, in the second match of a two-Test showdown, thus conceding a chastening 0-1 series loss on home patch.
Both the final of the tri-series and the final Test were played at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, just outside Dhaka. It is at the same venue that Bangladesh can embark on the road to redemption when the first of two Twenty20 Internationals against their recent tormentors is played out on Thursday (February 15).
While neither side boasts a particularly impressive recent record in T20I cricket, there is no doubt that the momentum is with the visitors. Even though they are without Angelo Mathews, who hasn’t played a game since recently being appointed the country’s long-term white-ball skipper, Sri Lanka have the firepower in batting and the guile in bowling to make a clean sweep across formats in a land that hasn’t often been kind to visiting teams.
Dinesh Chandimal handled his resources expertly during the Test matches and will look to do likewise in his capacity as the stand-in T20I captain. He will perhaps look at the absence, also through injury, of Kusal Janith Perera as a blessing in disguise mainly because it means a return to T20I cricket of Kusal Mendis, one of Sri Lanka’s batting heroes in the Test series.
Bangladesh: Mahmudullah (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim, Sabbir Rahman, Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Mohammad Saifuddin, Abu Hider, Abu Jayed, Ariful Haque, Mahedi Hasan, Zakir Hasan (wk), Afif Hossain, Nazmul Hossain, Mohammad Mithun.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Thisara Perera, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dasun Shanaka, Isuru Udana, Shehan Madushanka, Jeffrey Vandersay, Akila Dananjaya, Amila Aponso, Jeevan Mendis and Asitha Fernando.
Sri Lanka haven’t won a T20I since April last year, when they coincidentally defeated Bangladesh in Colombo by six wickets. They have since lost eight games on the trot, at home, in the UAE, in Pakistan and in India. While that is an embarrassing record to possess, their brand of cricket since they landed in Bangladesh under new coach Chandika Hathurusingha has been exciting enough to suggest that they will arrest that losing streak.
Bangladesh have suffered from the unavailability through a finger injury of Shakib Al Hasan, their Test and T20I captain as well as their most influential player. The allrounder had been expected to return for the 20-over showdowns but hasn’t recovered sufficiently, and will again look on from the outer as Mahmudullah, who stood in as captain in the Tests, marshalls his troops.
Bangladesh have paid the price for inconsistency in batting – they were shot out for 142 in the tri-series final, and only mustered 110 and 123 in the Test defeat. While there is plenty of experience in the batting ranks, it’s time for the old heads – Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Sabbir Rahman and the captain himself – to live up to the expectations of a frenzied fan following that has had very little joy in recent times. Bangladesh have won just one of their last 11 T20Is, and this will be their first T20I at home since an eight-wicket rout at the hands of India in the Asia Cup final in March 2016.
The hosts, however, have fresh injury concerns to grapple with, both Tamim and Rahim doubtful to start the series. Tamim has complained of muscle pain in his left arm and Rahim has a wrist injury that prevented him from training on Wednesday, forcing the selectors to bring in Mohammad Mithun as cover.
“Tamim felt some pain in his bicep all of sudden yesterday,” said Mahmudullah. “This is why we are still waiting to decide our combination.
“There are also some concerns about Mushfiqur as he has niggles on his wrist. But we hope he will be alright.”
The Sher-e-Bangla strip has traditionally been tricky for batting and played true to form during the second Test. If it continues to be spin-friendly and on the slower side, both teams will need to be smart with their batting approach. Sri Lanka have showcased their adaptability, Bangladesh will be desperate to prove that their recent home travails are nothing more than an aberration.