With performances falling far short of their ambition, Bangladesh find themselves in a cricketing no man’s land as they approach their second consecutive World Cup.
Their dismal record of losing all but one of their 17 tests, many of them innings defeats inside three days, and three wins from 61 one-dayers means their superior opponents regard them as mere points in the bank.
A South African cricket official’s remarks at last year’s Champions Trophy perhaps reflects the attitude of big teams towards the 10th and newest entrant to the test club in 2000, with critics saying their arrival was hasty and due to board- room politics.
“We want to beat them really…, show they don’t belong at this level,” he said as Bangladesh, humbled by world champions Australia and New Zealand in Colombo in September, got ready to leave for their first test series in South Africa.
The series was predictably lopsided but helped South Africa to go on and unseat Australia as the world’s highest ranked test team this year. Australia have yet to play tests against Bangladesh.
Despite their continued set backs at the highest level of the game, Bangladesh players realise they can ill afford to remain bracketed with amateurs such as Netherlands, Canada and Namibia.
Captain Khaled Mashud has said he expects his team to beat Kenya and Canada and then hope for an unlikely upset over one ofthe other group B rivals — South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
A soccer-mad country of more than 130 million people, Bangladesh was influenced by cricket’s huge popularity in neighbouring India and embraced their side with much promise.
Thousands of people thronged the airport on the team’s victorious return from the ICC trophy in Kuala Lumpur, which ensured a place in the 1999 World Cup in England.
Their joy knew no bounds when Bangladesh went on to cause the biggest upset in World Cup history over Pakistan by 62 runs in the league phase of the tournament.
The fact that it was an in consequential game did not matter for the proud Bangladesh fans, for whom the moment held great political meaning because their country as East Pakistan had been part of Pakistan until gaining freedom in 1971.
Pakistan were slammed for the defeat, featuring three run-outs and a string of in judicious shots, only for Bangladesh to respond angrily that they were being deprived of the credit they deserved for the victory.
That was the last time they had cause to celebrate.
Since then Bangladesh have lost a world record 25 matches with one match against West Indies abandoned due to rain. Critics have partially blamed constant chopping and changing of players and coaches.
The side will be coached at the World Cup by former Pakistan speedster Mohsin Kamal with former West Indies opener Gordon Greenidge, who was axed mid way through the 1999 tournament, returning as consultant.
Bangladesh captain Mashud, the wicket-keeper batsman who has been part of the side since 1993-94, knows that with little to lose his largely youthful side will not be short on motivation.
Their hopes will rest on all-rounders Khaled Mahmud, Mohammad Rafique and young Alok Kapali and the experience of left-arm paceman Manjurul Islam.
The 31-year-old Mahmud’s hopes of playing in his second World Cup had looked doubtful after he was ignored for there cent home series against West Indies before the selectors recalled their man of the match in Bangladesh’s upset 1999 winover Pakistan.
Al-Sahariar, a powerful hitter, is also rated highly, having scored all his four one- day fifties outside the flat pitches of the sub-continent with his top score of 71 coming at East London against hosts South Africa in late 2002.
Another youngster who can shine is Mohammad Ashraful, who in 2001 became the youngest century-maker in test history, scoring 114 on his debut in Sri Lanka as a 17-year-old.