Bangladesh face the weight of big expectations

Bangladesh face   the weight of big expectations

The passion that the Bangladeshis have for cricket, or more precisely for their cricket team, almost borders on the madness. India once used to be like that but not any longer though cricket still remains the number one sport in the country and cricketers rank among the biggest of superstars.

The Indian fans, by and large, have long moved away from the days when the team’s win and defeat were almost matter of life and death to them. Effigy burning and, in extreme cases, stone pelting of cricketers’ houses after every major loss appeared to be a routine affair. The majority of the Indian fans is a matured lot now. There will be some disappointment when defeated, and maybe a snide remark to go with it as well. But nothing more, life goes on.

The Indian team has had easily the biggest support for a non-host country thus far in this World Cup but you can bet your last rupee that they would still be storming the pubs in downtowns of Melbourne and Sydney, and not exactly to drown all their sorrows, even if the result were not to go to their liking. That’s how you enjoy sport. Dejection is fine but not national mourning.

It’s under this pressure that Bangladesh will have to play when they take on India in the second quarterfinal here at the MCG on Thursday. Yes, they dumped England in this edition and delivered a knockout blow to India in the 2007 event but such instances have been few and far between to take them as a serious threat in a big game. The returns on odds, by the way, on the betting metre are the highest for a Bangladesh win among all quarterfinalists. This is not to suggest that Bangladesh don’t have it in them to overcome the mighty Indian challenge but will they be able to play with the same freedom and fearlessness that saw them break English supporters’ hearts and threatened to end New Zealand’s unbeaten run?

It’s not only the World Cup quarterfinal, unarguably the biggest moment in the short history of Bangladesh’s international cricket, but also their 300th one-day international overall. On this momentous occasion, the expectations will be bursting through the dense streets of Dhaka.   

“It’s obvious that World Cup expectations and interest will be more but not a thing of pressure,” said Bangladesh vice-captain Shakib Al Hasan on Tuesday. But that’s the line he had to toe, doesn’t he? “When we play a big tourney, we focus less on external things,” he continued. “We tend to switch off and become disinterested about what’s happening outside. Players don’t take it in a negative sense and they would like to think that since they are doing well, that’s why the curiosity of the public (is more). In the sub-continent, people always expect a lot of you but we need to focus on the game. If we play well, the result will take care of itself. It doesn't matter whether we win or lose if we play to our potential,” he offered as if he had rehearsed all these lines.  

On Monday, Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha stressed on the need to have a mind that is not cluttered. Since assuming the charge of the team, the former Sri Lankan cricketer has consciously tried to develop that mind-set that is free of fear and has even hired the services of Australian psychologist Phil Jauncey. 

“We always talk about a clear role for our players and play with freedom,” said Hathurusingha. “We have a sports psychologist and he has worked immensely for players to concentrate on their own game and not to be afraid to make decisions in the middle. That gives the players a room to move and do things and the culture that we are trying to create in the dressing room has also helped.”Come Thursday, all of Bangladesh’s backroom effort will be put to test and it remains to be how players will stay immune to this frenzy when you see even journalists talk in fans’ language.

Sample this question to Shakib -- “India are given more than 50 percent chances (to win) and the Indians are saying we have no chance at all… Please say we have more chances,” a journalist almost pleaded!

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