The Tigers will once again step out of their comfort zone when they take on a new-look West Indies in the first Test of the two-match series, starting from today at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur. After almost a year's break, Mushfiqur Rahim's men face the same old challenge of proving their worth in the longer version of the game against opponents who have established themselves as a much improved side than the last time they played here a year ago, with the return of Chris Gayle proving particularly inspirational.
Unlike the buzz that surrounds the lead-up to one-day series, the lead-up to this Test series has been quiet. There have however been whispers doing the rounds in some circles that the home side may pull off a surprise, but the reality is that it is a format which requires a combination of skill, technique and temperament for success. The millions of cricket lovers in the country would be happy if the Tigers can put together a string of decent performances through the series rather than some sporadic shows of individual brilliance which they have been doing since their elevation to the top flight twelve years ago.
And as usual, Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim demonstrated his confidence while talking at the pre-match conference yesterday, although he was well aware of the size of the challenge of playing Test cricket after such a long gap. One might have thought that two rounds of National Cricket League (NCL) matches and some practice sessions could in no way be adequate preparation, but skipper Mushfiqur was not at all unhappy with the preparation and he hoped that his team is mentally ready and prepared to fight in the series.
"Obviously this is a big challenge because we are playing Test cricket after a long time, but preparation-wise we haven't prepared very badly or very well. We have prepared for a long time, based on the last few days of practice I hope that everybody is mentally prepared and ready to go," said the wicketkeeper-batsman.
Without any doubt Bangladesh need a concerted effort to be competitive in the series and their inexperienced bowling attack need to be disciplined against a very dangerous batting line-up, but still the focus would be on star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, who is just four wickets away from becoming the second Bangladeshi to achieve the 100-wicket mark in Tests after Mohammad Rafique. Much hope will also be pinned on left-handed opener Tamim Iqbal, who enters the series with three consecutive NCL hundreds under his belt.
The Bangladesh skipper also admitted the importance of the two world-class players' performances. "The world-class players we have in Tamim (Iqbal) and Shakib (Al Hasan), if they play well and then if we can add to their contribution, definitely our batting will be good," opined the little man.
Inconsistency is the main headache of the Bangladesh team but they are always considered a dangerous side in their own territory although that reputation has been garnered in the limited-over format. Bangladesh can draw their inspiration from the home advantage and their healthy record (although the two wins in eight matches came against a weakened side) against the West Indies but they should know that this West Indies team have all the weapons in their arsenal to dominate in any condition. Refreshingly, Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur seemed aware of this fact.
"We played against them last year on this field (Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium). We have those memories with us. But now they are a much better team and have improved a lot and they are more skilful then before. Their spin, pace bowling attack, everything is good. We have to perform well. Mere home advantage won't matter," the Bangladesh skipper said.
"We will play good cricket and hard cricket, at the end of the day we will see what the result is. As long as we play consistent cricket it's good. Previously we couldn't do that. So this is our basic plan," he added.
Only if Bangladesh execute their plans to perfection in the middle will they have a chance of taking something from this series. The onus is on the Bangladesh team to push their opponents hard to make it a competitive and interesting series.