The West Indies' tour of Bangladesh has so far highlighted the chasm between the two teams. In the two Tests, Bangladesh were competitive for some time before the tourists' superior strength decided the matter beyond all doubt. But when Bangladesh skipper Mushfiqur Rahim and his opposite number Darren Sammy meet for the toss today at the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium here for the first of five ODIs, both will know that they have reached their comfort zones. Even so, the home skipper will likely be in the less comfortable one of the two.
That was the impression he gave during his pre-match press conference yesterday, and understandably so. His team was after all taking on the might of batsmen Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Smith and bowlers Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Sunil Narine.
On top of that Bangladesh will be without the one man who has evened the odds against stronger opponents with astonishing consistency over the last four years, Shakib Al Hasan. If that was not enough, the new ODI rules that allow a maximum of four fielders outside the thirty-yard circle stands to severely hamper the Tigers' spinners, their traditional strength.
"It's not that we are disadvantaged [by the new ODI rules], but it is a challenge. It's a bit difficult for the spinners and also for the pace bowlers at times, because five fielders in the circle when a set batsman is batting is a difficult prospect. But we are working on it, and we have planned for it. If we can execute that plan out in the middle then hopefully it will not be a big problem," hoped Mushfiqur.
"Yes, West Indies have a lot of power-hitters, so it will be a game between their strength and our skill. If we can build up pressure from both ends they are bound to make mistakes. Hopefully we can get early wickets and execute plans against particular batsman and bowl in the areas that we discussed. Naturally, we don't have many power-hitters which is obviously a disadvantage for us, but at the same time we have a few players who can play long innings and rotate the strike. Hopefully, we will play to our strength," he added.
Although from the home perspective the word 'hopefully' made an appearance far too many times for comfort during the question-and-answer session, Mushfiqur sought to draw confidence from the last time they played in the format, during the Asia Cup in March when they beat 2011 World Cup finalists India and Sri Lanka before narrowly losing to Pakistan in the final.
"We played well in the Asia Cup where there were a few big teams. We probably play consistently well in the one-day format, so we are confident," he said before going on to the handicap of not having Shakib for the first two games. "Obviously we don't have our best performer [Shakib Al Hasan], but there are a few new players and it's an opportunity for them. If they can play to their potential and our senior players can combine with them hopefully as a team we will see a good one-day series."
Shakib's absence looms large over the first two games of the series.
"If we had Shakib we could have taken an extra batsman depending on the wicket. Now our batsmen have to take more responsibility and bowlers also need to do the same as we have one option reduced. Those who are in the team are also capable, but it will be challenging for them," said Mushfiqur about the absence of his star performer who last missed a match for Bangladesh in July 2008 against Pakistan in Karachi. The seven matches he has missed so far for Bangladesh since his debut in August 2006 have all been because of his responsibilities as a student sitting for his intermediate exams; this is the first through injury.
From talking about his own trump player the skipper's attention was drawn to the opposition's biggest draw -- Gayle. The batsman who instils fear in every bowler's heart has been kept quiet so far, and Mushfiqur hoped that the trend continued.
"We have special plans for all their batsmen, not just for Gayle. You really can't do anything if Gayle has a good day. We were successful in the Tests as he did not score too many runs, hopefully we will be able to do the same in ODIs."