On paper, the Test series beginning at 9:30 am today between hosts Bangladesh and the West Indies at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium may seem a good contest, being a battle between Test cricket's seventh (West Indies) and ninth (Bangladesh) ranked teams. That impression may be further entrenched if Bangladesh's record against their opponents is considered -- two draws and two wins from eight matches, their best returns against a top team.
But Bangladesh fans will do well to bear in mind that this is a much-improved West Indies side, and expectations for this series should be kept on the conservative side. Even the two victories came against a woefully weakened side.
The West Indies have the clear edge, having an incisive bowling attack -- always critical in Test cricket -- consisting of spinners and pacemen who can be effective on most surfaces, while the Tigers' attack is known more for its inexperience and indiscipline. But where the opposing camps can be said to be evenly matched is in the quality of their trump cards -- Chris Gayle and Shakib Al Hasan.
Gayle's return to the West Indies team is one of the chief factors behind their recent rejuvenation that saw them sweeping a two-match Test series against New Zealand at home in July and winning the World Twenty20, while Shakib's talismanic status for Bangladesh is nothing new for the team's followers. The Magura left-hander has been in top of the world all-rounder rankings for quite a while Gayle's name has inspired fear in opposition bowlers for a bit longer.
In one of the rare positives for Bangladesh, perhaps one of the best examples of how much of a world-beater Shakib can be came quite recently during his sublime 144 in December 2011 against a formidable Pakistan attack. It is performances like that the home side will be hoping for from Shakib, whose left-arm spin will be as important to the team's hopes.
The supporting cast will be crucial. Tamim Iqbal's recent purple patch for Chittagong is cause for hope and contributions from skipper Mushfiqur Rahim and senior player Mahmudullah Riyad will be needed. The bowling team, led by Rubel Hossain, will have to perform as a unit.
But even then they will be faced with the might of players like Gayle, Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in batting, while the Bangladesh batsmen will have to contend with the guile of mystery spinner Sunil Narine, the pace of Fidel Edwards and the swing of Ravi Rampaul. In the final analysis, to have a competitive series the Tigers will have to play out of their skins while the visitors will have to perform well below potential.