Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful has put the onus on himself and fellow top-order batsmen, asking them to score some big runs against Zimbabwe in the three-match Grameenphone Series that begins today at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium.
"I would be expecting at least three hundreds from three batsmen during this series," said Ashraful yesterday while speaking to reporters on the eve of the first one-dayer in Mirpur.
"I will also try and get a big innings under my belt and I hope the top-order does the same in all three matches. We have been playing a string of tough opponents in the last year and a half. We played Ireland sometime in the middle and our batsmen did quite well then," said Ashraful when asked of his own and top-order's recent poor form.
The ace batsman is set to return to the number three position after makeshift option Mushfiqur Rahim had a terrible time at the pivotal point. Ashraful last batted at the position against Australia in Darwin last year. He has a century and a single fifty at number three, averaging a little over 18 runs in 25 innings out of the 136 one-dayers he has played for Bangladesh. But the captain believes that it is the team combination that requires him bat up the order.
"I have been batting at three since the New Zealand tour early in my captaincy stint. I think that I can bat better when the ball is slightly older, say seven-eight overs into the innings. That's why I batted at four and I have had a good record in that position," explained Ashraful who added that even at four he had to come to the crease quickly because of early wickets.
Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons, who also confirmed that Ashraful would bat at three in place of Mushfiqur Rahim, expressed discontent at the top four.
"Definitely the two guys at the top Tamim (Iqbal) and (Zunaed Siddiqui) Imrose have not scored for a while now. The way they are practicing, I think still they are the best two guys for the job," said Siddons who was also disappointed that nobody from the first-class competition has come up with the big scores. "No one really in the National Cricket League put up their hands up. They (Tamim and Zunaed) are two good young cricketers. Hopefully they will be good opening combination. I also hope Ash (Mohammad Ashraful) will step up to make the top four look much better," added Siddons.
Siddons however termed the loss to Zimbabwe last week as a 'slip up'.
"We were really confident against Zimbabwe; confident of having a really good series. But the first game was a slip up. I think coming from Test cricket into one-day cricket we were not ready for the momentum and tempo of one-day cricket.
One has to score quicker but after the first match, we picked up the tempo very quickly. Against Sri Lanka our target was around 150 in 31 overs. I didn't expect to get a bonus point in that match to make the final. Obviously that was a bonus. Then we played an amazing final where we had not done too much wrong but Murali took that away from us," recalled Siddons.
Ashraful reiterated Siddons's comments about moving from Test to the limited-overs game but claimed that they have every right to think they will win the first game.
"We are thinking about tomorrow's (Monday) game and if we believe in ourselves we will surely win. Our confidence level is better now after the two matches against Sri Lanka," added Ashraful after he admitted there was pressure to win before the January 10 encounter against Zimbabwe and there will be pressure to win this series 3-0.
BANGLADESH (probable): Tamim Iqbal, Zunaed Siddiqui, Mohammad Ashraful (captain), Shakib Al Hasan, Rokibul Hasan, Mahmudullah Riyad, Nayeem Islam, Mushfiqur Rahim (wicketkeeper), Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Nazmul Hossain, Rubel Hossain.
ZIMBABWE (from): Prosper Utseya (captain), Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Keith Dabengwa, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Forster Mutizwa, Raymond Price, Edward Rainsford, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu (wicketkeeper), Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams.