World Cup quarterfinal: Bangladesh to battle odds against India; Dhoni's men favourites, but cautious
Playing 'fearless' cricket has been Bangladesh's war-cry at the World Cup but courage alone will not be enough to upset India and their army of blue-clad fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where the teams play their quarter-final on Thursday.WorldCup2015 Updated: Mar 19, 2015 11:53 IST
Playing 'fearless' cricket has been Bangladesh's war-cry at the World Cup but courage alone will not be enough to upset India and their army of blue-clad fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where the teams play their quarter-final on Thursday.
After a listless lead-up to the tournament, reigning world champions India have turned into a juggernaut, winning all six of their pool matches and drawing as much admiration for their bowling and fielding as their renowned batting prowess.
Bangladesh will simply be happy to be playing off for a semi-final, having never previously made it to the knockout rounds. Captain Mortaza Mashrafe will need his rejuvenated seamers to heap pressure on India's powerful batting lineup early or it could be a long, noisy day at the MCG.
"We know that 95,000 people will come to the ground and most of them will be Indian supporters, but as a professional cricketer I have to concentrate on cricket so have to handle it," Mashrafe told reporters on Wednesday. "Obviously, Bangladesh supporters will be there so we cannot ask for equal but we'll be fine."
India go into the quarterfinal as the clear favourites but they would surely not take their neighbours lightly.
They have everything going for them. They are unbeaten in six Pool A games. They have big-match experience. They have won 10 World Cup matches on the trot, defeated Bangladesh in 24 of 28 One-Day Internationals (ODI) played between the two, and are the defending champions and playing like one.
However, knowing they have nothing to lose, Bangladesh will come out all guns blazing and try to repeat what they did eight years back. The newest Test-playing nation beat India to oust the 1983 World Cup winners from the preliminary stages of the 2007 edition.
Even though India have won 11 of their last 12 ODIs against Bangladesh, the latter could prove to be dangerous in the last-eight contest where the pressure will be on the defending champions to come out on top.
Playing their first knockout match in a top-flight International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament, Bangladesh deserved to go in to the last eight following their historic victory in Pool A over England. They also gave a tough fight to co-hosts New Zealand, who are also unbeaten in the tournament.
Both teams have played a match each at the MCG. While India defeated the mighty South Africans, Bangladesh were thrashed by Sri Lanka.
When it comes to the team, Mahmudullah has been Bangladesh's prime batsman with at an average of 86 in five matches, scoring centuries in his last two matches.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim has also spent a lot of time out in the middle to gain confidence with three half-centuries and a highest score of 89, the second-highest scorer for Bangladesh after Mahmudullah.
As far as bowling is concerned, their pace attack has been competitive with Rubel Hossain and captain Mashrafe Mortaza bowling quick with plenty of movement.
And who can discount the ever-impressive Shakib Al Hasan, who has always come good whenever Bangladesh have needed him by cutting the run-flow and taking wickets at crucial moments. Shakib has also played his part with the bat, hitting two half-centuries against Afghanistan and Scotland.
On the other hand, India will have to leave behind all their good work and start afresh for the business-end of the tournament as one poor performance means they are out of the tournament in one jolt.
Though India's batting has done well, their main reason of success has been their bowling -- traditionally considered their weak link. India have managed to bowl out all six opponents yet, taking all 60 wickets available in the event so far -- an unprecedented achievement.
Led by Mohammed Shami, the pace attack has been most impressive. Shami (15) is the second highest wicket-taker of the tournament behind Australia's Mitchell Starc, who has 16 scalps.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has been crucial. He has been able to check the run rate of the opposition whenever skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has asked him to.
Also, Umesh Yadav and the inexperienced Mohit Sharma have regularly picked up wickets, bowling tight lines with improved accuracy to take wickets at the start and at the death.
The switch from New Zealand -- where the bowlers went for a few runs because of smaller grounds -- will also aid the bowlers, who did better in Australia.
India's success has also been largely due to their batting. Fine contributions throughout the batting order have helped the batsmen back each other. When top-order batsmen Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have scored, India have put up big totals on the board.
When the top-order failed, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and Dhoni provided solidity lower down the order. Barring one or two players, everyone has contributed.
If Bangladesh want to succeed against India they will need to strike early. Also, Bangladesh's familiarity with the Indian team could also help them.
But matching India's fielding will be a task for Bangladesh, especially at the huge 'G' where coming in from the boundary and chasing a ball to the fence will be challenging for the Bangladeshi fielders. They had fumbled at the MCG while playing against Sri Lanka as they dropped catches and struggled with field placements.
The pitch is expected to be flat and full of runs but a reason to worry is the weather as some showers have been forecast.
A defeat for India by their subcontinental neighbours, who they have long dictated to both on and off the field, would be an unthinkable humiliation, however.
"People are really pumped up for the quarter-finals," India batsman Suresh Raina told reporters.
"It's the quarter-final stage now, you don't have much room for error. You just need to do everything right, whether you're bowling, batting or fielding."
Melbourne's big Indian community and army of travelling fans will be in force at the MCG to cheer Dhoni's team into an eighth match, just as they were for the match against South Africa.
A crowd of 87,000 turned the venue into a deafening cauldron for the Proteas, who froze to be overwhelmed by 130 runs.
The winner will bid for a place in the final against either Australia or Pakistan, who play their quarter-final in Adelaide on Friday.
First Published: Mar 19, 2015 00:55 IST