Mirpur: Bigeminy matches may have been played and may well be scheduled for the future. On Sunday though, expect neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh to take it easy as the two teams face each other in the inaugural match of Asia Cup.
March 11, 2012
Start time 1400 (0800 GMT)
Bangladesh's and Pakistan's last meeting seems like it happened yesterday. Not too long ago, Pakistan toured the country, winning all games quite comfortably, before heading to the UAE. There's a chance they could face each other again shortly for another series of limited-overs games, in Pakistan, if the tour gets a go-ahead. Their meeting tomorrow is not a bilateral event, but a tournament which has been shoe-horned into an already cramped calendar. Seven games have been crammed into 12 days, with each team meeting the other once before the top two make the final. The flip side to such a format is that a poor start, or a surprise defeat could jeopardise a team's chances of qualifying.
The head-to-head record suggests that Pakistan are overwhelming favourites. That's what many would have predicted after they steamrolled England, the top Test side, 3-0 in the UAE. Yet, their 0-4 crash to the same team in the one-dayers confounded many, coming against a side which has traditionally under-performed in the shorter format.
Nevertheless, it was a wake-up call for Misbah-ul-Haq and the rest who took their foot off the pedal after the Test series. Perhaps they were homesick, or plain tired. In that sense, this Asia Cup assumes more context for Pakistan, who would want to sign off their season on a high, synonymous with their performance over the last year-and-a-half.
The Bangladesh players have been a busy bunch themselves. In a sense, the Asia Cup has been positioned aptly for the Bangladesh audience, who are just coming off the hangover of the Bangladesh Premier League. Whether the BPL will have a positive impact on Bangladesh's stature as an international team or not is a discussion for another day.
The tournament has given local players a chance to mingle with internationals. Despite that, the performances of some of the local players were underwhelming. There was also some off-field drama, with Mushfiqur Rahim, the Bangladesh captain, calling the BPL a "disorganised" tournament. Despite some of the farcical behind-the-scenes action causing the organisers a lot of embarrassment, the Bangladesh fans appear to be in a feel-good wave and their enthusiasm will be crucial even in matches not involving their team.
In the spotlight
Mashrafe Mortaza has made several comebacks from injury. Tomorrow, he opens yet another chapter. A knee injury sidelined him from the 2011 World Cup. He returned for the Australia ODIs shortly after but hasn't played an international match since. He captained the Dhaka Gladiators to the BPL title, taking 10 wickets with a strike every 24 balls. His presence adds experience to the seam attack.
One of Pakistan's most consistent batsmen in the last year, Mohammad Hafeez, has suddenly slipped. In the ODI series against England, Hafeez managed just 61 from four games. Pakistan will need him to play a steady hand at the top of the order.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at the Shere Bangla Stadium has a bit of grass, a deviation from the normally slow surfaces which have prompted captains to bring their spinners on from the second over.
All Bangladesh players are available for selection, but if the pitch continues to have that layer of grass, then the teams might be tempted to field an extra quick bowler. Bangladesh have recalled the batsman Jahurul Islam so there's a chance for him to stake a claim in the middle order.
Sarfraz Ahmed will make a comeback as Pakistan's wicketkeeper, after Adnan Akmal was left out.
Bangladesh (likely) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Imrul Kayes, 3 Mahmudullah, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt and wk), 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Nasir Hossain, 7 Jahurul Islam, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza, 9 Abdur Razzak, 10 Elias Sunny, 11 Shafiul Islam
Pakistan (likely) 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Azhar Ali, 3 Younis Khan 4 Umar Akmal 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema