Bangladesh bristling with bravura before bidding to break new ground at ICC Cricket World Cup
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By Oli Burley
Last Updated: 01/06/19 9:08pm
Just beware of Bangladesh.
Seventh in the rankings they may be, but the 2015 World Cup quarter-finalists and Champions Trophy semi-finalists of 2017 are bristling with bottle and bravura.
Just ask the West Indies and Ireland in the wake of last week's Tri-Nations series victory, where Mashrafe Mortaza's men sent out a timely reminder of their appetite for success - something England are only too familiar with.
Four years ago, Mortaza, sporting a Bangladesh flag as a bandana, led his team in joyful celebrations after dumping England out of the tournament; the outpouring became one of the enduring images of the tournament and was echoed in Dhaka and beyond.
The skipper should have been on his knees after lengthy injury problems; instead it was a doubt-ridden England, undone by a masterful Mahmudullah century - his nation's first hundred in a World Cup, who were down and out.
That was one of the greatest days in Bangladesh's cricket history, the next step in a journey that had already witnessed the defeat of Pakistan in 1999 and India in 2007 to name but two seismic victories, and it certainly won't be the last.
India it was who ended Afghanistan's aspirations of a place in the 2017 Champions Trophy final but not before the Tigers had made a confident start, posting 142-2 off 25 overs.
Tamim Iqbal - one of 10 players on the field that day who are in this year's World Cup squad - underpinned the early advance with 70 off 82 balls and, at the age of 30, is now one of four senior struts on which Bangladesh hopes are built.
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Over a decade has passed since Tamim the teenager tamed India at Port of Spain with a bullish fifty despite having just five ODI caps to his name, and, more than 6,500 ODI runs later, his form remains central to the campaign, along with Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mortaza.
This could be the last time we see all four play together at a World Cup and it will take more than a few bones creaking under the weight of a combined 805 caps to stop them rattling opponents.
Shakib's fitness was a concern in Malahide - the all-rounder's bid to become the fastest cricketer to take 250 wickets and score 5,000 runs in ODIs put on hold by a back spasm - but other recent injury concerns, most notably to Mushfiqur Rahim (rib) and Mustafizur Rahman (ankle) - have faded.
Mushfiqur remains Bangladesh's highest-ranked batsman in 16th spot - a steadying, inspiring influence in the eddies of the side's fortunes.
Mustafizur's form has ebbed and flowed of late - the seamer admitting that perhaps he has become a bit too predictable since making a spectacular start to his ODI career in 2015.
The signs are, though, that the 23-year-old is back on the up under the guidance of pace-bowling coach Courtney Walsh - figures of 4-43 against West Indies in the round-robin stage of the tri-Series serving notice that opponents should underestimate Bangladesh's seamers at their peril.
That warning is reinforced by Abu Jayed - a surprise pick in the provisional squad who rattled Ireland by taking 5-58 in only his second ODI to win the player-of-the-match award.
The seamer was rested as Bangladesh wrapped up their first multi-national ODI trophy, bolstering the view of coach Steve Rhodes that his squad is developing a competitive depth.
Mosaddek Hossain served notice ahead of his first World Cup with a match-sealing fifty and Soumya Sarkar was the model of consistency in striking three fifties in as many innings.
Should the all-round talents of Mohammad Saifuddin shine in the coming weeks, could Bangladesh outdo England for a third 50-over global tournament in a row?
Such has been the advance of Eoin Morgan's side it seems scarcely possible that the Tigers could reach the knockout stages this time around.
But, having beaten Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka as recently as the 2018 Asia Cup to earn a final showdown with India, don't doubt that Bangladesh will give it a great shot.
You can watch every match of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with England vs South Africa at The Oval on Thursday, May 30.