Today’s offering at the cricket World Cup comes in the form of a potentially pivotal pool match between Bangladesh and Afghanistan. While on the surface, it may appear that there is little riding on this match between two of the tournament’s less fancied sides, if either side has ambitions of progressing to the knockout stages then this opening fixture it vital to their hopes.
If Bangladesh want to mix it with the big boys, they will need to secure at least 3 group stage victories. So assuming they dispatch of Scotland, they will also need to win this match, alongside claiming the scalp of a fellow test nation. There are unlikely to be any second chances for Bangladesh. Despite the bloated nature of the tournament, this game really is boom or bust for the Tigers.
For Afghanistan, this match is important on two fronts. Fundamentally, they need to start with a win to maintain their dream of making it out of the pool stage. But they will also be out to claim a full-member scalp and further advance the associate cause.
Any worries from the organisers that a match between two of the tournaments small sides would fail to draw a large crowd at the Manuka Oval in Canberra have been subdued by an expected large following of ex-pats from nearby Sydney. This legion of supporters should ensure that the atmosphere matches the importance of the occasion.
In previous World Cup’s this match-up would have left the average cricket viewer a little cold. A match between an associate side who contain no players of note, and a Test minnow who can’t handle the real sides. Thankfully, this out-dated view is slowly being consigned to history. Cricket supporters, even the casual viewer, are now fully ‘on board’ with the associate cause. There appears to be a rallying cry around the associate sides, and to an extent Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, from the cricketing fraternity. The more the ICC hardens its stance and closes it’s doors, the more vocal the support for associate nations has become.
This contest should provide a good marker of Afghanistan’s chances at this World Cup. Defeat first up would be crushingly disappointing for Mohammad Nabi and his men. I fully expect Afghanistan to run Bangladesh close in this encounter, however I have a suspicion that the thorn in the Afghan’s side may be Bangladesh’s star all-rounder. Shakib Al-Hasan has performed well in the BBL and IPL over the last few years, but it yet to light up a global tournament. He has the talent to do so, and this first outing could provide him with the ideal opportunity to showcase his talents.
Conversely, I also fear for some of the Bangladeshi batsmen. Brought up on the predominantly slow, low decks of the sub-continent, pitches that offer genuine pace and bounce are a rare sight for many of their batsmen. Allied alongside Afghanistan’s quick and tall bowling attack, and it could be an uncomfortable day for the Tigers top order.
However the match pans out, I am genuinely looking forward to this encounter. I think that a few years ago, that would not have been the case. This is a credit, not only to the rise of Afghan cricket, but also to the sterling work of those who have worked so hard to champion associate cricket.