Memories of 2020 lead to undercooked but determined Bangladesh

It was a worthy comeback for national heroes. Thousands of people lined the 15 kilometer stretch between Dhaka airport and Shere Bangla National Stadium as the bus carrying the Under-19 World Cup winners passed. There was then an enthusiastic reception on the ground, in front of a few thousand others. Players cut a cake, they collected their rewards. “The memories are amazing,” said Naveed Nawaz, the team’s coach then and now.

It was still a month away from the first reported case of Covid-19 in Bangladesh. There were no restrictions. It was, after all, Bangladesh’s first World Cup win at any level. They beat the Indian Under-19 giants in the final, and everyone who watched them loved how the boys kept their cool in tense moments.

Two years later, as Bangladesh attempted to defend the title in the West Indies, Nawaz remembers mostly tears of joy.

“When we won the final, we understood that it was a great achievement for Bangladesh,” Nawaz told ESPNcricinfo from St. Kitts, where the team is based this time. “We were all happy and celebrating [in South Africa]. But it didn’t really hit us until the day we arrived in Dhaka.

“When we saw the crowds celebrating in the streets and then in the Mirpur stadium, we were actually in tears. We were all crying. We hadn’t realized the enormity until then, the impact we were having on whole country.”

The celebrations have, in a way, continued.

Just over a year later – Covid-19 brought cricket, and much more, to a halt for a time – after three international series for Bangladesh after World Cup triumph Shoriful Islam, the quick left arm of the triumphant side, made his T20I debut against New Zealand in March 2021. He would go on to play in the other two formats over the next two months.
Shamim Hossain also had an impressive T20I debut in New Zealand, before his fortunes collapsed, while Mahmudul Hasan Joy got his chance more recently. Playing only his second Test, Mahmudul, along with Shoriful, played a starring role in Bangladesh’s upset victory at the Mount Maunganui Test earlier this month.

“It’s amazing Joy, Patu (Shamim) and Shoriful to step into the national team and face the demands at the highest level,” Nawaz said. “It shows their improvement, from the Under-19 program to doing well in the senior circuit.

“I think I was the happiest person on the planet to see these Shoriful and Joy performing in New Zealand. They are both very close to me. How Joy approached their highly skilled bowling attack, in their backyard, tells you a great story about him.We have uncovered a star for Bangladesh, who can hold the opening or No.3 position for a very long time if guided well.

“Shoriful’s attitude and aggression on the pitch is an incredible change. When you watch him bowl, it looks like he’s been playing international cricket for five to six years.”

The 2022 team could not prepare as well as the 2020 team because of the Covid situation. Several instances affected training schedules and camps, and travel restrictions meant they could not replicate the previous group’s makeup. While Bangladesh have played 30 one-day youth games and won 18 of them, heading into the 2020 World Cup, they have only managed to play 12 such games this time, winning none. only three.

“In terms of preparation, we are far behind this time. Most of our [preparatory] camps have been affected, so our preparation has not been ideal,” says Nawaz. “We managed to participate in a few series. Since there was no time, the main objective was to prepare the players for the game.

“We had to make sure we had the right players to form a strong team. We did our best in the time available. I think we made the most of everything possible. In the West Indies, we will rely mainly on our strong bowling attack.”

It was a little uncertain before the team came together like it did.

After a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Sri Lanka Under-19s in October last year, the BCB brought in 2020 team stalwarts Rakibul Hasan, a left-arm spinner and useful hitter, and fast bowler Tanzim Hasan Sakib, naming the former as captain.

“Rakibul and Sakib give us some strength in our bowling department,” says Nawaz. “It’s good to have them back. They’ve been working with me for a few years. They’ve also played a few rounds with the high performance team, so they’re more experienced and ready.

“Rakibul is a very active captain. He has established very good relationships in a short time. He shares a lot of experience and knowledge with others. He is a very dedicated team man. He puts the country first him. He’s a good example. He’s highly respected in the team.”

Bangladesh have had a decent development program in place for quite some time now but winning the 2020 World Cup gave them the boost they needed.

Nawaz was part of the leadership group headed by Khaled Mahmud, chairman of the BCB game development committee, with AEM Kawser, the head of game development, and selector Hasibul Hossain Shanto in the mix. “The trophy has inspired the younger generation in Bangladesh,” says Nawaz. “They are convinced that they can beat any team in the world. That’s the difference winning a World Cup makes for a country. The whole culture and the system will change.”

Nawaz himself is a product of Sri Lanka’s famous school cricket system, although he has only played one Test and three ODIs at senior level for Sri Lanka. When he joined the Under-19 side as a manager in 2018, there were whispers in local cricket circles that Nawaz didn’t have the right credentials. But he has results to show.

“I wanted to create a method based on which players can succeed,” says Nawaz. “I managed to do it in the first two years because of the incredible talent in Bangladesh. But talent alone is not enough. They had to play the mental game well. It was also important to create the right methods to hitting, bowling and trying to do the same with the second group, they reacted pretty well, although we see some inconsistency in their performance.

“My idea was to show people that if you can instill discipline and a good work ethic, if you make them believe in the concept of a team, that they complement and help each other, and that they work very hard as a team, you can accomplish anything.”

It worked once. Repeating the feat will perhaps be an even greater success than that of two years ago.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in Bangladesh. @isam84

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