Shaun Williams served as assistant to head coach Dave Whatmore when Bangladesh defeated India at the 2007 World Cup

 

By Suhrid Williams

 

Shaun Williams, the former Bangladesh coach, talks exclusively to Suhrid Barua about the Tigers’ chances against India and much more.

 

Bangladesh forced the cricketing world to sit up and take notice of them when they beat India by five wickets in the 2007 World Cup at Queen’s Park Oval, a loss that effectively ensured a first round exit for the Men in Blue.

 

Four years on, Bangladesh would be seeking a Port-of-Spain encore while India would be looking to exorcise the ghosts of that defeat when the two sides meet in the World Cup opener at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Saturday.

 

Williams, who was then assistant to head coach Dav Whatmore, has since seen the Bangla Tigers grow in stature.

 

Excerpts from an interview with the 41-year-old Australian:

 

Q:  Can you take us through the memories of that famous Bangladesh victory over India at the 2007 World Cup at Port-of-Spain?

 

A: The win was a huge moment for Bangladesh cricket. It gave the boys tremendous self-belief that they have it in themselves to beat the big teams. Mashrafe Mortaza got the early breakthroughs before the left-arm spin duo of Mohammad Rafique and Abdur Razzak frustrated the Indian batsmen with their tidy line and length. Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim then batted like seasoned campaigners to give their side an unforgettable win. The boys went on to beat South Africa at Guyana as well and reached the Super Eights which I thought was quite an achievement.

 

Q: Coming to Saturday’s match at Mirpur, do you think Bangladesh have done enough over the past few years to shed the tag of minnows?

 

A: I definitely think so. Bangladesh cricket has evolved over the years. They have narrowed the gap in terms of staying competitive against the major teams. A lot of talented players have come through the ranks and I think Bangladesh would back themselves to do well not just against India but also against other major teams like England, Australia and South Africa.

 

Q: The new breed of Bangladesh cricketers like Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Abdur Razzak bring a refreshing look to the side. What’s your take on this new generation of players?

 

A: They are a talented bunch. Tamim scored two Test centuries in England last year, including one at Lord’s. Shakib Al Hasan is considered one of the top all-rounders in world cricket (Shakib is ranked fifth in ICC ODI bowler rankings). He is a batsman who has all the shots in the book. Mushfiqur Rahim is solid behind the wickets and very doughty with the bat. Then, you have somebody like Abdur Razzak who has come up in leaps and bounds and taken over the mantle of the spin department ever since Mohammad Rafique called it a day.

 

Q: Mohammad Ashraful is considered the most talented cricketer to emerge from Bangladesh. He lost his captaincy and also his place in the side but is in the World Cup side. What do you think has gone wrong with his game?

 

A: Ashraful is a batsman who knows only one way to bat, and that is to attack. I agree he has been bit inconsistent, but I’m sure he is due for a big one very soon. Remember the 2007 World Cup game against South Africa? He smacked a delightful 87 at Guyana which shaped up our win. One can never write off a guy like Ashraful because you never know when he will surprise you.

 

Q: Pace spearhead Mashrafe Mortaza is out of the World Cup with a right knee injury. How much would Bangladesh miss him at the World Cup?

 

A: Mortaza is an important cog of the Bangladesh bowling attack. Bangladesh would certainly miss his experience and expertise with the ball, but it’s an opportunity for the other seamers like Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain to stand up and be counted.

 

Q:  How would you assess the behavior of the wicket to be used for the Mirpur match?

 

A: It’s going to be on the slower side. Spinners should enjoy bowling at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium track. I would not be surprised if Bangladesh go into the game with four spinners. I guess India would go in three spinners. I think somebody like Piyush Chawla should do well on this wicket.

 

Q: Would you like to predict the outcome of the match?

 

A: I wouldn’t like to predict anything. This World Cup is a huge opportunity for Bangladesh cricket, the Stadium would be packed to capacity and the atmosphere would be amazing. I really hope Bangladesh win the toss, bat first and get a score in excess of 280. If that happens, it will be an awesome contest with India chasing a good total. But India has a strong batting line-up and equally potent battery of spinners and would definitely be the favourties. But Bangladesh won’t be pushovers.

 

By Suhrid Barua

 

It almost sounds trite to hear in every quarter that the 2011 World Cup means a lot to Sachin Tendulkar. But why this hype about one player when the World Cup is huge for every player?

 

The answer is simple: Tendulkar is playing his sixth World Cup and he hasn’t yet been part of that elusive World Cup-winning side. Thirty eight in two months time, in all probability, this is his final chance to achieve that dream – and that too in his own country and in his own city. It would be a dream finale to a sensational career of a player who has towered over one and all in over two decades at the international level.

 

The entire nation wants Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team to win the World Cup and it will be awesome if Tendulkar plays a huge role in winning it. But to suggest that this World Cup is only for Tendulkar, or it means a lot more to him than any other team member would be unfair to the other members in the Indian team.

 

There was a period when India used to count on Tendulkar to bail the side out every time the innings was in strife. Oppositions knew, if they got Tendulkar out, more than half their job was done.

 

Memories of Tendulkar’s vintage knocks of 143 and 134 in the 1998 Coca-Cola Cup final and back-to-back knocks of 117 and 91 which steered India to 2007-08 Commonwealth Bank Series victory are testimonies of the times he carried the Indian batting on his shoulders – almost on his own.

 

But India has evolved as a team. The dependence on Tendulkar has diminished significantly –  a process that began under Sourav Ganguly’s regime when the Men in Blue forged into cohesive unit.

 

The 2002 NatWest Series final at Lord’s is a striking example when India scripted a sensational win without much contribution from the maestro. Tendulkar made just 14 as India successfully chased England’s score of 325 for 5 after they were tottering at 146 for 5 in the 24th over.

 

Even the recent series-levelling Durban Test win last December was achieved without Tendulkar coming to the party.

 

These statistical figures are merely to view things objectively and not to belittle the genius of the great man. As a venerated elder statesman of world cricket, Tendulkar’s mere, larger-than-life presence in the dressing room would be a huge motivation to the Indian dressing room.

 

It will unquestionably play a huge contributory role in India’s game plan. A short motivational discourse by the Master before the team steps out in the middle will be a great energizer – something that other teams cannot boast of, simply because there is just one Tendulkar on the planet!

 

While saluting the maestro, let us also think of the 14 others who go on to make up the Indian team at this World Cup and whose roles are equally important if Tendulkar has to ride into sunset with the elusive World Cup medal around his neck.

 

(Suhrid Barua is a cricket buff who invariably gets pumped up before every India match)