Bangladesh still waiting for butterfly to take wing

This World Cup was meant to be when the national side finally competed with the elite, but the co-hosts, despite inventing a new delivery, are close to going out
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The Independent Online

This was meant to be the World Cup when Bangladesh came of age at last. A little more than 10 years since being invited to gorge at cricket's high table they were now to show their fitness to have their noses in the trough along with the other big-name sides.

This exclusive, disparate band consists simply of the 10 full members of the ICC, the countries that in effect run the game and take a large slice of the money it generates. Bangladesh had been allowed to feast with them but were ready to assume a place as of right rather than courtesy.

How beautifully their preparation went. They won series against New Zealand and Zimbabwe late last year by thumping margins, 4-0 and 3-1. The country was alive with expectation. At home, in front of fans who have grown more passionate as the years have gone by, they were expected to succeed, they were demanded to succeed. A respected BBC commentator suggested they could win it, rather as Sri Lanka did against the odds 15 years ago.

It has not all gone horribly wrong yet, but a loss to England tomorrow and it will be close to it. They have found no sort of form yet. It was Bangladesh's misfortune to run into Virender Sehwag and India in the opening match of the 10th World Cup and his 175 from 140 balls said it all. Bangladesh might be dining at cricket's high table but Sehwag had them for breakfast.

They made harder work than they should have done of getting past Ireland (though it is true that England did not manage even that) and then catastrophe struck against West Indies. They were 58 all out inside 19 overs and fans, disaffected after so much had seemed likely, hurled stones at the buses taking both sides from the ground.

If there were to be an improbable sequence of results, defeat tomorrow might not necessarily mean the end of Bangladesh's hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. But it would be much more straightforward were they to win and a resurgent England, ambushed once, do not appear to have any intention of allowing that.

The public and the press (and probably Siddons, a passionate ambassador for his charges) are seething. Players and team management have been forbidden from speaking to the press except in official, obligatory ICC press conferences.

Elimination would be a bitter setback for the country and its mission among a public who took some years to be persuaded about cricket. Of course, cricket was always played here, but in the days when it was part of eastern India and then later East Pakistan, it was never fertile territory for cricket or cricketers. The game seemed to stop at Kolkata and barely travel further east.

It did not throw up players of natural class and ability as the other countries did and to some extent it still does not. Bangladesh were promoted much too early as a Test nation in 2000 and they still struggle to compete at that level. But gradually, meanderingly, they have begun to compete properly as one-day side. Taking a similar route, the country took the game to its soul. Games are played on every bit of scrubland – and in the heart of Chittagong there is not much else.

Everywhere you travel in this city there seems to be a game of cricket going on. It is much more prevalent in this World Cup than in India. The other night travelling home, some kids were playing on the railway line alongside which they live in ramshackle huts. Minutes later they had to clear off as a train bore down. Raggedy cattle seem to interrupt games quite as much as dogs used to on English greens.

Flagship players such as Tamim Iqbal have gained reputations worldwide and their attractive captain, Shakib Al Hasan, a left-arm spinning all-rounder, played with confidence for Worcestershire last season.

This squad has been allowed to evolve properly. In the past, selectors looking for the quick fix have tended to jettison players and summon new ones of whatever age. But since the advent as coach of the Australian Jamie Siddons players have been identified and nurtured.

Five months ago, Ian Pont, the English fast-bowling coach, was hired almost overnight. Two weeks after receiving his first phone call he was ensconced in a Dhaka flat. Pont is one of the great bowling enthusiasts, always dreaming up new ideas and methods, always seeking to make bowlers faster.

Usually, he talks with boundless energy; yesterday, given his employers' edict, he was less trenchant. But if his enthusiasm can be transferred the bowlers may improve.

"The subcontinent generally is not conducive to pace bowling," he said. "As with any cricketer when you're working on the basics that takes time. Getting to grips with a lot of the solidness of playing international cricket is developing and the consistency is coming."

Pont was surprised to be doing as much straightforward technical coaching – "sleeves up", he called it. He probably expected to see international bowlers coming to him for only rarefied advice. It has been much more basic stuff, though he claims that two bowlers, Rubel Hossain and Shahadat Hossain (who is not in the World Cup squad) are troubling the speedometer at 90mph.

"There is a lot to be cheerful about in Bangladesh in terms of cementing the future," he says. "They obviously need to work on the basics. People just need a lot of encouragement here. For a long time it has been spin, I understand that the wickets are low and slow generally. But it's what is in your heart that counts. If your heart is empty it doesn't matter what is in your head."

And Pont being Pont, he has come up with something new. He and fielding coach Julian Fountain have devised the butterfly ball, and from the way he talks it might just be Bangladesh's lasting impression on this World Cup.

"It's a ball that doesn't rotate in the air, it just floats like a butterfly," he said. "It looks like a normal delivery and if it is bowled properly it is dramatic. It just drops like a stone and doesn't go anywhere." So far, unfortunately, Bangladesh have done likewise.