All aboard the Bangladesh hype train

Should we be getting on board the Bangladesh train or tempering our expectations.

Ever since Bangladesh performed one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history in defeating South Africa in their first match, so many people have come out of the woodwork to join the Bangladesh hype train. They’ve claimed, amongst other things, that that match was not an upset, that they will easily make the semi-finals, and that they are even going to win the World Cup final. So let’s take a reality check.

Bangladesh have done better in World Cups than in their general performances. In 1999 they upset Pakistan for their first ever World Cup victory, in a dead rubber that seemed to most people to be a deliberate loss by Pakistan because it made no difference to them if they won or lost. In 2003, Bangladesh lost every match, but in 2007 they upset India to make it to the Super 8s. In 2011, at home, they won 3 matches, but just barely missed the Super 6s because of big losses to West Indies and South Africa – in spite of beating England. In 2015, they made it all the way to the quarter finals, effectively finishing 8th. Yet now suddenly they are “expected” to make the semi-finals? Yeah nah.

Bangladesh’s official ODI ranking is 8th. That’s a big improvement over the 9th, 10th and 11th places that they have held for most of the time since they gained test status in 1999, but it’s still not top 4 level. The top 4 ODI teams, in terms of rankings, are, in order: England, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Australia are a close 5th, then Pakistan in 6th, West Indies in 7th and Bangladesh in 8th. The next lot aren’t far behind either. Sri Lanka are 9th, Afghanistan 10th, Zimbabwe 11th, Ireland 12th, Scotland 13th and Nepal 14th. Curiously enough, those top 10 are our World Cup contestants, those top 14 were the top 14 according to the World Cup qualifier, and, bar South Africa, those top 4 are looking like being our World Cup semi-finalists.

According to those rankings, have the World Cup matches gone according to plan?

We have had 25 matches so far, and there have only been two matches that went against those rankings: when sixth ranked Pakistan beat first ranked England and when eighth ranked Bangladesh beat fourth ranked South Africa. While there was a minor upset when seventh ranked West Indies beat sixth ranked Pakistan, that’s only one place difference so doesn’t really count.

South Africa lost four matches, in spite of being ranked fourth, but three of those losses were against teams ranked higher than them. If not for rain against West Indies and their shock loss to Bangladesh, they would still be on track to making the semi-finals.

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One upset can make all of the difference and, for the two teams who upset teams ranked higher than them, in Pakistan and Bangladesh, they are in with a chance of making the semi-finals when their rankings say that they shouldn’t be anywhere near.

But that’s not the same thing as saying that they are better teams.

Historically, Bangladesh have done far better at home than away. During their golden run in 2016, in the wake of the 2015 World Cup, they beat just about everyone, but only at home. Away from home they were minnows again.

Shakib al Hasan has played incredibly well. He earned two man of the match awards out of four (out of five now) and probably would have been man of the match in the other two losses if only the team had won. It’s been an incredible effort. Shakib is a great player, but he’s not usually that good. Only David Warner (3) has earned more man of the match awards and only Rohit Sharma (2) has the same. It’s pretty good, and it explains the upset. Not plural, singular.

For Bangladesh to make the semi-finals from here they don’t just have to beat India – they also have to beat Pakistan and Afghanistan, one team ranked above them, but only just, and the other team just barely ranked below them. They are 50/50 games and it is far from a guarantee for Bangladesh to win either, let alone both.

While it’s nice to have a hype train going, some of the comments surrounding it have been quite insulting.

There were claims, during Bangladesh’s loss to Australia, that Australia got lucky, that Bangladesh, had they just done one or two things differently, would have won. Well, maybe we were watching different matches, as I watched every ball bowled and Bangladesh were never ahead. It wasn’t an up and down match at all. It was one in which Australia held Bangladesh at arm’s length from start to finish. It changed from a long way ahead to fairly close but at no stage was Bangladesh up. All that changed was how big a chance there was for an upset to occur.

It’s fine to be hyped up about your favourite team but it’s kind of insulting when you’re too unrealistic about it. Refusal to call an upset an upset is a big part of it. Refusing to acknowledge what actually happened is another thing.

Nobody in the Pakistan camp is going around claiming that they were always going to beat England. Not at all. They are celebrating their upset over the world’s best team.

Bangladesh’s team and their supporters might need a bit of a reality check.

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