Pietermaritzburg: Bangladesh's cricket credibility, already hanging by a thread after its World Cup thrashing by minnows Canada, faces another test when it takes on in-form Sri Lanka on Friday. Bangladesh, Test cricket's 10th and youngest nation, went down to a 60-run Group 'B' defeat against unheralded Canada in a match even its severest critics expected the Asian nation to win. Instead, it slumped to its 27th straight One-day International defeat against a team of part-timers playing in only its second World Cup in 24 years.
Bangladesh was bowled out for 120 with 22 overs to spare under the Kingsmead lights. And its supporters dare not contemplate how long its batsmen will last against a Sri Lankan side set to include off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, rated the greatest bowler in history by cricket bible Wisden. Bangladesh captain Khaled Mashud admitted his side was up against it as it prepared to take on a Sri Lankan team fresh from the 47-run win over New Zealand. "We needed to get off to a positive start in this tournament, but we didn't," he said.
"All we can now do is regroup and try to do a lot better." But team manager Abu Sharif Faruque was defiant, "We are going to lose matches but that is part of the process. We have tremendous talent to draw on." However, that talent needs to mature quickly if the team are not to get a second hiding from the 1996 champions. And Mashud insisted, "Cricket is a funny game and anything can happen." Nowhere was that more true than at the last World Cup in England four years ago when Bangladesh beat eventual finalists Pakistan by 62 runs. Unfortunately for Bangladesh some of the shine was removed by the fact that the game was instantly mired in match- fixing allegations with which it appears destined to be forever associated.
Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya goes into the match seemingly in prime form after making 120 against New Zealand in Bloemfontein. "It was not a typical Sanath innings, he was more patient," said Sri Lankan coach Dave Whatmore of the left- handed opener's performance. "When he scores, we win more often than not and I am exceptionally pleased with his performance." Anything approaching a repeat is likely to prove too much for Bangladesh's modest attack.
No Test nation has yet been stripped of its Test status because of poor performance - South Africa was suspended because of apartheid - but already there is talk of returning Bangladesh to the ranks of the minnows. Although it will want to do well on Friday, its equivalent of a World Cup final is likely to come when it takes on fellow strugglers Kenya in Johannesbury on March 1. But even in that fixture the omens are not good, the Africans having won five out of six encounters against Bangladesh.
The teams (from): Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Aravinda De Silva, Russel Arnold, Jehan Mubarak, Avishka Gunawardena, Hashan Tillekeratne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Pulasthi Gunaratne, Prabath Nissanka and Charitha Buddhika.
Bangladesh: Khaled Mashud (captain), Al Sahariar, Alok Kapali, Habibul Bashar, Hannan Sarker, Ehsanul Haque, Sanwar Hossain, Khaled Mahmud, Manjurul Islam, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mohammad Ashraful, Mohammad Rafique, Talha Jubair, Tapash Baisya and Tushar Imran.
Umpires: Russell Tiffin (Zimbabwe) and Billy Bowden (New Zealand).
TV umpire: Aleem Dar (Pakistan).
Match referee: Gundappa Vishwanath (India).