The much-awaited Bangabandhu T20 Cup begins tomorrow. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) arranged a three-team 50-over cricket last month, but the real hype had been created surrounding this T20 tournament for some time now.
In the curtain-raiser, Beximco Dhaka will face Minister Group Rajshahi while Gemcon Khulna and Fortune Barishal will go head to head in the second match of the day. With this tournament, ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan will be returning to cricket after serving a year-long ban imposed on him by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
All the captains, speaking to the media today, seemed confident of their own teams and promised a fantastic tournament for the next twenty-five days.
Curtain raiser between Dhaka and Rajshahi
Mushfiqur Rahim's Beximco Dhaka will take on Najmul Hossain Shanto's Minister Group Rajshahi in the curtain-raiser. Rajshahi will be without their star-man Saifuddin, whom they picked up on their first call during the players' draft.
Rajshahi will be relying heavily on their batting unit. Skipper Shanto will have the likes of Mohammad Ashraful, Nurul Hasan Sohan, Fazley Mahmud and Rony Talukder to fire up runs on the board.
Despite being regarded as the weakest team on the paper, skipper Shanto believes his team has a good combination in all three units. He has faith in the youngsters, who, he thinks will be guided by the experienced campaigners.
Shanto targets Mushfiqur's wicket, whom he has batted with in the BCB President's Cup last month. "I have batted with Mushfiq vai quite a few times, and I know some things about his batting. We will definitely be looking for his wicket. Our bowlers are capable enough to get rid of him early," said a confident skipper.
Shanto, besides captaincy, will have to look for runs for himself as well. He has been out of touch for some time now, and this is the best platform to regain his momentum.
" Of course I need to perform. Captaincy is a different job, my primary job is to score runs. I'm very much aware of that. I had some starts in the previous tournament, I'm really confident about this tournament," added Shanto.
Mushfiqur Rahim, the skipper of Beximco Dhaka, said that he has great faith in the youngsters of his team. He himself took the responsibility of captaincy after some time now and is looking to do well as a team.
"This is my first time playing for Dhaka. I will give my best and look to win as many matches as possible. I played finals in the last two tournaments. Cementing a position in the top four is our primary focus," said Mushfiq.
Dhaka has some quality experienced players as well as some young players in the squad. Mushfiq believes the youngsters' experience of winning a World Cup will help the whole team in playing under pressure situations.
"Yes, the experience is important. But you need maturity as well. I never won any world cup in the 15-16 years of playing cricket, these boys have already won a world cup. They are mentally mature. This will help our team as a whole," said the Dhaka skipper.
Dhaka will be the clear favourites in the match, but Rajshahi will be looking to cause an upset in the opening match of the tournament which will add extra excitement to the whole tournament.
Spotlight on Shakib's return
In day's second match, Gemcon Khulna and Fortune Barishal will go head to head. This promises to be a great battle between two strong sides. But all the spotlight will be on Shakib Al Hasan's return to competitive cricket after a year.
The ace all-rounder is coming back to life after serving a year-long ban imposed by ICC. He will be Mahmudullah Riyad's primary armour in the battle against his old friend Tamim Iqbal.
Tamim admitted that the first game of the tournament will be tricky, and Khulna is much stronger side on the paper. But Tigers' ODI skipper believes he has strong enough squad to compete till the end.
"We may not have a star-studded squad, but teams don't win on the names only. I believe we have really good players and match-winners who are capable of firing anytime the team requires. We just need a good start," Tamim said.
"It does not matter who are stronger if we play better cricket and win the match," a confident Tamim added.
Riyad however, denied being satisfied with having the stronger side on papers. He believes performance on the field matters the most.
"In the end, you have to prove your worth on the field," Riyad's message was pretty clear.
Both captains welcomed Shakib's return. Riyad believes Shakib will be ready to fire from the word go.
Riyad has not noticed any rustiness in Shakib so far. "There should be no questions about his calibre and capability. I haven't seen any rustiness in him so far. He is raring to go," said Khulna's skipper.
Tamim on the other hand is excited to play against his old friend again. He believes Shakib has been waiting for this day for so long.
"As he'll be playing against me, I will try to minimise his impact in the game as much as I can. This is a huge day for him and Bangladesh cricket. I believe he'll go strength to strength from tomorrow," said Tamim.
The first match will begin at 1:30 PM BST while the second match will kick-off at 6:30 PM. All the matches will take place at Mirpur.
T Sports and BTV will live telecast the tournament.