It has been nine years since Cricket was last included in the South Asian (SA) Games, and it has been the same span since when Bangladesh last tasted gold in the men's event of the sports. As it has returned after a long time, Bangladesh look to defend their crown.
In their pursuit of gold, Bangladesh are all set to announce a strong squad in an event where heavyweights India and Pakistan are not competing. According to tournament rules, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the two full member nations, will be sending Under 23 squads whereas the associate nations Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives will be participating with full-strength teams.
Bangladesh are likely to go into the tournament with the squad of the recently ended Asian Cricket Council Emerging Cup, where they ended runners-up, according to national selector Habibul Bashar. That squad included a handful of players like Soumya Sarkar, Nazmul Hossain Shanto, Afif Hossain, Naim Sheikh and Abu Hider Rony, who have featured for the national side.
Men's Cricket will be at first played in a round-robin format where every team will play against each other. The top two will compete for the gold in the final and the third and fourth will compete in a match for the Bronze medal.
In such circumstances, Bangladesh look like the favourites to win the gold and winning anything else will be deemed as an upset. Nazmul Hossain Shanto, who captained the side in the Emerging Cup, also said after the Emerging Cup final that their target was to win the gold.
Bangladeshi batsman Tushar Imran told The Business Standard that he picks Bangladesh as the favourites as India and Pakistan are not playing. According to the veteran batsman the squad should be picked on the basis of the strength of the opponent, "It actually depends on how strong a team Sri Lanka is sending. If they (Sri Lanka) send a strong squad, then it is alright. But if not, then there is an opportunity to re-think. I am sure, the board officials will do whatever is the best for the team."
The tournament format allows three senior players with an Under 23 set up. Tushar thinks players from Under 19 or the local leagues should have be a better choice for the tournament.
"The players who participated in the Emerging Cup, are the ones who are in the pipeline for the national side, below them are only the Under 19 side. Selecting better performers from the Under 19 level or premier league will not help. They did not perform well in the past. We do not have any players except for these players (of the Emerging side) in the pipeline."
Former National fast bowler Hasibul Hossain Shanto also deemed Bangladesh as the favourites for the gold medal. "Most of the players are eligible to play as they are under 23. Three players above the age of 23 can play and only Soumya and Yasir are above the age limit and they should feature regularly I feel." he added.
As of now, everything looks good for the young Tigers to win the gold and return home triumphant. Bangladesh are starting the tournament as the favourites, and will be hoping to end up as winners. However, if they somehow fail to match the success of 2010, it may be deemed a failure.