Heading into the third of its nine group games, England — the host nation and pre-tournament favorite — is already under pressure after an unexpected loss to Pakistan in Nottingham on Monday. A potential two losses in three matches was certainly not in the script for the world's top-ranked ODI team so England must show some nerve against Bangladesh in Cardiff on Saturday to get its World Cup ambitions back on track.
"It is going to be a difficult game," England captain Eoin Morgan said Friday on a wet day in the Welsh capital. "They are a good side. I think people underestimate them. We certainly don't." And why would they? After all, Bangladesh has beaten England at the last two World Cups, first in Chittagong in 2011 and then at the Adelaide Oval in 2015 in a result that guaranteed England would be eliminated at the group stage.
Many overlooked Bangladesh's improvement in world cricket and treated that loss as an all-time low in the English game. The response by the England and Wales Cricket Board was to channel most of its focus on the one-day format, which meant the hiring of Trevor Bayliss — a coach with a proven record in the white-ball format — and the introduction of an overall strategy where the test and limited-overs teams were separated.
England became an aggressive, positive, risk-taking ODI team that has soared to the top of the rankings and made it the side to beat at the World Cup. Yet the loss to Pakistan, and the specter of a match — and possibly another defeat — against a Bangladesh lineup that has given England so much World Cup heartache, has suddenly thrown up some concerns.
For Morgan, however, it is business as usual. "We've remained in a head space where we believe we can still win the game," he said, "and that shows, probably a lot more to us than to our supporters. They see an exciting team the majority of the time and when we lose games, we want to see character. We want to see another side of our game."
England's players have used the five-day gap between fixtures to get away from the tournament. Morgan went back home to spend some time with the family and watch some horse-racing. Their Bangladesh counterparts will know they can put a supposed thoroughbred in real trouble by earning a famous win in Cardiff, though.
They've started the World Cup well, outclassing South Africa in an opening victory and then falling to a two-wicket loss to New Zealand on Wednesday in the most exciting match of the tournament so far.
Bangladesh is no longer the minnow it once was and has more caps in the team than England has. It is a gnarled, experienced lineup that can beat anyone. "I think this is one of the best teams England have ever produced, especially in the World Cup. I think still they are in the right way, winning matches, and they are in good touch," Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said Friday.
"But, on the other hand, obviously I know there was a little bit of pressure that the people are expecting that England will take the trophy this time." England could drop legspinner Adil Rashid and replace him with Liam Plunkett, who lost his place to fellow paceman Mark Wood for the Pakistan game. That would give England an attack mostly filled with seamers on what could be a heavy wicket with a bit of grass.
There is no danger of Bangladesh dropping any of its slow bowlers, who have proved to be the team's most efficient so far — especially allrounder Shakib Al Hasan. Mosaddek Hossain, a right-hand offspinner, had 2-33 against New Zealand.
Mortaza said Bangladesh could give the new ball to a spinner, like South Africa and Pakistan have done against England to good effect, with openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow more destructive against pace.
England will look for a big improvement in its fielding, which was mostly to blame for the loss to Pakistan. The team also looked anxious and flat during that game, after the high of beating South Africa in the opening match.
World Cup pressure might already be playing a role. And that pressure will ramp up significantly if England loses to Bangladesh for a third straight tournament.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80