Bangladesh start as favourites in Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in Abu Dhabi

Squad includes players from their 50-over World Cup campaign last year

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As the only professional side in the Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier, Bangladesh will be the team to watch in the tournament that kicks off in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Cricket Stadium and the adjoining Tolerance Oval on Sunday.

Led by the diminutive wicketkeeper batter Nigar Sultana Joty, they are among the eight-team qualifier that includes the UAE, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, Thailand, the USA and Zimbabwe.

Bangladesh have made only two changes from the squad that played in the 50-over World Cup in New Zealand last year, bringing in rookie 17-year-old fast bowler Marufa Akter and left-arm spinner Sanjida Akter.

Having arrived early in Abu Dhabi, they played and won two practice games against the boys of Zayed Cricket Academy at the Tolerance Oval last Sunday and on Tuesday, and will play the UAE in the first official warm-up on Friday.

“This team has been playing together for a long time and I believe we should be playing in the World Cup in South Africa in February,” Joty told The National after the second practice game.

“Playing against the boys was a good prep for us, particularly the second game when they fielded a stronger side. These boys were playing aggressively. They bowled well and were quick on the outfield.

“We wanted to play these kind of matches before going into the Qualifier. We experimented playing a day game and batting first, and then the second under lights and fielding first.

“This we tried out as part of the qualifying match scenarios from which we can take a lot of positives forward.”

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Bangladesh play Ireland in the opener in a group that also include Scotland and the USA. The finalists will book their passage to South Africa in February next year.

Monjurul Islam, manager and chief selector of the Bangladesh women’s team, is aware of the expectations as a professional side but insisted they will play to their potential.

“Yes, we are a professional side and we’ll play as a professional side, regardless what the others are in the Qualifier,” said the former Bangladesh international, who has been with the team since the middle of 2020.

“I’m not saying we are here as the best team but rather say we are a professional side and will play according to the situations. Our focus for now is on our first game against Ireland and we’ll take it match by match for the remainder of the Qualifier.”

Islam has had the squad together in training for the past two months and arrived in Abu Dhabi eight days early to continue with the team’s preparation.

“We travelled eight days early because these players haven’t been to this part of the world,” he said.

“They have adapted to the weather conditions, and play a practice match under lights because they didn’t have the opportunity to do that back home. I believe our programme ahead of the qualifier has gone well.”

A couple of players in the squad – Jahanara Alam and Salma Khatum – bring their women’s IPL experience. Marufa is their new-found fast bowler and the only non-contracted player in the squad.

“Marufa is the fastest bowler in this squad and was included after becoming the leading wicket-taker in both the domestic Dhaka Premier League,” he said.

Islam is also excited about the ICC’s first ever Future Tours Programme unveiled in August.

The FTP ensures more matches for teams in the ICC Women’s Championship, with a 10-team event including Bangladesh and Ireland with the rest of the full-member nations.

The teams will now have more matches across all formats in bilateral series with over 300 matches slated as part of the 2022-25 FTP, a substantial increase from the previous IWC cycle.

“In the FTP programme provides a lot of high-profile matches in the next three years for Bangladesh, which is a massive incentive for our women cricketers,” Islam said.

“We will host Australia, Ireland and Pakistan and then we will tour New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. There is no better way to improve and develop women’s cricket with this incentive.”

Updated: September 15, 2022, 5:51 AM