Time for Tamim, Mahmudullah to step up
Up until 2022, it was almost certain that the ‘Fab 4’ of Bangladesh cricket– Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah– would have their last dance in a World Cup together, in the 2023 edition of the ICC World Cup.
Tamim was leading the team, Shakib was still the team’s star performer while Mushfiq and Mahmudullah were occupying two spots in the middle-order.
But since the start of 2023, a lot has changed.
The first big change was Mahmudullah getting dropped from the squad after the three-match ODI series against England in March.
A few months later, Tamim’s ‘retirement drama’ commenced which saw the opener announcing his retirement from all formats of the game in Chattogram midway into the Afghanistan series only to overturn the decision less than 24 hours later after a meeting with prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Tamim was expected to get some treatment for his ailing back in London and then return to lead the team in the Asia Cup and the World Cup.
But about a month after his shock retirement the opener dropped another bombshell, announcing he is renouncing captaincy and won’t take part in the Asia Cup to complete the rehabilitation of his back.
So in the Asia Cup, which was the last big tournament ahead of the World Cup, Bangladesh had only two of their ‘Fab 4’ in the squad, newly appointed captain Shakib and the wicketkeeper-batter Mushfiq.
There were some doubts over whether Tamim would recover in time and regain his fitness before the World Cup.
Mahmudullah’s chances of making it to the World Cup squad were also looking slim as the management had seemingly decided to overlook the veteran all-rounder in favour of younger players.
But after an underwhelming performance from the batting department in the Asia Cup, Bangladesh have recalled both veterans back into the squad for the team’s last bilateral series ahead of the World Cup against New Zealand at home.
The need for Tamim
Bangladesh tried multiple opening partnerships in the recently concluded Asia Cup. Firstly, they tried the pair of Tanzid Hasan Tamim and Mohammad Naim, then Naim and Mehidy Hasan Miraz opened in three games. Lastly, Litton Das and Tanzid also opened in one game.
Out of the four openers tried in the tournament, the only one to do well was Miraz, who was the makeshift opener. Miraz, who usually bats at No.7 or 8, made 140 runs in three innings as an opener which included a 112 against Afghanistan.
Litton, one of the first-choice openers, couldn’t score any substantial innings in the tournament while Naim and Tanzid, contenders for the position of the backup opener, also failed to impress.
The poor performances of the openers showcased how much Bangladesh need a fit and firing Tamim in the World Cup.
Tamim’s own record hasn’t been great lately. He averages less than 27 in ODIs in 2023 so far with only one half-century to his name which came against Ireland.
But Tamim was battling a nagging back injury during those matches and the pressure of captaincy was also weighing heavy on him.
Now, Tamim’s back pain has reportedly subsided and he is free from the pressure of captaincy. The hope for Bangladesh would be to see Tamim have a stellar World Cup, and bring stability at the top-order which the team is currently missing.
Another added incentive for Tamim should be his record in World Cups, which is surprisingly poor.
Tamim has featured in four World Cups for Bangladesh but he is yet to show his best at cricket’s grandest stage.
In 29 matches in World Cups, Tamim has made 982 runs at an average of 24.75. He has four half-centuries in four World Cups and no centuries.
A batter of Tamim’s calibre should have a better record in the World Cup and the forthcoming one in India will most likely be his final chance to rectify that record.
Mahmudullah’s last chance
Mahmudullah’s chances of playing in the World Cup seemed next to none when he wasn’t selected for Bangladesh’s Asia Cup squad.
But poor performances from the lower order, especially Shamim Hossain and Afif Hossain, and the fact that Bangladesh failed to play out 50 overs in three matches in the Asia Cup made way for his comeback into the Bangladesh squad.
Mahmudullah’s wealth of experience and his excellent record in the World Cup– two half-centuries and two centuries in 15 innings at an average of 51.33– is working in his favour.
However, Mahmudullah is still not a shoo-in for the World Cup like Tamim.
All Tamim has to do to make it to the World Cup squad is prove he is fit to play. But Mahmudullah has to show to the selectors and the management that he is ready to play the finisher’s role in the World Cup in the New Zealand series.
If Mahmudullah fails to impress and someone like Nurul Hasan or Mahedi Hasan grabs that opportunity, his World Cup dreams could crash and burn.
But if Mahmudullah delivers against the Kiwis, the ‘Fab 4’ will get the opportunity to take part in their fourth World Cup as a group and write the final chapter in World Cups together.