The last time Bangladesh team visited Australia was seven years ago. The occasion was the biggest 50-over cricket competition in the world, the ICC ODI World Cup.
Amid a number of experienced and tested cricketers, the Bangladesh selectors had picked a certain left-handed top-order batter, who before the World Cup had played just one ODI match.
His name was Soumya Sarkar.
That left-hander didn’t set the World Cup on fire with big scores. But he did what was asked of him. He batted positively, made full use of his large array of shots and gave the team some much needed momentum at the start of the innings.
Seven years have passed since then. The Bangladesh team is once again in Australia for an ICC competition. This time, it’s the ICC Twenty20 World Cup.
Soumya is once again a surprise addition in the team. In the seven years since the 2015 World Cup, Soumya has experienced more lows than highs in international cricket and has come close to entering obscurity in the country’s cricket more than once.
But his undeniable talent and the lack of options for the selectors, has opened the door for him once again.
The demand from the management is the same as it was seven years ago. They want the natural stroke maker to take on the opposition bowlers, hit boundaries at the top of the order and play ‘impact’ knocks.
Australia is where Soumya’s international career kick-started. The land down under is now presenting him a chance to revive his dwindling career.
Ability to play ‘impact’ innings
Bangladesh don’t get invited to Australia very often. The Tigers have played only 10 ODIs in Australia but are yet to play a T20I in the country.
Out of those 10 ODIs, Soumya has featured in four, scoring 122 runs at a modest average of 30.50. But the stat that stands out for Soumya is his strike rate.
In ODIs in Australia, Soumya’s strike rate is 90.37, which is the best amongst the 15-man Bangladesh squad selected for the T20 World Cup.
Although Bangladesh hasn’t played a T20I in Australia, they have played a few in the neighbouring country New Zealand.
In New Zealand, Soumya has played eight T20Is, made 174 runs at a brisk strike rate of 153.98.
The playing condition in Australia and New Zealand are far from identical. But for a team like Bangladesh that is clutching at straws and is desperately searching for positive omens, Soumya’s strike rate in New Zealand is a ray of hope.
Extra bowling option
Mohammad Saifuddin was originally picked as the lone fast-bowling all-rounder in the Bangladesh squad.
But after terrible performances with the ball in the tri-nation, especially against Pakistan where he conceded 53 runs in 3.5 overs which took a close game out of Bangladesh’s grasp, the all-rounder from Feni was removed from the squad and sent back to Bangladesh alongside Sabbir Rahman.
Now, Soumya is the only batsman in the Bangladesh squad who can chip in some overs as a medium pacer.
Soumya’s record as a bowler is not anything to marvel at, with the right-arm pacer having just 10 wickets to his name in T20Is at an economy rate which is a shade below of 9.5.
But having an extra bowler in the line-up as back-up can come in handy, which Bangladesh experienced first-hand against Pakistan in the tri-nation series in New Zealand.
The same match where Saifuddin, who is more known for his bowling, was smashed all across the field, Soumya bowled a brilliant 19th over, conceding just six runs and taking a wicket.
His over gave Bangladesh hopes of pulling off an unlikely win. But those dreams were crushed, owing to a poor 20th over from Saifuddin gifted Pakistan the win.
Stability in opening
When asked about Bangladesh’s woes in the opening position, Bangladesh team’s consultant in T20 cricket Sridharan Sriram retorted strongly in a recent press conference, saying, “Why do you think opening is a concern is a question. I think we are paying too much attention on the openers.”
But the fact is that in the last 19 T20Is, Bangladesh has tried 12 different opening pairs.
In the tri-series in New Zealand, Bangladesh used four different opening partnerships in four matches, but none of them managed to impress.
Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das and Najmul Hossain Shanto are the three proper openers in the squad. All-rounder Mehidy Hasan Miraz is another option at the top, having performed the duty a few times as a make shift opener in recent times.
The management is likely to use Liton as a number three batter, which means that Soumya and Najmul are most likely to open the innings for Bangladesh.
No matter what Sriram claims, every good team needs a stable opening partnership. If Soumya can return to form in the World Cup and play the sort of impact innings he has the capability to score, the team would greatly benefit and the 29-year-old’s international career would get a desperately needed second wind.
The selectors, in a sense, rolled back the clock by taking a punt on Soumya once again after seven years. Now, it’s Soumya’s turn to turn back the clock to 2015 when he takes the field.