Bangladesh’s 2023 Asia Cup campaign was a bust on multiple accounts.
The first disappointment and the most apparent one was their failure to reach the final of the competition.
India and Sri Lanka are fighting for the title on Sunday while the Bangladesh team have already returned home empty-handed with their only solace being a victory over India in a dead rubber.
The team’s disappointment of not making it to the final has been compounded by their failure to solve a number of problems they had hoped to sort out ahead of the World Cup.
Mohammad Naim, Tanzid Hasan Tamim and Anamul Haque failed to put their hand up as the backup opener for the World Cup.
Litton Das didn’t bounce back from his poor form in ODIs. Bangladesh continued losing wickets in clusters and getting bundled out for embarrassing totals.
But the biggest disappointment of them all has been the failure to find a finisher for the World Cup.
Bangladesh tried out two players for the role in the Asia Cup, Shamim Hossain and Afif Hossain.
Shamim got more opportunities than Afif, as he got to play four matches while Afif got two games. But his returns were slim, scoring 11, 16, five and one respectively. Moreover, his tendency to either just block the ball or to swing for the fences on the leg side gives out the sense that he still hasn’t developed into the reliable finisher Bangladesh are searching for in ODIs.
And then there is Afif, who batted twice in the competition and looked out of position in both innings, four and 12.
After failures, both Shamim and Afif have been dropped, not rested, from the home series against New Zealand.
The selectors have returned to square one in their search for a finisher. They have now scraped through the reserves and selected some players from the discarded list as candidates for the vacant No.7 position in the World Cup.
The return of the old guard
Mahmudullah lost his place in the team in March of this year after the home ODI series against England.
His departure from the side has been met with a lengthy social media outcry from fans, media and some ‘emotion merchants’.
After the failures of Afif and Shamim and the team failing to play 50 overs in three separate matches in the Asia Cup, the call for Mahmudullah’s return to the national side grew louder.
So, as expected, Mahmudullah is once again back in the Tiger’s squad.
However, contrary to popular belief, Mahmudullah hasn’t batted at No.7 in ODIs for a long time. To be precise, he hasn’t batted at the position since 9 December 2018.
But that doesn’t mean he has no experience of batting at that position. In his ODI career, Mahmudullah has batted at No.7 a total of 71 times. He has a decent average of 34.71 at the position. But his main drawback in the role is his strike rate of 77.29, which is in no way ideal for a finisher.
But if the 37-year-old can score runs against New Zealand at a slightly higher strike rate, there is very little stopping him from getting included in the 15-man squad for the World Cup.
The ‘unlucky’ keeper
If one makes a list of the most unlucky cricketers in Bangladesh cricket right now, the name Nurul Hasan will pop up somewhere around the top.
The wicketkeeper-batter has played only six ODIs in his career. The first two of them were against the Kiwis in New Zealand, where he did reasonably well. He made 24 on his debut innings and in the following match hit a 39-ball 44.
Then, he had to wait five years to play his next 50-over game for the Tigers. His wait ended in 2021 when he played an ODI against Zimbabwe in Harare. He announced his return with an unbeaten 39-ball 45.
After that, he had to wait for a little over a year for his next ODI, which was against the West Indies in the Caribbean.
He was selected in the XI for two ODIs in that series. In the first match, he didn’t get to bat. In the second one, he made an unbeaten 32 off 38 balls and guided Bangladesh to victory.
But after that, for whatever reason, he lost his place in the XI.
He was a part of the ODI squad against India but wasn’t selected for any of the ODIs. He was then dropped from the ODI squad for the England series and was not considered for the 50-over side till the forthcoming New Zealand series.
In five ODI innings, Nurul averaged 82.50 thanks to a couple of unbeaten knocks. He played all of those matches as a finisher and possesses a strike rate of 94.82, which is ideal for the position.
Still, the 29-year-old has been largely ignored by the selectors in ODIs and has been viewed mainly as a Twenty20 player.
But the New Zealand series is the ideal opportunity for the right-hander to step up and grab the role of the finisher for the World Cup.
The bowling all-rounder
Mahedi Hasan played a key role in Bangladesh’s consolation win over India. The off-spin bowling all-rounder first scored a vital 29 not out off 23 balls and then backed it up with 2-50 with the ball, which included four overs at the death.
Mahedi’s bowling stats are quite good. However, his batting record in ODIs leaves a lot to be desired. In the five ODIs he has played in, the 29-run knock against India is his highest score. Before that, he had reached the two-figure mark only once in his previous four innings.
If the management wants to select a bowling-heavy XI, they could opt for both Mahedi and Mehidy Hasan Miraz. But other than that, his chances of getting selected as a finisher look slim.
The wild card
Soumya Sarkar burst onto the scenes in the 2015 World Cup as a top-order batter. In the 2019 World Cup, he played as an opener, selected more on his promise than on the merit of his performance.
In 2023, there is a slim chance that Soumya could sneak his way into the World Cup squad after being discarded from ODIs for around two and a half years.
Soumya last played an ODI in March of 2021 in New Zealand. A string of low scores then forced the hands of the selectors and the southpaw lost his place in the XI.
But after Chandika Hathurusingha returned to Bangladesh as the head coach, Soumya had reportedly been told to prepare himself to bat lower down the order and play as an all-rounder.
Other than being a left-handed batter, Soumya is also a right-arm medium pacer. With the injury-laden Mohammad Saifuddin out of the picture, there aren’t any pace-bowling all-rounders in Bangladesh cricket in contention for a spot in the national team.
Soumya’s unique profile puts him in a position where he can be considered for the role of a No.7 batter who can also bowl some overs in the middle overs.
But for that to happen, the Southpaw first has to score some runs against New Zealand. And going by his recent form in domestic cricket, that seems quite unlikely.