Is this the end for Mahmudullah…
12 March 2023, will be remembered as a great day for Bangladesh cricket. This was the day when the Tigers took an unassailable 2-0 lead over England in a three-match Twenty20 series, sealing their maiden series win over the English side in any format of the game.
The country’s cricket fans are celebrating the milestone victory and rightfully so. Former players and analysts are heaping praise on the cricketers and talks of hefty cash prizes for the victorious players are floating around.
All this celebration, however, overshadowed a marquee omission. On the day of the second ODI, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) announced a 16-member squad for the first two matches of the three One-Day International (ODI) series against Ireland in Sylhet later this month.
Two players from the ODI series against England got dropped. One was left-arm spinner Taijul Islam and the other was former Bangladesh captain Mahmudulllah.
Taijul, who is considered a red-ball specialist, was tried out in the England series as per the insistence of the ODI captain Tamim Iqbal. So after the defeat in the ODI series, Taijul’s omission is hardly surprising.
However, Mahmudullah’s axing holds much more significance.
The end is nigh
The 37-year-old is in the twilight of his international career. The all-rounder has already retired from Tests and hasn’t been picked for a T20 since September 2022. ODI was the only format where Mahmudullah was a constant figure in the Bangladesh team.
Mahmudullah featured in all of Bangladesh’s last 31 ODIs. Before the first ODI against Ireland, which will take place on 18 March, Mahmudullah last missed an ODI back in the 2019 ICC World Cup, when he wasn’t picked for the group-stage match against India.
The last time Mahmudullah was left out of the ODI side for a series was over seven years ago in June 2015, when he missed the three-match ODI series against India due to a fracture on his index finger.
Before that, he was not included in an ODI series against West Indies in November 2011 due to viral fever.
So, out of the 151 ODIs Bangladesh have played in the last 11 years, Mahmudullah has missed only four.
Mahmudullah’s axing, however, wasn’t shocking as the writing was on the wall for the all-rounder for a while.
The general perception about Mahmudullah is that he hasn’t been scoring any runs for the Tigers. But that’s not entirely true. The right-hander has scored 481 runs in ODIs since 2022 and has an average over 43.
But the runs from Mahmudullah's bat rarely aided Bangladesh due to the sluggish rate those were scored at.
Mahmudullah comes out to bat at No 6 or 7 in ODIs, a position where a batter needs to play attacking shots from the get-go and score at a brisk rate.
But Mahmudullah’s strike rate in ODIs since 2022 has been a shade below 69, which is unacceptable in modern ODI cricket.
His poor fielding in the ODI series against England also didn’t help his case. New head coach Chandika Hathurusingha had said in his very first media interaction that he wants to transform Bangladesh into a great fielding side and hinted that he will not keep bad fielders, who leak runs every match and drop catches, in his team.
Hathurusingha’s words were pointed at the veteran players of the squad and Mahmudullah’s omission indicates that the Sri Lankan meant what he said.
Out with the old, in with the new
Although the selectors have tried to downplay Mahmudullah’s axing by saying they are resting the all-rounder, it’s quite evident that Bangladesh is looking for a new batter to take Mahmudullah’s place in the ODI side.
They already have a few candidates in hand. Yasir Ali has been brought back to the ODI setup, Towhid Hridoy and Zakir Hasan are also in the 16-man squad against Ireland.
Bangladesh’s performance in the T20 series against England has felt like a breath of fresh air after the drab performance in the preceding ODI series. Adding younger players to the XI has visibly improved the fielding standards and infused positivity, which was missing in the 50-over series.
The selectors can’t be blamed for wanting to bring some of that energy into the ODI side. To do so, they had to remove Mahmudullah from the squad.
Shakib Al Hasan is indispensable for Bangladesh in every format and Tamim is leading the ODI team. This leaves only two senior players on the chopping block- Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim.
Mushfiq adds value to the team as a wicketkeeper, although he has a tendency of dropping chances and leaking runs, and also adds experience in the middle order. So, the right-hander survived and Mahmudullah ended up losing his place.
This is the year of the ODI World Cup, which will take place in India starting in October. Every team is trying to build their ODI squad for the tournament and Bangladesh are no different.
If Mahmudullah’s replacement, whoever that may be, grabs his opportunity and gives Bangladesh the quick runs they have been missing lower down the order, it could end up costing the veteran all-rounder a place in the World Cup squad and virtually end his ODI career.
After the ODI series against Ireland, Bangladesh will reciprocate the series in Ireland, host Afghanistan for an ODI series and then play a home series against New Zealand before the World Cup.
This gives enough time for a new player to get acclimatised into the squad and settle into his role before the World Cup.
If that does end up happening, Mahmudullah would join the ever-growing list of Bangladeshi cricketers who had to bid goodbye to international cricket from the stands and not from the ground, which would be an ending unfitting for a Bangladesh cricket great like Mahmudullah.