Afif, Mahmudullah and Co. scramble for slot No.7

Afif Hossain and Mahmudullah are one of the many cricketers vying for the No.7 position in the World CupFile Photo

With just four months to go before the ICC World Cup 2023, it’s high time for the teams to fix what their playing XI will be and who will be their backup options in the marquee event. In Bangladesh’s case, most positions in the XI already seem fixed.

Skipper Tamim Iqbal will open the innings alongside Liton Das. Najmul Hossain Shanto, the player of the series in the recently-concluded One-Day International (ODI) series against Ireland, will come to bat at three.

Ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, youngster Towhid Hridoy and the veteran Mushfiqur Rahim will form the middle-order.

In the bowling department, the Tigers in most matches will go with a three-pronged pace attack. Taskin Ahmed will lead the charge, followed by Mustafizur Rahman and Hasan Mahmud. Ebadot Hossain and Shoriful Islam will be in there as backups.

Bangladesh are likely to go with one spinner with Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taijul Islam and Nasum Ahmed as the likely options.

So, 10 out of the 11 positions in the starting line-up are more or less fixed for Bangladesh. But the one spot which is still wide open is the position No.7 in the batting line-up.

Nurul Hasan in the recent ICC T20 World Cup without any notable success

Anyone versed in cricket knows the importance of the position. The No.7 batter is also called the finisher, as he is entrusted to lay the finishing touches of the innings.

It’s not that Bangladesh is short of options in that position. There are no less than six players who could play in the position for the Tigers. But the problem is no one has really grabbed the opportunity to make that position their own so far.

Mahmudullah: The veteran

Bangladesh’s most successful World Cup campaign to date was in 2015 in Australia. The Tigers reached the quarter-final of the competition that year and it was Mahmudullah’s back-to-back century that paved the way for it.

Eight years later, Mahmudullah is at the twilight of his international career. The veteran has already retired from Tests and has been dropped from the T20 and ODI squads.

Former Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah
Prothom Alo

Despite his wealth of experience, and a healthy average of 43.73 in ODIs since 2022, the 37-year-old is uncertain for the World Cup.

Mahmudullah was dropped from the ODI team for both the home and away ODI series against Ireland after not impressing in the ODI series against England at home.

There are two reasons behind Mahmudullah’s omission from the ODI team. Firstly, his strike rate, which has remained below 70 for the past two years, is unacceptable for a batter at No.7. Secondly, his fielding standard, which has gone down a few notches as age is gradually catching up with him.

Still, Mahmudullah is within a shot of returning for the World Cup owing to his wealth of experience, but the chance of that happening is quite slim.

Miraz and Yasir: Options in the current squad

The three-match ODI series against India in December last year was pivotal in Miraz’s ODI career.

Miraz won consecutive matches for Bangladesh with the bat in hand, first scoring an unbeaten 38 to complete a one-wicket win and then hitting an 83-ball 100 which set up the platform for a series-clinching victory.

Since the India series, Miraz has been averaging over 34 with the bat, 12 more than his career ODI average, and his strike rate has also been over 80.

Mehidy Hasan MIraz plays a shot against India in the second ODI at the SBNA in Dhaka on 7 December, 2022
Shamsul Hoque

Playing Miraz would also allow Bangladesh to play an extra bowler. On the other hand, however, it would also increase Bangladesh’s tail-ender batters list, putting the side at risk of getting bundled out cheaply once the batters depart.

Yasir Ali is another option at No.7 who was selected in the recently-concluded Ireland series, but the batter didn’t get a match.

In his brief international career, Yasir has batted only seven times in ODIs. His best innings came against South Africa, a 50 off 44 balls and his current strike rate in the format is 89.47, the best among all the options.

But his inexperience and recent lack of runs make him a risky choice.

Afif, Nurul and Mosaddek: In the periphery

One of the biggest decisions Chandika Hathurusingha has taken since taking over as the Bangladesh head coach for the second time was dropping Afif Hossain from the squad.

After failing to impress against England, Afif lost his spot in the XI, almost out of the blue. The Southpaw then took part in the Dhaka Premier League (DPL) and had a really good season, scoring 550 runs at an average of 55 and a strike rate of 110.66.

Afif Hossain completed his maiden 1st class hundred in the DPL

He also brought up his maiden century in List-A cricket.

Afif has done what the coach asked him to do, which is to perform at the domestic level. The performance could earn him his place back in the ODI squad for the upcoming Afghanistan series.

Afif, however, is not the only domestic performer staking claim at the vacant No.7 spot. Wicketkeeper-batter Nurul Hasan also had a good season in the DPL, scoring 511 runs with an average over 46 and a strike rate of 94.62.

The selectors could also take a punt at all-rounder Mosaddek Hossain. Mosaddek recently led Abahani to the DPL title.

He had an average season with the bat and ball, scoring 395 runs at an average of 32.91 and strike rate of 89.97 and claiming eight wickets.

Still, Mosaddek has the experience of playing at a World Cup unlike Afif and Nurul and he could also be a handy sixth bowling option for the Tigers with his off-spin, which could tempt the selectors to pick him.

The impossible task for selectors

The national selection panel led by Minhajul Abedin has plenty of options for the finishers’ role. But there is no obvious choice for the position at the moment.

Each team can only carry 15 players in the squad, meaning the selectors at best can squeeze in two players for the role. So, getting the choice right is crucial.

After the ODI series against Afghanistan, Bangladesh is scheduled to play in the Asia Cup. ODI captain Tamim had said before that the squad that plays in the Asia Cup will play in the World Cup, which leaves the selectors just one series before making their decision.

Whatever they decide, it’s sure to cause uproar in Bangladesh’s passionate fan base as fans of the axed cricketers will not stay quiet. But it’s a cross the selectors must bear.