Around the time Bangladesh's innings of 173 all out in the Asia Cup match against India on Friday was winding down, possibly when Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was in the middle of putting on a 66-run partnership with Mehedi Hasan Miraz, a decision to send discarded national openers Soumya Sarkar and Imrul Kayes to the UAE to reinforce Bangladesh's Asia Cup squad was taken by the high-ups in the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and the selection committee. It was announced shortly after Bangladesh were all out.
After the match ended in a seven-wicket defeat for the Tigers, Mashrafe told reporters that he was unclear about the decision.
"I was in the field then [when the decision was announced], so I am not clear about it," said Mashrafe in the post-match press conference. He later said that there were discussions on the subject but was not aware that a final decision was taken.
The Bangladesh squad is struggling with injuries. Talismanic opener Tamim Iqbal had already flown home on Tuesday with a left-hand fracture sustained in the 137-run win over Sri Lanka in the tournament opener last Saturday. Mushfiqur Rahim has been struggling with a rib injury while all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan is nursing a long-standing finger injury.
However, when Tamim had gone home, chief selector Minhajul Abedin – with the team in the UAE – and team manager Khaled Mahmud had insisted that they would not ask for replacements as they had taken the precaution before the tour of including an extra member in Mominul Haque.
There have been no new injuries since then. The uncapped Nazmul Hossain Shanto replaced Tamim at the top and has scored 14 runs in two games. Liton Das, the regular opener besides Tamim in the squad, has failed in three successive innings.
BCB cricket operations chairman Akram Khan, also in the UAE, tried to explained the reason behind the move.
"Because of Tamim's injury, the opening situation is shaky," he told reporters on Friday. "We have not seen a good performance from the opener in two matches. The team management talked about one opener – we decided not to take a risk and brought in two. We talked to the team management and the board president [Nazzmul Hassan] and decided to bring in Imrul and Soumya.
"It was a great opportunity for Shanto and Liton. But they could not score runs, so we naturally had to think of another plan."
It should be asked now whether, having said that they had talked to the team management, Mashrafe is thought of as part of the group as he has implied that he was not part of the final decision.
Soumya Sarkar hit his last ODI fifty in May 2017 and has since had innings of 0, 28, 3, 3, 0 and 8. Imrul Kayes is a unique case – he has been playing since 2008 but has never become more than a stopgap solution in ODI cricket for when Tamim is injured. His overall inefficacy in ODI cricket is evidenced by an average of less than 29 from 70 matches. The team management seemed to have moved on from him as far as limited-overs cricket is concerned, because despite hitting a half-century in his penultimate innings in South Africa, he has been ignored until now.
More than any of those factors, the fact remains that neither were deemed good enough to be included in the original party.
"Look, those who are coming have also lost their places in the team," said Mashrafe when asked whether the inclusion of the discarded duo is an admission that the incumbents have failed. "As I said, I am not sure – there has not been a discussion on this. But they [Soumya and Imrul] have been dropped because they have not performed. And in these conditions, coming in suddenly and taking the pressure – I don't know what they have done technically, whether they have rectified the problems for which they were dropped in the first place.
"So all these things will matter in such a tournament. And particularly in the Afghanistan match -- if you think about it, they will have to face even tougher bowlers. For sure, it won't be easy for anyone – not for those who are currently playing, nor for those coming in. But everything in international cricket is tough – and you have to score, bat well and bowl well within that, and we have staged comebacks like this. Nothing is impossible, whoever plays has to take a little responsibility."