Race heats up
The national selectors trimmed the preliminary World Cup squad down to 23 members yesterday, heightening speculation about a few crucial spots.
Among those who were released from the list are batsmen Shuvogoto Chowdhury, Nazimddin and Shamsur Rahman, wicketkeepers Sahagir Hossain and Mithun Ali, all-rounder Nasir Hossain and left-arm spinner Enamul Haque.
The deadline to announce the 15-member World Cup squad is January 19 and as the Tigers' training camp commences at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium tomorrow, those under the spotlight will have just a week to prove themselves, be it in form or fitness.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shahriar Nafees, Mohammad Ashraful and Jahurul Islam will be the most nervous in the camp, given their individual situations.
Mashrafe's knee injury has put him in doubt and if he doesn't recover in time, the selectors could be imaginative while picking the final fifteen, or otherwise go for a like-for-like substitution. Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain are automatic choices and Nazmul Hossain has done the job in the only ODI he played against New Zealand, so it won't be too much of a headache if there is bad news regarding the Narail Express.
While the abundance of left-arm spinners and pace bowling form gives the selectors few reasons to worry, batting will give them sleepless nights, particularly when it comes to making decisions on the fates of Nafees and Ashraful.
The left-handed Nafees did a good enough job against New Zealand in October, but was ignored for the Zimbabwe series once Tamim Iqbal returned. But his red-hot form in the Premier League, particularly his consecutive 114 not outs against Bangladesh Biman and Mohammedan Sporting Club in the space of three days in the last week of December, is reason enough to tilt the scales in his favour.
Ashraful's 92 yesterday could salvage some brownie points but it does little to ease the worry about his form, as the under-fire right-hander has again gone into his shell after the shocker against Zimbabwe last month. In the Premier League, Ashraful has scored three half-centuries so far but has failed to grab the attention like Nafees has with his two consecutive centuries.
Add to that the vulnerable nature of the existing middle-order, and this proves to be an intriguing battle. Though Junaed Siddiqui has been Bangladesh's one-drop throughout 2010 and has two half-centuries in the last three ODIs, his approach is often criticised and it is reflected upon his career (67.90) and 2010 (75.43) strike rates.
Rokibul Hasan poses a similar concern and his recent international record only improved through a 65 against Zimbabwe. In fact, he has shown ordinary form during the Premier League until his 88 in Kalabagan's win against Abahani yesterday.
And into this mix is Jahurul Islam, the right-handed batsman who also has the skill that could keep him in the 15-man squad: wicketkeeping. The tall Rajshahi lad struck 40 and kept wickets for the Tigers in their win against England in July last year, but has seen more bench time since and was promptly dropped for the Zimbabwe series.
There will also be a battle for places lower down the order between Mahmudullah Riyad and Naeem Islam, the latter probably nicking the spot through his superior off-spin and fielding but apart from a free-flowing middle-order, Bangladesh would require spark in the tail and that hasn't come so far from Shafiul and Sohrawardi Shuvo.
Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaed Siddiqui, Rokibul Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Naeem Islam, Shafiul Islam, Abdur Razzak, Sohrawardi Shuvo, Mahmudullah Riyad, Rubel Hossain, Nazmul Hossain, Shahriar Nafees, Jahurul Islam, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Mohammad Ashraful, Shahadat Hossain, Alok Kapali, Mahbubul Alam, Dollar Mahmud, Sabbir Rahman and Syed Rasel.