Twice in two successive home series, Bangladesh's ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza has hinted that the cricketing culture of the country has worked against settling on the best possible team. Bangladesh had an opportunity to test many new faces against the relatively benign challenge of Zimbabwe in October, but the team management was unwilling to go down that path as Mashrafe said that it was not yet certain whether the wider culture would accept the short-term disappointment of a loss in order to gain the long-term benefit of identifying the best personnel for the World Cup in summer 2019.
It is not without irony that the man who exposed the folly of the Tigers' conservatism in October by hammering two centuries and a 90 -- thereby completely outclassing Zimbabwe -- is in December the man who is being talked about as the one to leave out in order to identify the best combination.
Imrul Kayes became Bangladesh's highest scorer in a three-ODI series with 349 runs, but over the Tests against West Indies and the two ODIs has been exposed as vulnerable against high pace, namely that generated by Oshane Thomas, who got him out for four and zero in the first two matches. The series started with four openers -- Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar being the others -- in good one-day form, but the strategy of playing all of them with Imrul at three and Soumya at six no longer seems a good one. It created the counterproductive situation of Soumya, a valuable and potentially explosive asset who just recently regained confidence, not really comfortable at number six and pushed out Mohammad Mithun, who was doing well at five or six recently. After two consecutive failures, it seems that Imrul's rope has run out and Soumya is due for a promotion to his preferred position of playing the hard, new ball.
“We can also play Shakib [Al Hasan] at number three; he was scoring runs there,” Mashrafe said on the eve of the third and final series-deciding ODI against West Indies in Sylhet yesterday. “But we were looking for a number three and Shakib batting at number five improves the depth.”
He had also said after Bangladesh won the first match in Mirpur that the top three would likely be composed of three of the four openers.
“In the recent Asia Cup Liton scored [a century] in the final. Then Imrul scored against Zimbabwe, and a position was created at number three from among the four of them. Again, Soumya scoring a hundred in the last practice match and in the [third] ODI [against Zimbabwe] has brought him to a position.
“Imrul has not scored in two matches and Soumya did not click at six in the last match. Our thinking behind such a combination has perhaps not come to fruition,” Mashrafe admitted.
It is slightly concerning that the cricketing decisions of team combination were influenced by the possible backlash against the decision.
“After a player scores 350 runs, whoever it was against, dropping him is a big challenge. Maybe you could ask whether we failed in the challenge, but in our culture, it is a big challenge. Soumya's ideal position is to open or at number three because he plays pace well and gets a lot of options when the fielders are in the circle. But there was a situation that we had to set Soumya. Obviously, it is important to make an adjustment, and the sooner the better.”
Many countries would probably have a problem dropping a player when his last innings was a century. But with the return of Shakib and Tamim changing the equation and Imrul's oft-proven problems against high pace, he could well have been dropped for the second match in order to win the series. Bangladesh's reactive cricketing culture, on the field and off it, has seen to it that the last ODI of the home season will start as the first did -- with the team unsure of its best eleven.