There was not much to be hypercritical about after Bangladesh's last-over loss in the second ODI against the West Indies in Mirpur on Tuesday. A few fielding errors under pressure aside, there was little to do when a batsman plays perhaps the innings of his career so far as a flawless Shai Hope did that night. But the aftermath of a narrow loss may be the time to look at where the team can improve with the World Cup less than six months away.
The series started with the sweet headache of having four in-form openers to choose from after Tamim Iqbal's return from injury and Imrul Kayes, Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar all striking form variously in warm-up matches, the ODI series against Zimbabwe and the Asia Cup in September.
That led to the situation of Bangladesh playing all four openers against West Indies so far, leaving out Mohammad Mithun from the side that played the third ODI against Zimbabwe. The experiment has so far not borne fruit as the usual suspects -- Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan in the first match and Mushfiqur, Shakib and Tamim in the second -- did the bulk of the scoring.
While Liton scored 41 and Soumya hit a fit-for-purpose 12-ball 19 at the fag end in chase of a sub-par total in the first match, Imrul has failed in both games. The manner of his dismissals, beaten by the raw pace of Oshane Thomas for four and zero after coming in at number three and lasting a total of eight balls across both innings, is what should concern the selectors and team management. With a maximum of nine games to go before the World Cup in the seam-friendly conditions of England, the question of whether Imrul fits into that particular equation has to be asked now.
Imrul was beaten by pace twice on a slow Mirpur wicket, which does not augur well for his prospects in England where Bangladesh start their campaign against the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn.
This is of course not to say that Imrul does not have value to offer. He stepped in manfully in Tamim's absence and compiled the most runs in a three-ODI series for Bangladesh as recently as October, during the three-ODI series against Zimbabwe when he struck two centuries. But with Mashrafe sounding a ruthless note after the first ODI about the focus being on finalising the best combination for the global showpiece, a shaky top order has to be solidified.
He also said that the top three will consist of three of the four openers now playing, and as far as playing a new white ball goes, Soumya and Liton look better bets because they do not seem to be hounded by high pace. If it seems harsh on Imrul that his place is under the scanner so soon after a purple patch, one may consider the plight of Karun Nair, who was dropped by India three Tests after becoming the second Indian to score a Test triple hundred. Assuming that Bangladesh want to emulate that ruthless drive for excellence that has taken India to the top, the team management will have to start deciding on whether this is in fact their best eleven.