Riyad’s chance to stake a claim despite lacklustre plans
Bangladesh's World Cup plans appear to be getting patched up as each day progresses.
Following a disappointing end to the Asia Cup, the return of Mahmudullah Riyad for the ODI series against New Zealand at home -- the Tigers' last assignment before the World Cup -- raised questions about the value of the team management's plans laid out before the World Cup.
Riyad was dropped following the series against England in March this year after his failure to produce the goods with the bat. His fielding had also come under scrutiny, even from the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) president Nazmul Hassan Papon.
Even though Riyad managed a 96-ball 77 in the second ODI against India to help Bangladesh to a series win in December last year -- the last series the Tigers played before hosting England -- the 37-year-old's fitness issues meant that these sporadic successes with the bat were not enough when weighed against his overall contributions. And that ultimately led him to not finding a place in both the home and away series against Ireland and the home series against Afghanistan at home this year.
He was consequently left out of the Asia Cup, the biggest assignment in terms of World Cup preparation.
Meanwhile, Afif Hossain was also dropped after the England series. His runs in the Dhaka Premier League proved to be important enough for him to earn back a place during the Afghanistan series in July. However, performances in the Asia Cup saw him excluded from the upcoming series against New Zealand.
The curious aspect of the two aforementioned players being dropped is that they both appeared to be fighting for the same spot. If the team management had agreed on Riyad's frailties in recent times, why are they now playing the veteran just ahead of the World Cup?
If fearless cricket was the motto of the side, and the team management had frequently pitched the merits of backing players, why has Afif been dropped after just two poor performances in the Asia Cup?
BCB's explanation for the New Zealand series selection was that the key players were rested considering the World Cup, one that would be a long tournament. Chief selector Minhajul Abedin was quoted in a media release saying that the series "provides us with an opportunity to take a look at some other players." It could be surmised as an attempt at finding backup options.
However, the opportunity for Riyad and Soumya Sarkar, despite the lack of clarity of plans from the board, is a big one.
Mushfiqur Rahim was the one who originally took on the number six spot, playing the role which was Riyad's previously.
With Afif and Shamim Hossain not being able to capitalise on the opportunities recently, media reports have suggested that there were discussions in board meetings about the balance of youth and experience in the side, and some board directors have advocated for Riyad's return.
Thus, despite all the pessimism regarding Riyad, he may very well head to the World Cup if he performs up to expectations. There has been a shift in the stance but if the likes of Mahmudullah and Soumya had already been in the plans, the team management could have made their return more convincing by testing them in the big assignments ahead of the World Cup.
However, for Riyad and Soumya, the New Zealand series provides the perfect launchpad ahead of the World Cup. The chaotic process of the BCB, which did not meet their own requirements when tested, showed a familiar pattern emerging -- that Bangladesh often clamour for experience not because veterans have done well, but because BCB has not been a good judge of skillsets needed, both in case of the younger stars and the experienced ones.