Credit where it is due?
Like every other decision from the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), the appointment of Nurul Hasan Sohan as the T20 captain of Bangladesh team for the tour of Zimbabwe caused surprise among the cricket fraternity in the country. However, this particular decision from the management might end up being one of the few rational ones in recent memory.
Sohan – who became the eighth Bangladesh captain in the shortest format -- was named captain on an interim basis in place of Mahmudullah Riyad, who had been leading the T20 side since February 2018. Riyad was rested for the series alongside a few other star players like Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan as the BCB deemed it is a good opportunity to test the bench strength against an opponent of Zimbabwe's calibre with the 2022 T20 World Cup fast approaching.
While Sohan's record -- especially his batting -- during his brief career in the shortest format is far from awe-inspiring, however, the wicketkeeper-batter's potential cannot be questioned, especially after his valiant efforts with the bat in the recently concluded series in the Caribbean. It was assumed that the think tank and senior players must have also been impressed with his reading of the game, body language and overall attitude on and off the pitch.
Shakib did go on to say positive things following Sohan's appointment. "I think he is capable and the BCB thought that Sohan will be able to give a lot of things to Bangladesh cricket in future, which is the reason he was appointed captain of the T20I side."
The major arguments against Sohan lies in his below-average average (12.90) and strike rate (112.98) in the 29 T20I innings he played for Bangladesh and more importantly for his little experience in leading a side, even though he had led Sheikh Jamal side in the Dhaka Premier League -- a 50-over format competition at the domestic level. But the way he has shown the ability to remain unfazed by match situations to bat in a proactive fashion from the get go, an aspect which T20 cricket demands among other things, must have worked in his favour.
Someone like Mehedi Hasan Miraz or Liton Kumar Das were possibly nominated to lead the side instead of Sohan, but there remain a few tradeoffs with the two.
While Liton is one of the best batters in the side, if not the very best, according to his recent form with the bat, his overall record in T20s did not do justice to his talent. And say, even if he goes on to channel his Test and ODI form to T20Is, would it be wise to burden the leading performer with the captaincy role? It would certainly be counter-productive if the Tigers don't continue to receive Liton's stellar performances with the bat in all formats.
On the other hand, Miraz had long been hailed as a strong prospect to lead the national side at some point, having led the youth teams. Miraz had also captained in Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) -- a franchise-based T20 event -- but eventually things didn't work out with him and the management last season.
As a bowling all-rounder, Miraz fits the bill somewhat but his batting -- power-hitting to be precise -- remains a work in progress and his off-spin bowling is not suited for all conditions, surfaces and opponents to become an automatic starter. Furthermore, considering the type of bowler he is, batting all-rounders like Mosaddek Hossain, Mahmudullah Riyad or Sheikh Mehedi has what it takes to produce similar outputs as right-handed off- spinners, if not better, and provide a better balance to the side, considering the format is comparatively far more batting-centric.
In the T20 format, Bangladesh are undoubtedly lagging behind than the rest of the nations and the debacle in the T20 world cup in the Middle East last year was a testament to that. Under Riyad, Bangladesh lost 12 matches in the 16 T20Is they played ever since the 2021 T20 World Cup began. The manner of the losses was alarming while the areas of weaknesses did not diminish over time and, to make matters worse, the captain's batting outings were uninspiring and continued to remain so afterwards.
Now, if Bangladesh continue to go with the motions and keep banking on the senior cricketers to lead the side, would the results improve somehow? And even if it does, would it sustain with the stalwarts in the twilight of their career? At present, at the very least, Sohan seems a good choice as a vice captain in the future.
Bangladesh cricket needs innovation and foresight in the fast-evolving format of T20 cricket and the need for long-term vision is of paramount importance, now more than ever since ODI cricket -- the Tigers' preferred format -- is apparently losing its charm and facing a slow death. And it goes without saying that the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australian conditions should be played with minimum expectations but instead be taken as a platform to coagulate the key components of the national T20 side for the foreseeable future.
Now, with all being said and done, is the BCB really thinking long-term this time around or the appointment of Sohan happened from running out of options?