Thursday, 20 October 2011

A test for captain, coach and selection panel

Bangladesh's first Test at home in almost two years carries much significance with it: for Mushfiqur Rahim, making his debut as Test captain, for new coach Stuart Law - who follows two fellow Australians in this job - and for the selection panel, led by Akram Khan, which has taken some bold decisions in picking the squad. And, of course, for those new faces in the squad.
Mushfiqur, Bangladesh's eighth Test captain and the second wicketkeeper to hold the job, has seen his stock rise rapidly in the past six months. His calmness belies his age (23); though excitable, he's always had a sense of being in control and the best compliment comes from his team-mates who say that when he's in charge he keeps things calm.
The concern was that Mushfiqur's poor form behind the stumps and low scores in front of them would hamper his captaincy but - though it's early days - they haven't become an issue. He's developed the art of closing out tight games and he's done reasonably well with the bat, winning a Twenty20 and scoring a fine 69 that brought the team back from the dead in the second ODI; even his wicketkeeping has improved though he still does let the occasional one slip by.
With the players, his biggest challenge was to keep Shakib involved and in the forefront, and he's managed that so far. Shakib will be needed in the Tests as well and given their relationship from school (BKSP), that is unlikely to be a problem. With the others, he's already earned their respect.
The match is also a litmus test for Akram Khan, the former national captain who has found himself and his fellow selectors under increasing pressure. After the Test squad they named against Zimbabwe was questioned by then captain Shakib Al Hasan the latest controversy has risen from the complicated issue of Mohammad Ashraful, who has been dropped from the squad for the upcoming Tests.
Though the drop was inevitable, it has raised questions over the selectors' consistency - especially since Ashraful had top-scored in Bangladesh's last Test. The problem stems from the selectors' preference for all-format selection as opposed to specialised Test selection. It is true that Ashraful hasn't done well in the recent ODIs but what has muddied the waters is the dropping of Alok Kapali and Robiul Islam as well, despite their decent form in the ODIs.
Kapali looked like one of the very few batsmen who was getting used to the West Indies bowlers' shorter length and, while his brief innings in the second ODI was overshadowed by Mushfiqur's longer effort, Kapali fought in a crucial situation. Robiul too showed grit when the bowlers in Harare fell flat on the first day, his 12-over spell standing out as an example of the fight rarely seen among Bangladesh bowlers. Add Raqibul Hasan's inclusion after just two recent half-centuries and it is all making Akram's collective decisions look a bit skewed.
Ashraful's outburst on Wednesday has not helped matters and only a strong showing on the field will allow this situation to die down.
That performance could come from Shahriar Nafees, who looks set for an extended run in the No. 3 spot and will look to make the most of the opportunity. It's a golden chance too for Raqibul Hasan, who wasn't expecting a recall so soon. He has been okay in Test cricket, a different batsman to Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes and Nafees as he likes to stay in. Nasir Hossain is set to debut in Tests after an impressive start to international cricket, his batting offering stability to the middle-lower order. Naeem Islam completes the long batting-line up, making the bowling line-up go through a major reshuffle too.
Left-arm spinner Elias Sunny could also make his debut given Law's public endorsement, while Shahadat Hossain will take up Shafiul's place alongside the improving Rubel Hossain. Sunny, a left-arm spinner who bats quite well, has topped the averages in the Dhaka Premier League and has a good first-class record over the past four-odd seasons. His strength is his control - helpful against a side that looks vulnerable against a tight line on a turning track - and he can bowl long spells.
The worrying factor for the captain and coach, who will decide on the final XI, is the bench strength in Chittagong. Nazmul Hossain played his only Test seven years ago against India, while Suhrawadi Shuvo's last first-class match was in May 2010. Shuvogoto Hom too is an unlikely choice, so selecting the XI could be quite an easy job - and probably less controversial than picking the squad.

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