Bangladesh's best fast bowler sidelined
Bangladesh's best Test fast bowler of the last five years was only a 90-minute drive away from Mirpur. But Robiul Islam was never going to be called up. He was among the South Zone reserves in their first-class match against Central Zone in Fatullah.
To the north of Fatullah at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, Bangladesh lost Shahadat Hossain two balls into the second Test against Pakistan. Their hopes of taking wickets from a considerably helpful pitch rested on the one-Test old Mohammad Shahid .
Shahadat tried to come back in to the game but with his injured right knee he could hardly bowl a few practice deliveries during the first day's lunch break, before being ruled out for several months. Shahid, on the other hand, made the most of his opportunity. He bowled 31 economical overs and picked up the important wickets of Mohammad Hafeez and Younis Khan. Shahid returned with more in the bag on the second morning, giving away just one run in his first five overs.
Shahid earned his place in the Bangladesh team by impressing through the Dhaka leagues and the domestic first-class competitions. Shahadat, meanwhile, hadn't done enough in the domestic scene in the past two seasons, but he returned to the Test team against Zimbabwe last year. Since then, his first-class bowling average didn't improve considerably, but he spent a lot of time bowling in the Bangladesh nets, and remained in the reckoning for the national squad.
Beyond Shahadat and Shahid, Bangladesh's pace attack has included Rubel Hossain and Shafiul Islam in recent Tests. Al-Amin Hossain, before his bowling action was reported, took six wickets in as many Tests. Abul Hasan is in the current 14-man squad. Sajedul Islam and Ziaur Rahman had their moments in 2013. Nazmul Hossain played his last Test in 2011. Many of them went through phases of injury and some were sidelined due to poor form. Among all of them, Robiul had been the most impressive.
His numbers among his peers speak for themselves but at times Bangladesh cricket's decision-makers go beyond numbers. The selectors often look for a fast bowler who can bat a bit, Abul and Shafiul often fitting that bill. They have also been inclined towards one-hit wonders. It was learned that someone in the team management wanted Mustafizur Rahman for the second Test against Pakistan, despite the young man's lack of experience in first-class cricket. He was a shock call-up for the T20 against Pakistan, and is considered far from ready for regular international cricket.
In a nutshell, the powers-that-be look for a "feel" in their fast bowlers and currently, Robiul doesn't quite make them "feel' they need him. He is a Test specialist so there is some distrust in his performance because he didn't hit the mark in the limited-overs formats, a bit like Mominul Haque is treated despite scoring regularly in Tests.
It could be Robiul's poor batting, his regular injuries and the time he takes to recover from them. He has been forgotten after bowling one bad over (in Harare in 2011) and one bad spell (in Gros Islet in 2014). He has played nine of the 23 Tests since his debut, and hasn't played one since September 2014. His crime in Gros Islet, his last international game, was that he didn't take full advantage of a grassy wicket. He did end up taking 2 for 63 at an economy-rate of 2.42.
He is no longer among the centrally contracted players. The selectors and the team management have given him less time than Rubel, whose Test bowling average is 76. But Rubel's World Cup form has made him the leader of the attack in the absence of Mashrafe Mortaza. Al-Amin and Shafiul bowl a safe, one-day line, which has been considered more effective than Robiul's fuller lengths, fishing for edges and hoping for swing and seam.
It is also hard to forget that Robiul is the only Bangladesh fast bowler to be Man-of-the-Series, against Zimbabwe in 2013, when he took 15 wickets. Two years on, Robiul is out of Bangladesh cricket's consciousness.
Since his last Test, he picked up a shoulder injury in a Dhaka Premier League match in November. He only returned to play two first-class matches for Khulna Division in the National Cricket League in February. He was not picked for the last three matches of their campaign.
He missed the Bangladesh Cricket League's one-day leg and only played the opening match of the tournament's first-class version last month. He wasn't picked for the second, which began a day after the Dhaka Test started.
By not giving Robiul enough time, space and attention, Bangladesh are missing out on a strike-bowler. Like all the other Bangladesh fast bowlers he needs a bit of time to find his rhythm, to bowl a good spell or just feel his way into the dressing room after an injury or exclusion. It is also sometimes forgotten that since he is considered a Test specialist, he is one of the few players who always have to endure long breaks in international cricket.
Enamul Haque jnr was Bangladesh's first recognized Test specialist. He was lost in such yawning gaps in the schedule. Towards the end, Enamul's form hardly stayed at the same place it was when he was hitting the high notes against Zimbabwe in 2005 or against Australia in 2006.
Robiul too is facing a similar challenge. In a bid to get back into the national team, he first has to play for his zonal team this season, get a good club in the Dhaka Premier League next year and play regularly and get lucky in being picked for either Bangladesh A or any of the representative sides that take on visiting teams. Or he could simply keep bowling in the Bangladesh nets and hope the decision-makers, such as the captain, coach, bowling coach and the selectors, consider him.
But the bottom line is, a place for him in the Bangladesh Test team is as far away as Bangladesh are from having a stable bowling attack in Test cricket.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84