Gazi looks to make second coming count
Sohag Gazi was among the bowlers wearing a different t-shirt in Bangladesh's nets at the Shere Bangla National Stadium on Wednesday.
The colour, design or logo of the t-shirt isn't of much consequence since usually only the current Bangladesh squad members get issued the practice uniform. In his first net session with the senior side since last August however, Gazi felt the disparity between him and the Bangladesh players.
"I have learned a lot from the outside in these months," Gazi said. "I am bowling in the national team's nets after a long time but I am wearing this [South Zone] t-shirt. It felt awkward bowling in the nets without wearing a national team jersey. Everyone else was wearing one. It is quite natural to feel this way and any player would tell you this. I would like to wear the national team's jersey once again."
His wish would be granted a couple of hours later when the selectors picked him in Bangladesh's T20 squad for the two-match series against South Africa. This was his first call-up since he was reported for a suspect bowling action after the second ODI against West Indies last year.
After testing in Cardiff soon after being reported, he was suspended from bowling on October 8. As part of the remedial work, he was allowed to play in the domestic one-day competition from November 17. But with the second testing of his bowling action still months away, Gazi was not considered in Bangladesh's World Cup preliminary squad and was later omitted from the central contract list.
Later in the same month, he went to Chennai to test his reworked action and was cleared to bowl by the ICC this year.
Gazi said in those ten months since he was first reported in West Indies he was supported by his family members and a handful of friends as he tackled life outside the limelight of being an international cricketer.
"It was a tough situation. I started quite well as an international player but it suddenly got stopped. I am back now. My family encouraged me, unlike many others. Whoever supports you in tough times is your genuine friend.
"I am thankful to my family for helping me. The Bangladesh team is in such a shape that you have to work very hard to get a place," he said.
Gazi famously was given the first over a Test match in November 2012, the first for an off-spinner on Test debut. He was tasked with stopping Chris Gayle which he did after getting smashed for a six off the first ball, getting him caught at long-off in this third over. Three weeks later, he took 4-29 in his ODI debut. But his wicket-tally dried up while his bowling average steadily rose. When he was sidelined after his action was reported, Gazi was not a regular member in Bangladesh's playing XI. He has only taken four wickets in nine T20s till now, so that too is a concern.
"The team is doing so well now that nobody is going to give away their spots. I will try to bowl according to the situation wherever I get a chance. I have played in the World T20s, so I have some idea about the format," he said.
Gazi is talking about a new start because a lot has happened since his last international match. Bangladesh had won just two T20s in 2014 till that point but went through a complete change in fortunes since the Zimbabwe series last year. The likes of Taijul Islam and Jubair Hossain have also started well as specialist Test spinners while Arafat Sunny is now a fixture in the ODI side.
He understands that he would be facing a lot more competition. "This is really a turning point in my career. The team is doing well, and so are the new guys. It is tough to get into the side competing with them. In a way I am also a new player now.
"If I play, I will try to cement my place like I did when I made my international debut. I will think this is another debut for me. There is no alternative to performing because the competition is stiff within the team," he said.
Gazi had undergone slight changes in his foot position while landing on his front foot. He had be more side-on, rather than his original front-on action, with which he has played since his first-class debut in 2010. With his modified action, he has bowled reasonably well for Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club in the Dhaka Premier League, Barisal Division in the National Cricket League and for South Zone in the Bangladesh Cricket League. He has taken 37 first-class wickets at an average of 37.94 while in List-A cricket, he has picked up 17 wickets.
"I think coming back with the new action was the difficult part. I am bowling with a relatively new action. I bowled with the previous action for quite a long time. Maybe because I had little [things] to correct in my action, it took me less time to come back. It was tough nonetheless.
"I just wanted to perform regardless of whether I get picked now or not. When the team is doing well, there are very few changes in the squad. I kept trying through my performance," said Gazi.
When he was cleared by the ICC in February this year, Gazi felt like 500kg was lifted from his body, such was his relief. When he was bowling to Mominul Haque after the main nets session was over, Gazi looked more relaxed, and so did his bowling action. Now, in his career's second coming, he is in for a real test less than three years after his debut.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84