A Test series before a testing future
Two weeks ago, the biggest question in Bangladesh cricket was whether Shamsur Rahman could become only the second batsman from the country to score a first-class triple hundred. When he failed to do so, everyone wondered if his 267 would earn him a Test call-up. All of that is now a distant memory, after a leaked document has reopened age-old questions about Bangladesh cricket's future.
To consider all factors of this 'position paper' and to implement them will certainly take some time, but just the thought of being pushed off the precipice is a worry.
Bangladesh's captain, Mushfiqur Rahim, has already voiced his disappointment over the plan to send the team down to the Inter-Continental Cup as early as next year. Whether cricket in the country will remain at the same level is a general question, but what will happen to the players? Someone like Mushfiqur may have a Masters' degree to fall back on, but what about others?
What must have been most difficult for Mushfiqur was for all this talk, about such a complicated matter, to engulf his team less than two days before a Test match. As the captain of the lowest-ranked Test team, he already deals with more difficult questions than the average international captain. On one day it is about selection and on another about how secure his country is for visiting teams. Now it is about the most basic of things: his and his country's standing in cricket.
But the cricket itself must go on, and Bangladesh will take on Sri Lanka from Monday, despite the cloud hanging over the host country. The good news for Bangladesh is that they have a settled squad to choose from, containing exciting players apart from Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan. Shamsur has indeed earned a place in the squad and is likely to make his debut in Mirpur, and a refreshed Imrul Kayes is another batsman to keep an eye on.
Marshall Ayub and Mominul Haque are the youngest and least experienced Nos. 3 and 4 in world cricket, but are not far behind most in potential. Mominul has made the No. 4 position his own very quickly with two centuries against New Zealand in Bangladesh's last two Test matches while Marshall is a strong-willed batsman trusted to do an important job.
Bangladesh has little to worry about the rest of the batting order or bowling attack, as the selectors have picked the best possible players. Sohag Gazi and Robiul Islam will provide adequate support to Shakib Al Hasan, while Rubel Hossain has a point to prove and a bowling average to bring down. The back-ups are also raring to go, for differing reasons. Mahmudullah has lost the vice-captaincy. Al-Amin Hossain has recently taken five wickets in an over in a domestic Twenty20 match.
Bangladesh have a new fielding coach as well, following the surprise appointment of Mohammad Salahuddin. He has mentored Shakib, Tamim, Nasir Hossain and Mominul, and it looks like he could be a short-term but effective addition to Shane Jurgensen's increasingly efficient workforce.
Last year was a good one, relatively, for Bangladesh, who won one Test, drew three and lost two. Their progress has been slow over the last 13 years, but it is not the fault of the current lot to suffer the consequences of what happened in the past. And having said that, it is not much of a past.
Bangladesh haven't been given several decades to bed into Test cricket as some other countries were. It can be argued they were admitted to the highest level of cricket a few years too soon, but had the ICC been more proactive than political at the time, they could have told the BCB a lot earlier that they were being considered for Test cricket. First-class cricket might have started much earlier than 1999, a mere year before they played their first Test.
While there have been endless debates about Bangladesh's future, it has never before surfaced as such an institutional question. In the past it had been the odd former cricketer trying to be funny or trying to outrage the media, but generally, the powers that be let their reservations about Bangladesh cricket stay within the confines of their boardroom.
But now that it has come out in the open, it has been disappointing and embarrassing for Bangladeshi cricketers. They now have to deal with ideas and thoughts that should have been the BCB's headache. Instead, the board directors' hasty stance has brought in more criticism and worried cricketers further.
Ahead of their last Test series against Sri Lanka, a string of injuries had thrown Bangladesh's preparations off kilter. Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Ashraful had then changed the course of the game, bringing up the team's first ever drawn Test against Sri Lanka.
It remains to be seen if Mushfiqur and the rest of the team can bounce back in a similar manner from all the mental commotion they must be facing now. Bangladesh cricket has often done well when faced with questions, controversy and injury. This one seems right up their alley.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here