Fringe players pin comeback hopes on A tour
Bangladesh A will head to England later this weekend for a three-week tour which has the potential to answer several questions for the senior side ahead of the 2013-14 season. The squad is packed with international cricketers, as has been the practice with Bangladesh A teams, since their formation in 1995.
This norm of picking mostly international cricketers in the A team has made it easier for the national selectors to make the second-string side another version of the Bangladesh team. The method differs from the concept of an 'A' team in other countries, where selectors pick upcoming youngsters in order to ready them for the national side.
On previous tours of England, in 2005 and 2008, the Bangladesh A team had more internationals than uncapped players; the 2008 squad included the likes of Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal. In the A team that played the Shafi Darashah Trophy in India last year, eight of the 13 members were internationals.
The situation in Bangladesh is different because the senior side hardly gets enough opportunities to play abroad in different conditions. Only the players assured of a place in the senior team are not picked in the side. For the others, A tours are a chance to regain experience. Jahurul Islam, who is leading the A team, Anamul Haque and Mominul Haque have played for Bangladesh in the last season, so the tour would serve to consolidate their positions if they put runs on the board.
In essence, the eight one-day matches - five against county sides and three against England Lions - will be important to the selectors, who are keen on keeping batsmen in touch against top-quality bowlers in a variety of conditions.
The likes of Naeem Islam, Shamsur Rahman, Marshall Ayub, Imrul Kayes and Raqibul Hasan have been on the fringes at different times, and will be eyeing some of the available slots in the national side. Among them, Naeem has to reclaim a position which he first strengthened, with a Test hundred against West Indies last year, but lost unceremoniously in February when he played in the BPL's final stages with a groin injury. The decision to continue playing in spite of the injury cost him a place in the Bangladesh side for the rest of the season.
It will be more traditional approach for the other batsmen in the side, i.e., the ones who wait for such tours to stake a claim. There are several like them who have missed out on this tour of England because the national selectors are keener on keeping an eye on the season ahead, rather than focusing on long-term development.
Imrul and Raqibul, who have been out of the side for nearly two years, are among the batsmen looking to earn a recall to the national side. Marshall will aim to score runs like he did in the last domestic season - where he finished with more than 1,000 first-class runs - to have another shot at cementing his place in the side.
"I didn't play in Sri Lanka and missed out on the Zimbabwe tour, but I see this tour and the subsequent Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League as big opportunities," Marshall said. "The conditions will be a challenge but I really want to grab this chance. I don't have a big ambition but I want to stay in the runs just like last season."
Among the bowlers, too, there is only one uncapped player - pacer Al-Amin Hossain. Robiul Islam and Rubel Hossain, both Test bowlers, will lead a bowling attack that includes pace-bowling allrounders Ziaur Rahman and Farhad Reza and spinners Sohag Gazi and Elias Sunny.
Robiul, who was player-of-the-series in the Tests against Zimbabwe earlier this year, is keen to not pass up on the opportunity of playing in England, even if it means playing for a team that is a rung lower than the national side.
"I will hopefully get to play eight matches, which is a rarity in August. Plus the conditions are suitable to a bowler like me, so who would want to miss it?" Robiul said.
For Rubel, the tour is a chance to test the fitness of his shoulder, while Ziaur will have the chance to bring more discipline into his all-round ability. Gazi will have the chance to improve his offspin by playing in different conditions.
If the three-week tour serves the selectors' purpose of finding in-form players to plug the gaps in time for the home series against New Zealand in October, not many will complain. But the A team must also be used to groom and sustain the flow of fringe players who will push those in the senior side. It is the highest stage for those on the outside to stake a claim but, if the A team is used to create playing opportunities for international players instead, it will only serve to decelerate the senior side's long-term progress.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here