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Nurul and Liton breathe down Mushfiqur's neck

Nurul Hasan is one of the most talented wicketkeepers in Bangladesh today Getty Images

In the first three months of 2017, Mushfiqur Rahim scored 515 Test runs, which is more than he has made in a calendar year since his debut in 2005. He now looks like an assured batsman on pitches that have extra bounce, spin or both. But that improvement in batting has come at the cost of his wicketkeeping, and two young keepers are snapping at his heels.

Nurul Hasan and Liton Das have had limited international exposure but in that time they have shown glimpses of their abilities. Nurul is the better wicketkeeper, while Liton is considered the better batsman, but neither has been able to yet nail down the keeper's spot in the national team.

Nurul was first tried out in T20s, and then nearly a year later given a chance in ODIs. Liton, meanwhile, made his debut in all three formats in 2015, but despite coming to the national side after a purple patch in domestic competitions, he couldn't do justice to his immense potential. His most recent opportunity came in March this year, when Mushfiqur was asked to play the Tests in Sri Lanka as a specialist batsman. Liton played the Galle Test, scoring 40 runs and taking two catches, but was ruled out of the Colombo match - a historic win for Bangladesh in their 100th Test - due to a rib injury he suffered during net practice.

Mushfiqur returned to his post behind the stumps and kept better in that game than he had done for five years. He followed that up with great work in the ODIs and T20Is, forcing the Bangladesh board president, Nazmul Hassan, supposedly the man who takes all the decisions in Bangladesh cricket, to say that Mushfiqur had bounced back superbly.

Just like Tamim Iqbal has had to fight off competition from Soumya Sarkar and Imrul Kayes for the opening batsman's position, Mushfiqur has had to work hard to keep the wicketkeeping slot. Liton and Nurul will just have to wait, but for how long?

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Liton was born and raised in the north-western town of Dinajpur, more than 300km from Dhaka. He was sent to BKSP, the famous sports institute that produced Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur and many other international cricketers. He impressed the scouts and quickly became part of age-group teams, ending in two Under-19 World Cup sides, in 2012 and 2014and , averaging over 50 in those tournaments.

In the 2014-15 season, he was the second-highest run scorer in the Dhaka Premier League one-day competition, with 686 runs, and the leading run scorer in the first-class National Cricket League, with 1024 runs at 85.33.

Liton impressed as a keeper-batsman, making 44 on debut in the drawn Test against India in 2015, but the selectors decided to drop him after he managed only one international fifty in his first 15 innings. He had to wait more than a year to make his comeback - on the back of a first-class double-hundred - but the rib injury cut that short.

While Liton can make spectators gawk at his strokeplay, Nurul, now being considered for the Bangladesh keeping job, is a more debonair late-order batsman. He came to attention while batting 85 minutes to save a four-day game for Bangladesh A in Barbados in 2014. Protecting the No. 11, Robiul Islam, Nurul dealt with bouncers and yorkers from Sheldon Cottrell, Miguel Cummins and Carlos Brathwaite, at one stage even heading a short ball intentionally to take a single and keep the tailender off strike.

Born in Khulna, Nurul, inspired by his footballer father, played as a goalkeeper. One day the neighbourhood cricket team needed a wicketkeeper, so they summoned Nurul. Under the watchful eye of Bangladesh international Sheikh Salahuddin, Nurul slowly grew into a dependable presence behind the stumps.

He too became a regular in the age-group teams but from an early age was considered a better wicketkeeper than Liton and many others around him. Nurul's international appearances consist of nine T20Is, a couple of ODIs and one Test between January 2016 and January 2017. He has not batted higher than No. 7 in any format, and his only innings of note came in the Test - a 98-ball 47 in Christchurch.

Those in the Bangladesh management are now placing greater importance on quality keeping, which is an advantage for Nurul.

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Mushfiqur got his first big break when he was picked over Khaled Mashud for the 2007 World Cup, for the value he offered as the better batsman. He repaid the faith the selectors had in his skills by hitting an unbeaten fifty in the famous win over India in Port-of-Spain.

Mashud felt let down by the axe, especially since he had been given a guarantee by the selectors that he would be picked for the World Cup. He played three more Tests after the 2007 World Cup but had lost his form by then, and Mushfiqur naturally took over.

Mushfiqur now finds himself in a similar situation, where talented young keepers vie for his position in the side. And there are others waiting in the wings, like Zakir Hasan, who only just graduated out of the U-19 team and is doing well in domestic cricket.

But Mashud says that Mushfiqur doesn't really have to think about the competition and needs only focus on his own work at the highest level.

"Mushfiqur is a really consistent cricketer and has been around for a long time," Mashud said. He can only think about his own performance and not care about what the other wicketkeepers are doing. He is in a big place, and with cricketers like him, it is more about becoming a better international cricketer than thinking about who is knocking on the door. He has raised the standard of wicketkeeping to a higher level, which the next guys have to start at. It is not going to be easy replacing Mushfiqur.

"Liton is a fine batsman and [Nurul Hasan] Sohan isn't too far behind him either; he is also a good wicketkeeper, no doubt. But they have to be consistent, as much as Mushfiq is. I know it is hard, but Mushfiq has maintained a quality that is hard to match."

While Mashud backs Mushfiqur's glove work, everyone else is impressed by his batting progress. In the last six years he has had only one dip in his batting form as he has transformed himself into a middle-order mainstay. His batting gained a much-needed edge during tours of New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka, where the team looked stable whenever he was in the middle. He handled everything that was thrown at him, even when it landed him in a Wellington hospital with a head injury.

The competition behind the stumps will sharpen his focus to develop his all-round skills. Whoever survives or perishes in this battle, Bangladesh cricket will gain big.