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Difficult road back for Soumya in mentor's absence

Soumya Sarkar inside-edges Bhuvneshwar Kumar onto his stumps Getty Images

It is not entirely a coincidence that Soumya Sarkar's first axing from a Bangladesh squad has closely followed Chandika Hathurusingha's exit. Soumya was for long labelled as the coach's blue-eyed boy because of the way he remained a fixture in the squad despite his form suffering a dip.

The issue of certain players being perceived as the coach's favourite was a major talking point when Jamie Siddons was coach between 2007 and 2011. During that time, Siddons worked very hard on the batting of Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Raqibul Hasan and Junaid Siddique, and they were soon given the label of being the coach's favourites.

Shakib and Tamim performed admirably during Siddons' reign but Junaid and Raqibul didn't do justice to their talent and their coach's efforts. The international careers of Junaid and Raqibul ended, perhaps prematurely, after Siddons' departure in May 2011.

Players and officials have often compared Siddons' love for those four with Hathurusingha's affinity for Soumya.

Soumya's route back into the national side isn't straightforward. An immediate big innings in the domestic first-class competition could bring him back even during this month's tri-series but, at the same time, the batsmen who have earned recalls - Anamul Haque and Mohammad Mithun - will be hungry to make an impact. And they will get an extended run, which means Soumya might have to endure a frustrating wait.

It is a world away from the last three years in which Soumya was treated with a lot of care. Hathurusingha first saw Soumya taking a catch at slip in Mirpur and, to quote the cliche, it was love at first sight. He was amazed by the young player's soft hands which translated into his superb hand-eye coordination. Soumya was handed an ODI debut on December 1, 2014, and though he didn't score too many that day, he did enough to win a World Cup place.

Soumya's honeymoon period extended from February 2015 to August 2015 when he impressed during the World Cup and a run of home series against Pakistan, India and South Africa, against whom he made an unbeaten 88 and a 90 in successive ODI innings. Runs dried up from that point, and 12 months later, Soumya's selection began raising questions. His struggles against Afghanistan in a three-match ODI series led to his being dropped from the XI in the ODIs against England in October 2016, though he remained in the squad. It was a contentious call, and much of it came down to what Hathurusingha felt at the time.

Often in the past, the team management's view was that Soumya needed to be in the national set-up in order to regain his rhythm which had gone missing since those two match-winning knocks against South Africa. But even after he made a string of Test fifties in early 2017 - four in seven innings in New Zealand and Sri Lanka - Soumya's form wasn't reliable. He had a poor Champions Trophy in June 2017, scoring 34 at an average of 8.50, and struggled in the Tests at home against Australia and away in South Africa, scoring a combined 77 runs across those two series at an average of 12.83.

Things didn't get any better in the home front after the South Africa tour. Soumya averaged 15.36 in 11 innings in the BPL for Chittagong Vikings. Chief selector Minhajul Abedin, who acted as a mentor for the BPL franchise this season, said Soumya looked like he needed a break in international cricket.

Now, with Hathurusingha's exacting influence gone from the Bangladesh team, the national selectors have given Soumya that break.

"Soumya has been playing all the formats for quite some time," Minhajul said. "There's no question about his talent, but since he hasn't been consistent, we have decided to give him a break. He is still in our plans. We are hoping he will return to form, and also restore his mental make-up. Performance is the first criteria for a player in any format. I am hopeful that he will do very well, better than the others, in domestic cricket."

Minhajul hasn't said or implied that his exclusion had anything to do with Hathurusingha's exit. But it looks like it had been a long time coming for the young batsman, who has had trouble dealing with his technical flaws amid all his talent. Now he has to harness all his talent and find a way to come back into the national side.