Top-order trio give Bangladesh a good selection problem

Soumya Sarkar works one on the off side AFP

Soumya Sarkar in full flow, driving on the up, cutting smoothly, crashing spinners over midwicket with a cross-legged follow-through, is a sight to behold. But it is rare, and his 117 against Zimbabwe in the third ODI was his first in international cricket in more than three years.

Imrul Kayes finished the series with rare consistency, hammering 144, 90 and 115 to become the second highest run-getter in a three-match ODI series, just 11 runs behind the 360 Babar Azam made against West Indies in 2016. Both Soumya and Imrul have only just returned to the ODI squad, midway through the Asia Cup.

Liton Das had two bad games on either side of a sublime 83. He also made 120 against India in the Asia Cup final. It is going to be hard to not consider any of these three batsmen when the selectors pick the next ODI squad, against West Indies in December.

Bangladesh batting coach Neil McKenzie said that batsmen like Soumya, Imrul, Liton and Mohammad Mithun have to continue being consistent due to the competition for places once Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal return to the side from injuries.

"When you have a lot of competition for places, you have to be consistent," McKenzie told ESPNcricinfo. "It is no use getting a hundred and then nought, nought, five, seven. If you just look outside the squad and the guys who didn't get to bat today, just look at how much batting you've got. There's a lot of batting coming through. It is all about competition for places. It would make selection a little bit tricky. You have to select what's best for the team."

McKenzie said that if more of Bangladesh's batsmen think like Soumya did in Chittagong, by trusting his own method, style and techniques, they could bat at higher tempo, show more consistency and bat with more confidence.

"It is nice to see them get rewards for their hard work," he said. "A guy like Soumya has so much happening for him. He is a great striker of the ball, he is tall and imposing on the opposition. It is down to some confidence. He got a hundred against Zimbabwe in the warm-up game. He got some runs in the domestic games.

"It is all about confidence and trusting your game plans. I think they are allowed to be themselves in this environment. They have to bat like Soumya does. You can't bat like anyone else. You have to trust your own style."

McKenzie, known among his coaching staff as someone who becomes restless when batsmen play dots, said that Bangladeshi players have a talent for finding gaps as much as possible, and ensuring ones and twos are not missed. It sets them up for big hits - a case in point being the nine sixes they hit in this game.

"It is down to game plans: when to hit and when not to hit, and hit spaces. We talk a lot about the skillsets of a Bangladeshi batsman. There's no use trying to bat like West Indians or South Africans. You have to bat like a Bangladeshi. Use your skills.

"Bangladeshi batsmen hit space. They should be agile between wickets. They are very skilled hitters. Hit space and run hard, and the big hits will follow. We have had some big sixes there. Guys were in good positions, and it comes from confidence."

One of the things that McKenzie has stressed upon is using the depth of the crease and not reacting too slowly to certain bowlers. Bangladesh's struggle against Rashid Khan this year is well documented but in the must-win Asia Cup game in Abu Dhabi, Mahmudullah and Imrul batted sensibly against him, mostly by not moving on to the front foot when the bowler is delivering the ball.

"I think it is just positions with the spinners. I think a lot of the time we get into position a little bit too late," McKenzie said. "We are still moving our front foot when the ball is being released. By being nice and set as the bowler is about to release the ball, it gives you options off the front and back foot.

"With a guy like Rashid Khan, who is quick in the air, we played him a little bit too rushed. Getting into an early position that you can transfer your weight forward and back, and a lot of the emphasis, chatting to Steve [Rhodes], is on having opportunities to score off the front and back foot."

Bangladesh have treated Zimbabwe's spinners with disdain in this ODI series, something that has come from their confidence in dealing with spinners in the Asia Cup. "A lot of our guys today are very happy with good drives through the covers but when it is slightly short you see them jumping back quite far back on to their stumps," McKenzie said. "Either cutting it square or picking up over midwicket. I think it is just that early position and giving yourself options."

The three batsmen in Bangladesh's top order have shown in this ODI series that following their own style and sticking to batting plans brings rewards. Anamul Haque failed to cement his place in the ODI opening slot despite being given seven chances this year. Nazmul Hossain Shanto struggled in three Asia Cup matches before Liton, Imrul and Soumya raised the stakes in the space of four ODIs.

So who will open with Tamim when he returns to the side? Normally, the answer was a difficult one because no one else would be scoring, a problem that has been as lengthy as Soumya's drop in form since 2016.

It remains a difficult answer, but only because there are now three candidates for two vacant top-order places.