The perplexing non-selection of Tushar Imran

Tushar Imran walks off after hitting a century BCB

The irony is remarkable. Minhajul Abedin, the Bangladesh chief selector, was the country's best batsman never to have played Test cricket. He had his chances but, when he was 34, despite a strong first-class showing that included a double-hundred, the selectors were focused on youth. They had begun culling senior cricketers like Minhajul, Aminul Islam and Akram Khan, which set the Test team back for a prolonged period.

Tushar Imran is Bangladesh's leading first-class run-getter in the last five years, ahead of the next top-scorer by more than 1,000 runs. He has a record seven centuries in 2018, apart from being the first of his countrymen to reach 10,000 first-class runs. He has helped Khulna to a hat-trick of NCL titles in the last three seasons, often batting under pressure. He scores at a moderate tempo and possesses the technique to tackle spin on slow and low pitches.

Tushar has also done well pace bowling, especially in the last five years. During this period, he has handled quicks who were good enough to play international cricket for Bangladesh such as Shafiul Islam, Abu Jayed, Abu Hider and Mohammad Sharif.

Tushar offers form, experience and consistency to Bangladesh's middle-order that hasn't found anyone outside senior players like Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah to make big runs in the last five years. Tushar is also fit, as proven by his big hundreds for a prolonged period.

By keeping him outside the Test side against Zimbabwe, in the same month that he struck three centuries, Minhajul has not only ignored Tushar's runs, but also Bangladesh's first-class structure and the value of a seasoned batsman.

The very person whose experience was never used by Bangladesh in Test cricket and who had been the victim of one-dimensional thinking by selectors is now refusing to pick an in-form batsman. Tushar is also 34, around the same age when Minhajul was trying hard to enter the Test team.

"How many centuries and double-centuries have been scored in the NCL's first three rounds?" Minhajul said last week, while explaining Tushar's exclusion. "You have to look at the standard of cricket and wicket. You also have to consider how much a player has made in the first or second innings. We have to think about a players' ability at the international stage. We have to consider a lot of things when forming a balanced team. There have been a number of double-hundreds along with Tushar Imran's performance."

In the end, Ariful Haque, who hasn't been fully tested in international cricket, was picked ahead of Tushar for his double-hundred in the NCL earlier this month. The same NCL which Minhajul said didn't have good enough bowlers.

When he announced the team on Thursday, Minhajul said Tushar wasn't picked because of a middle-order logjam. He also said they were looking into the future, the same thing many chief selectors have said when ignoring a domestic heavyweight.

"We have had a lot of discussions about Tushar, but afterwards the selectors, coach, captain and team management decided against picking him. It is hard to find a batting spot for Tushar. Mushfiqur will play at No 4 and Mahmudullah at five while Shakib will bat at five after his return from injury. There's no point keeping Tushar in the bench.

"We have had to consider the future, even if it is not into the longer run but for the next two years. We cannot take a decision for one or two matches. We haven't neglected him. He was in consideration which is why we held so many discussions about him. But we couldn't keep him in the team due to the circumstances."

These statements are defensive, and don't offer a true picture of what the selectors or Bangladesh's team management are really looking for.

Minhajul is a chief selector under pressure. He still doesn't have the freedom to do his own work. By his own admission, Twice this year - in the Afghanistan T20Is and West Indies T20Is - he's had to bend to the team management's request of adding Soumya Sarkar in the squad. And during the Asia Cup, Minhajul was overlooked when Soumya and Imrul were picked midway through the tournament.

The BCB president Nazmul Hassan doesn't make life any easier for Minhajul, regularly making media statements about certain selection decisions before and after selection meetings. And, over his first year-and-a-half as chief selector, Minhajul was regularly overruled by then coach Chandika Hathurusingha.

BCB's selection committee, which was revamped in mid-2016, includes the coach and board directors Akram Khan (cricket operations committee chairman) and Khaled Mahmud (team manager). Tushar had to convince them to take a chance on him but he couldn't. Along with everything else working against him - his age especially - he's fighting along with several others for only one open spot in the Bangladesh Test XI.

Over the last two years, Mushfiqur and Shakib have been regulars at No. 4 and No. 5. Mahmudullah comes in at No. 6. Sabbir Rahman, Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar have all had various auditions as the seventh batsman but none of them have managed to nail down a spot. Sabbir has batted the most at No. 7, scoring 372 runs in 15 innings at 28.61

Bangladesh's proclivity towards playing seven batsmen, especially at home, stems from their desire for quick runs down the order. The plan, since the England series in 2016, has been to employ slow, low, spin-friendly pitches where a rapid 50 or 60 is seen as a vital contribution. Tushar probably doesn't fit that bill but Ariful - who was picked to play this role - is untested at the Test level and so batting with a high strike-rate on debut may be expecting too much from him.

Are there others who warrant a place in the middle-order like Tushar? Yes. Naeem Islam is a candidate but during Bangladesh A's tour of West Indies in 2014, he had a quarrel with Minhajul who was the selector on tour. Apparently, the incident has stuck with the former Bangladesh captain.

Alok Kapali is another option but in 2015, then chief selector Faruque Ahmed said he wasn't even in their "Plan B". This despite having a great first-class season. It goes to show runs in domestic cricket are useless for senior players in Bangladesh.

Despite learning the harsh lesson that teenagers cannot be trusted with too many roles in the team through much of the 2000s, decision-makers in Bangladesh cricket have very little faith in players older than 28. Fazle Mahmud became Bangladesh's oldest debutant since 1986, and after making two ducks in his first two innings, it is unlikely he will be picked again, mainly because he is 30-plus.

Like he said back in April, Tushar should think only about performing for Khulna Division and South Zone in the domestic first-class competitions. With the selectors' focus on younger players, and Tamim and Shakib returning soon, he can, at best, expect to be a media favourite.

Tushar's career may be coming to an end but the decision to ignore him in October 2018 is another body blow to an already rickety domestic cricket structure in Bangladesh.