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Taskin keeps his focus on selection lifeline

Taskin Ahmed exults after taking a wicket ICC

Within a span of five years, Taskin Ahmed went from being Bangladesh's next big pace hope to finding himself on the sidelines, almost forgotten by the selectors. Within these five years, he was suspended from bowling in international cricket due to an illegal action and, once he overcame that hurdle, was dropped from the side within a year due to poor form. He watched other pace bowlers like Abu Jayed, Khaled Ahmed and Ebadot Hossain move ahead of him and, a couple of weeks ago, reacted emotionally following a World Cup snub. His addition to Bangladesh's squad for their tri-series in Ireland was, thus, a lifeline for the 24-year-old who hasn't yet fulfilled his promise of being a quality fast bowler.

Although Taskin is not the team's first-choice, he still has the tools to stake a claim in Bangladesh's playing XI. His chief weapon - pace - is an asset to any team in international cricket, more so in the case of Bangladesh. However, whether he has the capacity to tackle another international comeback depends on how he perceives this opportunity. Taskin admitted he will be under pressure in Ireland.

"There will be lots of pressure on me to perform in Ireland," Taskin told ESPNcricinfo. "I will have to do well. I am trying to reduce the pressure on me. I think if I stick to the right process, things will fall into place."

When asked if he was putting too much pressure on himself, or if he felt the pressure from his fans, Taskin said it was a matter of delivering on his expectations.

"It is my expectation to do well. I want to do well. My fans have always been positive, mostly, but it has nothing to do with them," he said.

Given the truckload of expectations that surround a Bangladeshi cricketer, putting himself under more pressure might not help Taskin at the highest level but the bowler is honest about what lies ahead. Perhaps his impressive performances in this year's Bangladesh Premier League, followed nearly immediately by fitness issues, have driven those expectations.

He was the second-highest wicket-taker in the BPL, with 22 wickets at an average of 14.45 for Sylhet Sixers. However, days after being named in the Bangladesh ODI squad for the New Zealand tour, Taskin suffered an ankle injury, which took a long time to heal and limited his appearance in the Dhaka Premier League to only three matches last month.

As a result, at the time of picking the squads for the World Cup and the Ireland tri-series, the Bangladesh selectors felt Taskin hadn't recovered sufficiently. It was a body blow for the bowler, who broke down in front of the media on the day of the squad announcement.

That breakdown was another instance of Taskin reacting emotionally, an issue for which he has had to lean on several of Bangladesh's senior players, including captain Mashrafe Mortaza, in the past. He has been chastised by his team-mates and coaches a number of times, including on the field, for showing too much emotion. His social-media posts, too, have attracted criticism as being too revelatory, even as a few senior figures in Bangladesh cricket have advised him to dial it down. The more central problem for Taskin, however, has been the loss of pace, one of the chief reasons he lost his place in the Bangladesh side.

In his last international appearance, during the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka last year, Taskin bowled at speeds of 120-125 kph, a decline from his earlier pace of 135+ kph. A fitness issue was also evident during the Sri Lanka tri-series, when he struggled to beat the bat.

Moreover, he was affected by a spate of injuries and Taskin says he now understands that to do well at the highest level, he will have to bowl like he did in his first couple of years in international cricket.

"I would also like to bowl like I did in the past. It is a tough challenge to come back into the team having not played so many matches. In cricket, sometimes when you lose your place someone else takes it and does well, so it is always hard to come back," Taskin said.

His ODI career began with a five-for on debut against India in 2014, and he was the highest wicket-taker for Bangladesh in the 2015 World Cup, with nine dismissals. Initially, he was picked only for limited-overs cricket so that his body, battered by a back injury in 2013, could gradually get better at withstanding the demands of international cricket.

His world, however, came crashing down following the suspension in March 2016. He worked hard to remedy his bowling action and on his return, six months later, took seven wickets against Afghanistan in the home ODI series.

He made his Test debut in early 2017, but didn't have as significant an impact as in the ODIs. Things got worse in South Africa where he picked up only two wickets across formats on a long tour. Some of his team-mates were heard criticising him for being too slow in the field, and there were also murmurs of the coaching staff and senior players being dissatisfied with his efforts.

What has kept Taskin going is his hunger to play for Bangladesh, which he can achieve if he can keep bowling fast, with emotional control and physical well-being. Bangladesh will also be keen to have him back, with the kind of attitude and the consistency he showed in his first 12 months of international cricket.