Plenty to ponder for Bangladesh selectors
When Bangladesh's selectors meet, sometime over the next day or two, to select the squad for the Test and ODI tour of Zimbabwe, they will be staring past the safety net of the 15-man touring party and at a playing XI that to most other observers has seven empty spots. Those blank spaces are symbols of poor form and insecurity among the players, a cricket board unable to cope with its various issues and, above all, a talent pool that is rapidly drying up.
Last year's stunning ODI series win over New Zealand was due in large part to rigorous preparation but that example hasn't been followed this year. In fact any unsatisfactory outcome in Zimbabwe will probably be traceable to what has been happening in Bangladesh since the Australia series in April.
While the players took a well-deserved break, the cricket board triggered a media free-for-all with their hunt for the new coach by the serial leaking of names - even the final announcement of Stuart Law's name was no surprise to the media. The BCB spent too much energy playing hide-and-seek when all it had to do was get its head down and structure a whole team of coaches.
Law's arrival, on July 18, will be followed in no urgent manner by that of his support staff and it is likely he will have a makeshift team under him in a series fairly crucial to Bangladesh's reputation.
This confusion lends greater importance to the selection by Akram Khan and his team. As with almost every selection meeting here, the focus will be on the batsmen - the squad will have more batsmen than is required so that the new team management can take a good look at all their options - though the bowling line-up looks increasingly like a one-man show with the captain Shakib Al Hasan having virtually marked out his run-up at one end at the Harare Sports Club.
The last committee - headed by Rafiqul Alam - kept a settled opening pair in Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes, and gave Junaid Siddique a fair go at No 3 but the team's problems began with their poor handling of the next spot, leaving a terminal hole in a crucial position.
That the inconsistent Mohammad Ashraful has survived, and remains on the selectors' radar, is only due to a lack of options. He is expected to be named in the 15-man Test squad and stay back for the five ODIs.
Raqibul Hasan, the man tried in place of Ashraful, has flattered to deceive and his tendency to slow up the game doesn't sit well with the new selection committee, yet he remains one of the main contenders.
Akram is also said to be less inclined to promote Mahmudullah, who struck an unbeaten 68 against Australia in April at No 4, given his limitations against the fast bowlers, though the allrounder has a Test hundred in New Zealand batting at No 8.
The solution could be a toss-up between Raqibul and Shahriar Nafees at No 4 - with Nafees having made a first-class hundred in his previous game to add to his two half-centuries against Australia. Including both in the playing XI, however, is probably how the selectors could go given the recent tendency to bloat the batting line-up and leave Shakib at his favoured position.
It is on the bowling front that Akram's ever-present smile could turn into a scowl. The real lack of bowling options could force the selectors into picking a three-man seam attack led by Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain with the third spot a fight between Syed Rasel, Nazmul Hossain and Robiul Islam. The left-armer Rasel, who recently had a stint in the Essex league, is probably the best option on the soft surface of Harare. A crucial performer in the 2007 World Cup, Rasel fell away during Jamie Siddons' time as coach.
With Shahadat Hossain having suffered a broken toe while playing beach football in Cox's Bazar and Mashrafe Mortaza undergoing rehabilitation after his knee surgery in Australia, Rasel's experience could work in his favour. Robiul, after one wicketless Test at Lord's, has received good reviews for his performance with Bangladesh A in South Africa while Nazmul is a certainty for the ODI side.
If Bangladesh do go with three seamers, Mahmudullah could claim the second spinner's slot over Abdur Razzak. It won't be much of a surprise - Razzak has played only eight Tests in four years and has never been a frontline option, spurning the chance offered by Mohammad Rafique's departure.
The squad, once announced, will play two games against the A side.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka