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April 4, 2013
Bangladesh's selection committee will complete a full circle when they announce the Test team on Friday that will take on Zimbabwe in two Tests later this month.
The three-member panel that began its reign exactly two years ago, had their first assignment to pick a team for the previous Zimbabwe tour, but this time the challenges are more perceptible rather than being routine.
Much of the injury trouble has disappeared as Shakib Al Hasan is being readied for the tour and the recovery of Enamul Haque jnr, Shahriar Nafees and Naeem Islam now complete. Tamim Iqbal, who fractured his thumb during the first ODI against Sri Lanka, could also feature as early as the first Test against Zimbabwe. The only worry is Mashrafe Mortaza whose Test claims were shelved after he could not recuperate from a heel injury, but he is likely to make the ODI squad.
All this is as much good news for the selection committee as it is a challenge. They have several options to pick from and whichever way they go, be it continuing with the incumbent squad of players or bringing back experienced players, they will have to back their decision to the hilt.
There will be no other way for Akram, Minhazul Abedin and Habibul Bashar, all former Bangladesh captains. A tour to Zimbabwe has been traditionally a challenge that had the allure of a positive outcome. It was the same two years ago, but Bangladesh lost and that possibly made the selectors time in office a lot harder as they started their job with defeat.
The Bangladesh team that lost the one-off Test was a team that was supposed to be in transition after the 2011 World Cup campaign. Instead, the losses in the Test and ODI series in Zimbabwe forced a drastic re-think in leadership while the team combination went through several changes, some of which were necessary, while many have been reactionary.
As they complete selection for their second series against Zimbabwe during their reign, the selectors are facing a similar challenge as they did in April 2011, but this time with a history of small discretions along the way, which is adding to their expectation. In other words, a series win beckons and with a sense of anticipation that is a few times more than the last series against the same team.
Their inability to find a proper set of pace bowlers has been a big disappointment. They have gone through six so far, none of whom got more than eleven wickets in Tests in the last two years. Injuries have also hurt their chances of forging a settled combination but their handling of these pace bowlers' preparation has been quite poor. The constant excuse that these pace bowlers have used is the lack of bowling in longer games, which is a decision taken mainly by the selectors, who are caught between giving them enough bowling in domestic matches but mindful of using them in Test cricket.
What has resulted is half-fit and poorly prepared pace bowlers relying on a defensive line and length and often without the accuracy of first-class bowlers. They have also made an error in judgment by not looking past Shahadat Hossain and using Robiul Islam as just a Test match bowler. Abul Hasan is another who is falling into the trap of less bowling and more mollycoddling, and it has resulted in his on-field performance and his continuous helplessness after a good first spell.
What is on the selectors' side is the settled look of the overall batting order. Their continuous chop and change to find Tamim Iqbal's opening partner is a factor held against them. But the middle-order hasn't seen too many upheavals and this has been one of their achievements.
The selectors too have been a settled line-up for the last two years, another notch on their belt. But as far as a lower-ranked team like Bangladesh is concerned, they haven't actually brought on many rare talents and backed them. Sohag Gazi was only an option against left-handed batsmen from West Indies, but the offspinner has exceeded that expectation from the selectors. Nasir Hossain, Anamul Haque and Mominul Haque are batsmen who "selected themselves" as one chief selector liked to say frequently.
They have given eight debuts each in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20s so far and of them, players like Suhrawadi Shuvo, Nazimuddin and Shuvogoto Hom have already faded away from national contention.
All of these negatives and positives will be weighed against Akram and his colleagues if a result other than a series win happens in Zimbabwe. With the World Cup two years away, it would not be wise to put them under more pressure because that would translate into pressure on the players, which should hardly be the case given how rapidly the team has developed in the last two years.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Mohammad Isam
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala