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Jubair hopes to survive despite Bangladesh's legspin snub

Jubair Hossain celebrates the wicket of Hamilton Masakadza AFP

The Australians weren't the only ones who missed out on a competitive match when the two-day game in Fatullah was cancelled. The BCB XI side, their opponents, had an opportunity against a top opposition during the off-season.

For the home side, these matches are less about results and more about providing a platform to the local players for future selections in representative teams, and for those seeking contracts in domestic teams. The BCB's High Performance (HP) team is scheduled to tour England on September 5, so it would have also provided some of the players a chance to give the selectors one final exhibit.

Among those looking for a place in the England-bound squad is the 22-year-old legspinner Jubair Hossain who, less than three years after being plucked out of nowhere to play for Bangladesh, was on the verge of disappearing. Earlier this summer, however, a place in the HP training squad salvaged his career.

When we met at the BCB's academy building, Jubair certainly looked more svelte than he did a year ago. It was reported back then that he had failed the skinfold test - a crucial fitness indicator in competitive sport - and was sent away from the senior team's preliminary camp ahead of the England series.

It was a long way down for a bowler who at the time of his Test debut in 2014 was touted as Bangladesh's next big bowling hope. Now he hopes that the HP squad can give him the lift he has sought since his T20 debut against Zimbabwe two years ago - the last time he donned Bangladesh colours.

"I believe I have a lot of time left in my career," Jubair said. "I am in the HP team and I have done a lot of fitness work and bowling. I played only a handful of matches in the last few years but this problem is slightly solved in the HP. I have so far played quite a few matches where I have bowled in different situations. I am sure this is going to help me in the near future."

"I think my fitness is up to the mark. You must have seen how quick I was when I played for Bangladesh. I was never slow. But last year there was an issue with my skinfold test. I have certainly improved my fitness, and I want to keep this going."

Given how inadequately he has been treated on account of Bangladesh's traditional thinking, it is a surprise that Jubair remains upbeat about his future.

He wasn't handled properly at any stage in the last three years. Around this time in 2014, he was bowling at the national team in as they prepared for a West Indies tour. When Sohag Gazi was reported for a suspect action after the second ODI, Jubair's name popped up in the selection discussion. Chandika Hathurusingha had been impressed with the legspinner, and although he didn't travel to the West Indies, Jubair was quickly given a first-class debut in a Bangladesh A series against Zimbabwe A the following month. He was being fast-tracked for the Test series against Zimbabwe in October 2014.

He finished that three-match series with 11 wickets at 29.27, which earned him an ODI call-up. He picked up four wickets in two games. Although it wasn't good enough for a place in Bangladesh's 2015 World Cup squad, Hathurusingha said at the time that he would have preferred taking Jubair to Australia.

It became a public spat between Hathurusingha and Faruque Ahmed, the chief selector at the time, putting Jubair in the undesirable position of being a Bangladesh player backed by a foreign coach. Envy is said to have crept in. For example, Junaid Siddiqui and Raqibul Hassan were taunted for being Jamie Siddons' favourite students when the Australian was Bangladesh's head coach. The pair hardly played after Siddons left the job.

Jubair, however, didn't get the same treatment at first. He was picked for Tests against India and South Africa in 2015. He picked up five wickets but the rain-affected Tests only allowed him 40.1 overs. Despite the encouraging performances, time was running out for a very inexperienced bowler. His rise to the senior team had been built on little bowling volume. Then, his international career halted in the space of two overs against Zimbabwe one evening in 2015.

In his first - it remains his only - recognised T20 match, Jubair bowled long hops in his first over that went for two sixes and a four. He took two wickets in the second over, but wasn't used for another over in that game. Overnight, Jubair fell off the radar.

"I think I lack in certain areas. If I play well then everybody will pick me."

A spiral followed. He played only three first-class matches in the 2015-16 season; then in the 2016 edition of the Dhaka Premier League, Abahani Limited dropped him after he had taken 13 wickets in seven matches, including a six-wicket haul.

Patience has never featured when Bangladesh deals with legspinners. In a recent interview with a Bengali daily, Wahidul Gani, the only other legspinner to play for Bangladesh, said that legspin is under-recognised in Bangladesh cricket. When Jubair had one average outing, they went for an offspinning allrounder.

In 2016's first-class competition, Jubair got to bowl in only one innings for Dhaka Metropolis, going for 77 in 13 wicketless overs. It was alleged that the night before the game, someone from the team management had warned Jubair that failure would mean no more matches in the tournament. That's exactly what transpired, but Jubair denies the story. That was the last time he played first-class cricket.

The only time a captain in domestic cricket gave him freedom was in 2015 when Tamim Iqbal asked him to bowl from one end without worrying about conceding runs. Jubair took seven wickets in that game.

He played only three matches for Mohammedan Sporting Club in last season's Dhaka Premier League, considered the most crucial testing ground for cricketers in Bangladesh. Mohammedan officials later regretted not playing him, but it was too late. The season was over, and Jubair was at risk of being forgotten for good.

But the HP selection came as a lifeline for Jubair who is now hoping to tour England next month, and court some demand from Dhaka Premier League clubs.

"I think I lack in certain areas. If I play well then everybody will pick me. If I don't perform, I will be dropped. It is natural. Probably I did not perform up to the mark. Now I am trying to work with several coaches in the HP team and correct those areas and get back to the national team," he said.

Jubair is known for seeking more game time than money. What has been most disappointing for Jubair is the lack of opportunity in first-class competitions, which is less cut-throat in terms of selection. Still, coaches and captains don't prefer handling a bowler who has more probability of giving away runs than a left-arm spinner.

A legspinner, whether Jubair or Tanbir Hayder, might have to wait for a change of mindset in Bangladesh cricket. Until then, they have to find ways to survive. Jubair is fitter these days and now has to wait for matches where he can find a captain like Tamim. A huge task for a young man who would never have guessed he would become a discarded international cricketer by the age of 22.