Mahmudullah likely in squad for first NZ Test

Naeem Islam celebrates his century Associated Press

Bangladesh's vice-captain, Mahmudullah is expected to get an extended run and retain his place in Bangladesh's 14-man squad for the first Test against New Zealand, which starts on October 9 in Chittagong. The allrounder has had a horrid run in the last two Test series and was dropped from the second Test against Zimbabwe in Harare.

Paceman Al-Amin Hossain and batsman Marshall Ayub are also tipped to be in the squad, while opener Anamul Haque is likely to return after missing the Zimbabwe tour due to college exams.

Mahmudullah's place would have been in doubt after he scored 34 runs in his last six Test innings, but he has three factors working in his favour: his ODI form is relatively better, he provides assurance as a senior batsman at No. 8, and he can make up for the lack of experience created by the absence of Mohammad Ashraful. For a team that lacks international experience and will grasp any form it has available, a turnaround in Mahmudullah's Test fortunes would come in handy.

In six ODIs this year, Mahmudullah has scored 177 runs at an average of 44.25. In 2012, he averaged 70.66, and was instrumental in Bangladesh's ODI series win over West Indies. In the ongoing Dhaka Premier Division, he has led Gazi Tank Cricketers, but has only scored 81 runs in three innings. In Test cricket, his unusual batting position at No. 8 has yielded surprising results - in 16 innings, he has scored a century and four fifties and averaged 42.21.

At the top of the order, Anamul is likely to return and partner Tamim Iqbal at the cost of Jahurul Islam, who worked hard to get runs in Sri Lanka but couldn't reach any milestones. Bangladesh would have benefited from Jahurul's presence, because he complements Tamim's aggression, but it is likely that Anamul will beat Jahurul to the second opener's slot.

There will also be a battle for Nos. 3 and 4 in the batting line-up and it is likely that the selectors and the team management will look to Marshall Ayub and Naeem Islam to fill these places. Both are right-handed batsmen, with Naeem having had success recently before being sidelined by injury.

In the first Test against the West Indies last year, Naeem scored Bangladesh's first century at No 4 since Aminul Islam's 144 in the inaugural Test 12 years ago. But he picked up a groin injury during the Bangladesh Premier League in January and missed the tours to Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Marshall, on the other hand, has been scoring plenty of runs in the domestic scene in the last 18 months. He has notched up six centuries at different levels and was a part of the Test squad in Sri Lanka, although he didn't get a game.

The next three batting positions, occupied by captain Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and Nasir Hossain, are settled. The only other concern is the fitness of the pace bowlers Robiul Islam (hamstring injury) and Rubel Hossain (muscle stiffness); Al-Amin is a expected to be a back-up in the attack. Robiul, who was man-of-the-series in the Test series in Zimbabwe, and Rubel are expected to recover in time for the first Test.

Offspinner Sohag Gazi, the leading wicket-taker for Bangladesh in 2012-13, will once again be playing second fiddle to Shakib Al Hasan. He would be expected to take the bowling load, although there has been talk of Gazi taking it easy at training for his Dhaka Premier Division club, Prime Doleshwar SC. His form, however, remains encouraging and can test the visitors.