Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladesh allrounder, has been named captain of the squad for the ODI tour of the United Kingdom in place of Shakib Al Hasan, who will be the squad's vice-captain.
The surprise move was announced in a BCB press release on the eve of the team's departure from Dhaka, two days after the squad for the tour had been released, and comes as a significant snub to Shakib, who led the team with determination during an arduous Test series against England last month.
"Mashrafe was our captain during the West Indies series. But then he suffered injuries. So we are now bringing him back to his former position," Enayat Hossain Siraj, a Bangladesh board official, told AFP.
Khaled Mahmud, the assistant coach and former national captain, admitted he was surprised by the decision, but told Cricinfo that Mashrafe, who was Shakib's immediate predecessor, had always been in contention to reclaim the captaincy, assuming he was able to prove his fitness following his rehabilitation from knee surgery. His first tenure lasted just 6.3 overs before he collapsed mid-over during Bangladesh's famous victory at Kingstown last July.
"Before Shakib became captain, the selectors always said that if Mashrafe could get fit, he might be able to take the job again," said Mahmud. "I'm not sure if it's the right or wrong move, but it's been a tough time for Shakib, whose recent performances, particularly with the bat, have not been up to standard. It's important for Bangladesh that he performs well, and perhaps the pressure of the captaincy is too much. He's still young, while Mashrafe is more mature."
Shakib, 23, was recently ranked as the leading allrounder in international cricket, and he was Bangladesh's leading wicket-taker in the course of their four Tests against England, claiming 17 scalps with his left-arm spin at 36.94. However, his batting fell away badly both in England and at the subsequent Asia Cup, with few glimpses of the ability he had showcased in making his maiden Test century against New Zealand earlier this year.
Nevertheless, the timing of the handover is not ideal, especially given that Shakib and Mashrafe had a falling-out during England's ODI series in Bangladesh back in March. Mashrafe went wicketless during his comeback match at Dhaka, before walking out on the squad ahead of the second ODI - apparently to be by the side of his ailing mother, but in reality because he was about to be dropped.
"The way Mashrafe bowled before his injury, that Mashrafe we might have missed tonight," said Shakib, in the aftermath of a narrow two-wicket defeat in the second match. "But the way he bowled in the last match and the practice match, not really. He needs some time to get back to full confidence and rhythm. He needs to play some games and get match-fit again."
Jamie Siddons, the Bangladesh coach, had also made a blunt assessment of Mortaza's form during the recently-concluded Asia Cup. Mortaza took only two wickets at an average of 77.00 and an economy-rate of 8.25 in three matches. "He's going to have to improve a lot on his current form," Siddons had said. "Unfortunately there's no ready replacement for Mashrafe at the moment, we're hoping his experience will pull him through. We'll keep looking for others and if Mash can't stand up we'll have to replace him."
Assuming he is back to full fitness, Mortaza will doubtless be an asset during a one-day tour that comprises three matches against England, two against Ireland and one against Scotland. With 137 ODI wickets in 107 appearances, he is Bangladesh's most prolific strike bowler, and his familiarity with English conditions should enable him to utilise any swing and seam on offer.
However, as Mortaza himself said back in February, the prospect of him walking straight back into the team and taking over the leadership is an awkward one - especially if he is not considered fit enough for Test cricket. "I'd like to give this opportunity to Shakib because he's doing well so far, and I'd like to play in his team," he told Cricinfo during his comeback match. "But also, I'm not playing both forms of cricket right now - I'm only looking to one-day cricket - and if I don't do both, then the captaincy and the relationship with the team is difficult."
Squad Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Shakib Al Hasan (vc), Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique, Raqibul Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah, Faisal Hossain, Jahurul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Shafiul Islam, Nazmul Hossain, Abdur Razzak, Syed Rasel.