Bangladesh hit by injuries

Bangladesh are facing fitness concerns over two of their leading fast bowlers before the start of next month's Champions Trophy in India. Both Mashrafe Mortaza and Syed Rasel have suffered freak injuries.

Mashrafe sprained his ankle recently after slipping down the stairs at home but according to Faruque Ahmed, the chief selector, he is likely to recover in time. "We are monitoring his condition closely. At this moment it looks like he will be okay within the time, but to be sure we have to wait a few more days," Ahmed told Reuters.

Bangladesh will be banking desperately on Ahmed's optimism for Mashrafe has been in good form lately and will be key to their chances of qualifying for the main rounds. He took 12 wickets in three games in Kenya last month, including a Bangladesh record six for 26. He will miss training for up to ten days.

But Faruque showed greater concern about the condition of Mashrafe's bowling partner Rasel, who damaged his foot in a motorbike accident last week. "Rasel did not improve on the scale we expected of him," Faruque said. It means that Shahadat Hossain is now the only fit pace bowler in Bangladesh's 14-man Champions Trophy squad.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's opening pair is also posing considerably problems before the tournament gets underway. Uncapped Mehrab Hossain junior is expected to open the innings with Shahriar Nafees. If so it will be the 23rd opening pair to be tried since Dav Whatmore took over as coach in June 2003, according to the Dhaka-based daily The Daily Star.

In 62 ODIs since then, Habibul Bashar, Khaled Mashud, Alok Kapali, Aftab Ahmed, Manjarul Islam Rana and Moniruzzman have all been tried. Javed Omar and Nafees have had the longest run, opening together in 15 matches followed by Nafees and Rajin Saleh. In this time, there has been only one partnership of over hundred and four over 50.

But Whatmore told the paper, the statistics were misleading. "That means one (opening pair) every three games. I didn't realise that many. You know sometimes we got one or two boys opening just for the sake of the game or prefer for one or two matches.

"I don't think you can honestly say that we tried twenty two opening pairs in sixty matches but there might be the odd game or two where we put somebody in there to open the batting for a specific reason but not for long-term. So I am not sure whether the twenty-two is an accurate figure in that sense."

Whatmore added that the batting line-up as a whole was a concern. "If you look through the whole batting line-up we need to be strong in all departments, not just in the opening position. Yes, the opening is very important as much as number three and number four, five. They are all important.

"But I have to say that we have won games without the openers doing well. It would be nice to see them do well. I am not sure you can just pick out one area and say you have done well in a certain area. We have done well in other areas. We have to improve more and opening is one of them. The situation is that we are not still able to have a regular opening partnership but we have to do the best we can."

Faruque admitted though that the number of pairs tried was too high. "Definitely the figure is abnormal. I am ready to accept that we were also inconsistent about the opening pair. Yes, we tried too many opening partnerships but what I want to say is that we were also helpless in one sense.

"We even tried Ashraful in this position but I must say we didn't give him enough time. Actually we are still confused whether it would be fruitful to use him as an opener because we have to think about the middle order too."

Bangladesh will play in the qualifying phase against Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe from October 7-14. The main tournament starts on October 15.