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Bangladesh combine new blood with old smarts as preparation for Under-19 World Cup title defence begins

Preliminary squad and plans in place, defending champions wait for opportunities to play competitive cricket

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
The Bangladesh players celebrate with the Under-19 World Cup Trophy, Bangladesh U-19 v India U-19, Final, Potchefstroom, February 9, 2020

The Bangladesh players celebrate with the Under-19 World Cup Trophy  •  ICC via Getty

The architects of Bangladesh's Under-19 World Cup success in early 2020 will trust the same factors as they take the first steps towards building a new team, chief among them trying to put together a squad that is tailor-made for the conditions in the Caribbean, where the tournament will be held in 2022. The selectors and coaches have picked a 28-member preliminary squad for a four-week training programme, starting October 1, which follows a rigorous selection process that concluded last week.
Forty-six cricketers, picked from age-group tournaments across the country, trained in a camp at Dhaka's Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan [BKSP] over the past few days to showcase - and hone - specific skills. They were also part of a 50-over trial tournament. There will be another camp then, where the focus will be on fitness and providing playing time to the squad as they prepare for a potential Under-19 Asia Cup in November in the UAE, their first international assignment as a group. While the first camp was under specialist coaches Mehrab Hossain and Talha Jubair, the upcoming one will be under the Under-19 national team's head coach, Naveed Nawaz, who steered the previous team to World Cup glory.
Bangladesh's self-assurance and aggression throughout their title-winning campaign, particularly in the knockout stages when they brushed aside hosts South Africa and New Zealand and then held their nerve against India in the final, stood out. Unlike previous teams, which were reliant on a select few, the victorious side had a 'team' feel to it. There were several performers, and almost every game had a different match-winner. In the final, before India could make an aggressive statement as they often do at the Under-19 level, Bangladesh showed their intent with the ball. Bangladesh's young cricketers were lauded, as was the system that nurtured them.
As the head coach, it is my responsibility to draw up the game plan, which will differ from tournament to tournament depending on which country you are playing. Sometimes the selectors might be looking at a different angle for the players but we were all in the same page looking at the idea of result
Naveed Nawaz
Nawaz, who was instrumental in putting together the process that led to the success, said that he looks at five factors when judging a young cricketer, a method he put to use after the BCB made him head coach in July 2018.
"The attitude of the player is the most important thing for me," Nawaz told ESPNcricinfo. "To see how adaptable they are, their keenness to learn, how they work as a team and if they send me the message that they can be coached. The other side of it is skills, athleticism, how they handle pressure and their desire to achieve goals.
"These are very important to understand how good they want to become, and how we can help them. I always know in the back of my mind that these players are going to improve in the next two years in my programme, so I did not expect them to be perfect. But if the players' attitude is right and if they want to learn and get better, then of course, I could help them."
Nawaz said that he would apply a similar mindset when he looks at the new batch next week. "The cream of Bangladesh's Under-19 cricket come into this squad. I think we will be looking at the same attributes from the new batch. As long as the players have a good attitude, they want to get better, and the desire and enthusiasm is there, I always believe that we can improve as a team with the help of coaches."
But Nawaz alone won't be monitoring the progress of Bangladesh's future stars. Sajjad Ahmed, the former Bangladesh batsman, is one of the three junior selectors. Like his colleague Hannan Sarkar, who selected the team for the 2018-20 phase, Ahmed is in charge of selecting teams from now until the 2022 World Cup.
"We are starting afresh," Ahmed said. "It is a new group of players who haven't played a lot of top-level cricket yet. We have already completed the selection camp, and now the coach will take over for the next training programme. I haven't done [selected] an Under-19 World Cup team since 2010, so it is a fresh start for me as well. I have a different method to Hannan's, but the process of team-building remains the same."
The focus of selection, too, is going to shift. Bangladesh tried to choose tall, accurate fast bowlers for the tournament held in South Africa in January this year. But the conditions will be different in the West Indies. "We will be playing the World Cup in the West Indies where conditions are spin-friendly," Ahmed agreed. "So we will be building a spin-based attack with a deep batting line-up with lots of allrounders."
A major advantage to having a structured age-group system is that almost all cricketers participated in BCB's junior-level tournaments, including the regional competitions, leading up to the Under-19s trial. Ahmed said that the selectors found several talented cricketers coming from the country's northern regions such as Rangpur and Rajshahi. Traditional bases like Khulna and Dhaka, particularly its northern districts, have also contributed, while the BKSP itself remains fertile ground for young talent.
The Under-19 team remains one of the largest operations in Bangladesh cricket. The age-group structure is countrywide, but over the last few years, the BCB's game-development committee has streamlined the system and have now had their first success. Khaled Mahmud, the former Bangladesh captain, is credited for bringing it all together, particularly at the top end where Ahmed and the selectors. and Nawaz and the coaches, merge into one overall unit.
"We have a very good relationship with the selectors and BCB's game development unit," Nawaz said. "There was always plenty of support from the BCB and selectors in the last two years. The understanding among us is important. As the head coach, it is my responsibility to draw up the game plan, which will differ from tournament to tournament depending on which country you are playing. Sometimes the selectors might be looking at a different angle for the players but we were all in the same page looking at the idea of result."
Nawaz, Ahmed, Mahmud and the Under-19 cricketers must now deal with the uncertainty of cricket tours during the Covid-19 pandemic. Cricket hasn't started in Bangladesh and foreign teams are unlikely to be invited this year. The previous batch won 22 out of 31 matches between September 2018 and November 2019, played in England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Experiencing these conditions and playing a big number of matches against top-level opposition understandably helped them at the World Cup.
The BCB will have to come up with the same meticulous plan if they are to successfully defend the trophy in two years' time. What remains a certainty, though, is a much-improved grassroots system, coupled with a handy blueprint of success, will only raise the Bangladesh Under-19s' level a notch higher.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84