Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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Bangladesh's selectors picked a 24-man preliminary squad for the ODI series against West Indies later this month, and the one player they didn't pick has become the main talking point: Mashrafe Mortaza, the country's highest wicket-taker in ODIs and longest-serving captain. This is the first time Mortaza has been dropped from the ODI squad since making his debut in November 2001, though he has missed a lot of cricket over the years because of injuries.
One high-profile name that did make it, into both the preliminary Test and ODI squads announced on Monday, was Shakib Al Hasan, back in the national reckoning after his one-year ban for not reporting a corrupt approach. Shakib was Bangladesh's Test and T20I captain before his ban, but now returns as an ordinary member of the side.
Those selected will, from next week, take part in a training camp and play two practice matches on January 14 and 16, before the squad is trimmed closer to the ODI series that begins on January 20. This is going to be Bangladesh's first international series since the Covid-19 pandemic stopped cricket in the country in mid-March. There have been two domestic tournaments but a number of home series and away tours have been postponed. Last month, West Indies agreed to this shortened tour.
The decision on 37-year-old Mortaza has come at a significant time as the Bangladesh team builds towards the 2023 ODI World Cup. Chief selector Minhajul Abedin said the decision on Mortaza was a collective one, taken by the selectors and the team management.
"We respect him, he has done a lot for the country," Abedin said. "I have spoken to him in detail, so there's not going to be any misunderstanding. It was a tough decision but we have to consider the reality, and keep looking forward. We took a combined decision after long discussions with team management, and considering everything [decided to] to put off Mashrafe. We discussed everything. We didn't leave anything out. Everyone participated in the discussion including the fitness trainer and bowling coach. For the player who replaces him, it will be a fresh start. We have to expose our young players."
Abedin also said that the decision on whether to retire or play on lay with Mortaza. "Whether he continues playing or not, is entirely up to him. We cannot really say anything about what his performance is going to be."
Speculation over Mortaza retiring has been a long-running affair, with the topic first cropping up during the 2019 World Cup. But Mortaza has been adamant about continuing to make himself available in ODIs, even though he resigned from captaincy last February following Bangladesh's 3-0 ODI series win against Zimbabwe, their last international series before the pandemic-forced lockdown.
As recently as in the Bangabandhu T20 Cup last month, Mortaza took a five-wicket haul after joining Gemcon Khulna belatedly in the tournament. But there have been growing calls from within the BCB and the team management for him to retire from international cricket. Bowling coach Ottis Gibson even said in a Prothom Alo interview that Mortaza was no longer in head coach Russell Domingo's plans for the ODI side.
"I think if Russell is now trying to build a team for the future, then I don't know what part Mashrafe will have to play in that. Perhaps now is his time, with all that's going on in the world, to move on," Gibson had said. "He can find other ways to pass on his vast knowledge and experience to the young guys. I don't think he has to be on the field to be able to pass on what he has learned over his career. He needs to find other ways to pass on that message."
More recently, BCB president Nazmul Hassan held a similar view when asked about Mortaza's potential selection for the West Indies series.
"If his fitness is taken into consideration, he is unlikely to be selected," Hassan told the Dhaka-based Ekattor TV last week. "But he loves taking on challenges. Whether he will play or retire, only he can decide. I haven't had any discussions with him about it. I think he is having indecision, which is a surprise because as long as he was the captain, his decision-making was clean and clear.
"Even if he is in the squad, I think it will be difficult for him to be in the playing XI. We are building towards the future, so don't really know how long we will get his service. There's no guarantee that if he get him in one series, whether we will get him in the next one. We also have to consider who we are going to drop to make room for Mashrafe, so these are not easy decisions."
Abedin said that the selectors had decided to take a look at a larger pool of players for the ODIs with the 2023 World Cup very much in mind. "We are focused on the 2023 World Cup. We have a lot of ODIs from this year, in all formats, which is why we made a bigger pool."
The selectors have called up Shoriful Islam and Parvez Hossain Emon in the preliminary ODI squad, following performances in last year's Under-19 World Cup and recent domestic games. There were no such rookies in the 20-man Test group, which instead focused on tried-and-tested first-class performers.