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Pacey Khaled Ahmed gives Bangladesh something to cheer for

In these two Tests, he has shown a range of skills that has repaid coach Domingo's faith in fast bowlers

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Khaled Ahmed picked up his maiden Test five-for, against West Indies, in the second game  •  AFP/Getty Images

Khaled Ahmed picked up his maiden Test five-for, against West Indies, in the second game  •  AFP/Getty Images

Bangladesh's batting failure has overshadowed their fast bowlers' rise in recent times. When Khaled Ahmed completed his maiden five-wicket haul against West Indies in the second Test in St Lucia, their fast bowlers had taken a total of 51 wickets, the most by pacers in a year .
It was the first time fast bowlers took 50 wickets together, surpassing their haul of 48 wickets in 2008. It was a testament to both their tremendous effort of the last two-and-a-half years, and was in line with head coach Russell Domingo's vision at a time when they nearly vanished in Bangladesh cricket.
Khaled is the latest of the current fast bowling group to get a big haul. Taskin Ahmed re-established himself with performances throughout 2021 and 2022, before the shoulder injury halted him. Ebadot Hossain, after he starred in the Mount Maunganui Test against New Zealand, is now the leading wicket-taker for the team in Tests. Shariful Islam too has proved himself as the go-to left-arm quick even when Mustafizur Rahman was available in the Test squad.
On Sunday, Khaled completed his five-for when No 11 Jayden Seales edged his pacy outswinger. It took Bangladesh 127 overs to bowl West Indies out. The pace attack is still a work-in-progress, and there were long phases when, in the words of the head coach Russell Domingo, they bowled "soft balls" . This was evident as West Indies made 408 in reply to their first-innings total of 234. At stumps, the visitors were 132 for 6, trailing by 42 runs.
However, Khaled's performance is a key takeaway for Bangladesh. He had removed Alzarri Joseph and Kyle Mayers earlier in the morning. Joseph holed out at midwicket while centurion Mayers succumbed to Khaled's slower ball. On the second day, Raymon Reifer and Nkrumah Bonner had both played on to his rising deliveries just a shave outside offstump, resulting in two wickets in the same over.
Khaled has shown a range of skills in these two Tests. Bowling into the stumps at the end of the third day in Antigua, he rattled the West Indies line-up in their 84-run chase. He removed Kraigg Brathwaite, Reifer and Bonner in the space of ten balls. West Indies recovered from 9 for 3, and a bit of criticism came Khaled's way for not following up on that opening burst.
The same criticism crept back on the second day in St Lucia when he, and the rest of the bowling attack, couldn't pick up wickets after taking four in the first session. Khaled was largely ineffective for three spells for the rest of the day, only taking wickets on the third morning.
Khaled has been doing all of this work against the backdrop of his family experiencing the Sylhet floods. On the day he took those three quick wickets in Antigua, there were pictures of water at chest height in many areas in Sylhet circulating. He hails from Alampur on the southern outskirts of the main city, an area that has witnessed some of the worst flooding and lack of power, food, and other necessities.
The BCB had to evacuate the High-Performance side that was scheduled to train at the Sylhet International Stadium earlier this month when the flood hit the city. The board said recently that they are keeping tabs on the families of some of the Sylhet-based players, but undoubtedly, it has been a worrying time for them.
Having debuted more than three years ago, Khaled is reaping the rewards in the long format only now. He had his first Test wicket in December last year, in his 70th over in his fourth Test. In his next Test, in Durban, he took 4 for 92 in the first innings. Khaled had finally turned a corner, and it came at a time when Bangladesh were in desperate need of a fast bowler to step up; Taskin, who had been fiery in the ODI series in South Africa before that Test, was playing with a shoulder injury.
He had sat out the Tests against New Zealand earlier this year when Ebadot Hossain, a fellow Sylheti and a more colourful character, took centre stage with his six-for in the Mount Maunganui Test. There was also Abu Jayed, a seamer who relied heavily on the swing, as part of the Sylhet pace trio that had surprised everyone when they were all selected together in 2019. Jayed took three four-fors, but never appeared like a threat. He is a mild trundler who pegged away from one end. Later, Jayed lost his place in the team.
Khaled has had it tough too, but he has always been a quiet person. He needed knee surgery in 2019 after going wicketless in his third Test in the same year. Khaled would often be seen training on his own at the BCB academy in Mirpur.
Many Test discards train in BCB's main facility throughout the year. Many don't make it, despite years of effort. Fast bowlers have been the most expendable among these discards. The likes of Jayed, Khaled and Ebadot were considered fringe cricketers for several years when the then-coach Chandika Hathurusingha convinced the BCB and team management that he would rely only on spinners at home. When Domingo announced in February 2020 that they were going to ditch the all-spin plan to win overseas, it was a lifeline for the fast bowlers.
But Domingo's words weren't going to bring them back. Bangladesh's fast bowlers had to do the job. And, they have mostly earned back their respect and acceptance. Now, it is clear that the Bangladesh captain has a pace plan. Khaled getting his maiden five-wicket haul is a testament to Domingo's conviction on a good cricketing plan, but also another significant step in the right direction for the fast bowlers.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84