In dramatic circumstances that seem set to persist, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) this week unveiled the 15-member squad for the ICC World Cup 2023. The board introduced the squad through a video released on its social media handles that also showcased Bangladesh's World Cup jersey. Unfortunately it gave rise to even greater controversy, and the team's recent performances do not suggest it can rise to the level necessary to stamp out the furore that has been created.
Shakib Al Hasan will lead the team in the World Cup, with Najmul Hossain Shanto as his deputy. Consequently, Litton Das, who has been struggling with form, has been relieved of his vice-captaincy.
The biggest talking point by far however, was that veteran Tamim Iqbal failed to secure a spot in Bangladesh's World Cup squad, in a move that is certain to polarise opinions throughout the country. The left-handed opener, Bangladesh's highest run-scorer in international cricket across all three formats, has been grappling with a back injury, and didn't look fully convincing in the one complete outing he had in the just-concluded ODI series against New Zealand. But importantly, the World Cup still allows time for him to regain full match fitness. It is also a long tournament and Bangladesh has been struggling with the bat, especially at the top of the order.
Ultimately it has ruled him out of the tournament set to commence early next month in India. Fans will recall his dramatic retirement from all forms of the game hardly three months ago, when he was forced to revoke in the space of 24 hours with the intervention of the prime minister herself - partly in view of the World Cup being so near.
Another veteran however, assuredly booked himself a ticket to India by presenting his calming presence in the middle during the New Zealand series, as batsmen kept committing harakiri all round him - Mahmudullah Riyad.
Riyad, whose career looked to be over at more than one point as selectors could never make their minds up on his role, will get another shot at glory as a mainstay of the middle-order alongside his brother in law Mushfiqur Rahim. Both however have shown indifferent form in the lead up to the big event.
Right-arm pacer Tanzim Hasan Sakib has also been added to the squad. Along with him, Bangladesh announced a five-member pace-attack in this World Cup under the guidance of South African legend Alan Donald. Sakib is joined by Taskin Ahmed, Hasan Mahmud and the two left-armers - Mustafizur Rahman and Shoriful Hasan.
Who might open?
In the absence of Tamim, the obvious question would be who will take his place at the top of the batting order partnering Litton Das. From what has been tried till now, the two options would look to be trying youngster Tanzid Hasan Tamim, who opened in the 3rd ODI against the Kiwis, or promoting all-rounder Mehidy Hasan Miraz up the order again, who has had some notable success in that position in limited overs cricket.
Although Tanzid was tried, he failed to impress batting in the top order during the NZ series, including today as opener, scoring just 5. As things stand, the Miraz option might be most attractive. Vice captain Shanto, the team's in form batter, will hold down his favourite no.3 position in the order.
On the eve of the squad's announcement, key figures of the Bangladesh cricket team held a late-night meeting at the residence of Nazmul Hasan, the board president, to deliberate on Tamim's inclusion in the World Cup.
BCB sources confirmed that captain Shakib Al Hasan and head coach Chandika Hathurusingha were present in the meeting with Nazmul. They expressed reservations about including Tamim in the World Cup due to concerns regarding his injuries.
In a sudden turn of events, Tamim's elder brother, Nafis Iqbal, who served as the operational manager even in the third ODI between Bangladesh and New Zealand, was abruptly removed from his position.
This year's World Cup features a total of 10 teams. Aside from Bangladesh, only Sri Lanka had been awaiting the official squad announcement until Tuesday.
Bangladesh World Cup 2023 squad: Shakib Al Hasan (Captain), Litton Das, Tanzid Hasan Tamim, Najmul Hossain Shanto (Vice Captain), Tawhid Hridoy, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah Riyad, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Nasum Ahmed, Mahedi Hasan, Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahman, Hasan Mahmud, Shoriful Islam, Tanzim Hasan Sakib
The Tamim saga: an inexplicable request
The storm over Bangladesh's squad selection for the ICC World Cup looks set to boil over, as the country's most accomplished batsman, Tamim Iqbal, revealed that he asked to be excluded after it was suggested he give up his position at the top of the order in the opening match against Afghanistan. Captain Shakib Al Hasan later pushed back on Tamim in a television interview that has not gone down well with supporters.
Tamim however, didn't disclose who was the 'prominent figure' who requested him to bat in the lower-order. Sources close to BCB indicate it was none other than the board president himself.
Prior to Tamim's decisive stance, former Bangladesh captain Masrafe Bin Mortaza contended that it was not accurate to say that Tamim was left out; rather, he chose to step aside.
In a video posted on his social media this afternoon, Tamim addressed recent developments regarding his World Cup participation and his fitness, emphasising the need for his fans and the public to know the truth.
Following the announcement of the World Cup squad, Bangladesh's chief selector, Minhajul Abedin, stated that Tamim was excluded due to concerns about his fitness, mentioning that an old injury resurfaced, preventing him from playing the last ODI against New Zealand.
While acknowledging some discomfort, Tamim clarified, "I'm not injured yet. As I've returned to cricket after a gap of four to five months, it's normal to have some pain."
Tamim disclosed that the physio had assessed his fitness before the last match of the New Zealand series and confirmed that while he experienced pain, he was available for selection. However, opting for rest would ensure better rehabilitation before Bangladesh's first World Cup match. Consequently, Tamim made the decision not to play the final match against New Zealand.
Challenging anyone to dispute the physio's report in a public forum, Tamim asserted, "The physio report didn't state that I would be unable to play."
Tamim recounted receiving a call from an "influential figure" at BCB who advised him not to play the first match of the World Cup.
"I told him we are still 12-13 days away from the first match, and I would be better by then," Tamim explained. "Then he asked me to bat lower in the order if I wanted to play the first match. I couldn't accept it well. I got angry and reacted accordingly."
At this juncture, as Tamim clarified, he opted not to be part of the World Cup squad.
"I informed him that if they wanted me to bat lower despite my 17-year history as an opener, they should exclude me from the World Cup squad," Tamim elucidated, revealing his rationale for skipping the tournament.
Shakib however launched a scathing attack on Tamim Iqbal ahead of the World Cup, calling him "childish" and criticising him for putting himself ahead of the team's needs.
"I am sure someone who is authorised had said this to him (the board official who asked Tamim to bat lower)," Shakib, the Bangladesh captain, told the Dhaka-based TV channel T-Sports in an interview that was aired on Wednesday night. "I am sure whoever has said it, he thought of the team. A lot of things go into building a combination for a match. So if someone has said this to him, was it wrong? Or we can't make such a proposal? I am just going to tell someone that you can do whatever you want. Is the team first or the individual?"
In a sustained, and somewhat unseemly attack, Shakib laid into Tamim for putting his interests above the team's, even as he revealed he was not aware, as captain, of any plan to bat Tamim lower or to drop him - which was clearly the problem for Tamim. Such a tactical decision would be expected to be aired in a team meeting first. But Shakib had no sympathy for his former teammate.
"It is totally childish. It is my bat, I will play. No one else can play. A player should bat at any position for the team. Team first. It doesn't make any difference if you have made 100 or 200, and the team loses. What can you do with personal achievement? You want to make a name for yourself? You are not thinking about the team at all. People don't understand these things," he said.
On a wing and a prayer
Minhajul Abedin, the chief selector of BCB, cited an enduring injury as the primary factor underpinning Tamim's omission.Prior to Tuesday's squad announcement, a prevailing sentiment within Bangladesh's cricketing circles suggested that Tamim might be excluded from the World Cup, purportedly due to reservations from captain Shakib Al Hasan and head coach Chandika Hathrusingha regarding fielding a 'half-fit' player. This notion, however, was refuted by Minhajul Abedin Nannu, the chief selector.
"After the second match of the New Zealand series, Tamim's injury resurfaced, rendering him unable to partake in the third match," Minhajul clarified. "We are disinclined to undertake substantial risks, especially in the context of a big event such as the World Cup."
In a noteworthy turn of events earlier this year during the home series against Afghanistan, Tamim abruptly announced his retirement from international cricket amidst a controversy ignited by his remarks. He had expressed his desire to gauge his fitness in the course of a match within the series.
This comment prompted the BCB president to publicly admonish him through the media. In a swift and unexpected turn, Tamim announced his retirement. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina intervened to facilitate his return.
"I can decline anyone, but not the leader of the country," Tamim asserted when announcing his decision to continue representing Bangladesh. Concurrently, he took a hiatus from cricket for a span of one and a half months.
The southpaw batter was anticipated to stage his comeback during the Asia Cup, but regrettably, it did not come to fruition. His persistent injury compelled him to abstain from the Asia Cup and relinquish his position as the ODI captain of Bangladesh.
Now, he stands excluded from the World Cup.
"The decision to omit Tamim was a tough one," remarked Habibul Bashar, the former Bangladesh captain and a current selection panel member. "There is no question regarding his status as one of our preeminent batters. We aimed to assemble the best-possible team, and a fit Tamim was our aspiration. But, it was his injury that compelled us to make this tough choice."
Tanzid Hasan Tamim, a left-handed opener akin to his senior counterpart, may be poised to step into the elder Tamim's shoes for the World Cup. Minhajul is optimistic about the younger Tamim's readiness to face more formidable challenges.
The selectors finished their own press conference on the squad with high hopes, lending their full support to the 15-men selected.
"We are confident the players we selected will represent our golden Bangladesh and I hope everyone will look at it in that way. Support them in that way. And please don't bring any negative thinking, honestly support the club you will see the team will bring great results to home."
But they were careful not to take full responsibility of selecting the squad, as the recurrent theme of the presser was that the squad was selected through a consensus of team management that includes the captain, coach, selectors and the medical staff.
Nannu informed that the decision of dropping Tamim came in that very process.
"You see, there are some injuries which you cannot risk. The team management will be in trouble. You see, he played the first match against New Zealand, played the second match but had to give him a rest in the final match," said the chief selector.
The Bangladesh team is now in India for the tournament, and play a warm up match against Sri Lanka on Friday. Wednesday. Their World Cup campaign will commence with a match against Afghanistan on October 7 in Dharamshala.
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