Is 'no Mahmudullah' the way to go?
When the squad for Bangladesh's three-match One-Day International series came out, the big question was this, has Mahmudullah Riyad been rested or dropped?
The veteran's exclusion was later tagged as 'rest' and an opportunity to test out fringe players by the national team selectors, which made sense considering the World Cup in hindsight.
However, new questions came out. The most noticeable was that what if someone who came to Mahmudullah's place did better? And that question is legitimate, as a cricketer would not have to do much to perform much better to surpass the 37-year-old's performance in the last couple of years.
Although Chandika Hathurusinghe kind of put the cat out of the bag on Friday.
"I don't think he is past his prime. We are trying to expand our pool of players before the World Cup. If something happens close to the World Cup, we want to have enough players we have seen and can trust to do a role. (Mahmudullah) Riyad is still in the mix."
"Riyad has done enough. He has a lot of experience. We know what he can bring. We want some other players to get up to the mark at the international level. It doesn't mean that if that guy performs well, Mahmudullah is finished. He is still in our plans," he said in a press conference ahead of their Ireland series.
Nonetheless, what begets all these questions is Mahmudullah's performance over the last 24 months. In this period, he has scored 807 runs in 25 innings, averaging 42.47. But at the same time, his strike rate is a lowly 71.54, way below par, considering the current ODI style.
While he has good innings even in recent times, those only look pretty on scoreboards. His innings of 77 off 96 balls surely helped Bangladesh out of trouble against India. Still, if not for Mehidy Hasan Miraz's ton, that innings would not have taken Bangladesh to anywhere substantial, let alone a match-winning score.
All of Mahmudullah's good innings in recent times have a similar pattern –play a plethora of dot balls until you reach fifty, and then accelerate to make your innings look half-decent. But if he doesn't get to fifty, that innings looks like a massive waste of balls and momentum, which often end up hurting the team severely.
Among his last six innings, he went into double digits five times. Except for that innings against India, the others are – 14 (35), 20 (26), 31 (48), and 32 (49). Combined, that's 97 runs playing 158 balls, which means his strike rate in those innings is 61.4, even lower than his strike rate over the last two years.
Add to that his fielding. While his catching standard is yet to drop much, his ground fielding and reflex have become completely unsuitable for international cricket. He often misfields, reacts to sharp chances late, and cannot cover ground space as quickly as he used to.
And the problem is that these are not just because of some lapse in fitness training. This is because age has finally caught up with him, and he is unlikely to ever return to his previous levels. These fielding issues have cost the team in runs, which he cannot cover up with the bat.
Now, either Towhid Hridoy or Yasir Ali Chowdhury will replace Mahmudullah against Ireland. Even if they don't perform with the bat, their fielding performances will definitely be better than Mahmudullah's, especially Hridoy's, who is considered to be a brilliant fielder.
While it is a big question whether such a drastic decision with the World Cup in six months, it seems like the time might just be over for Mahmudullah, and it would likely be carved in stone if either of his replacements finds the goods with the bat.