Bangladesh’s new selection chief must do more than just select teams

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Not many chief selectors’ reigns are especially notable. In the modern era, there has generally been a regular turnover, almost everywhere. Some have been lengthy: David Graveney was around for 11 years in England; further back, Lawrie Sawle helped transform Australian cricket as national selector from 1982 to 1995. Last week came the end of another – less radical – long stint, that of Minhajul Abedin, who was Bangladesh’s chief selector for eight years.

The BCB has appointed Gazi Ashraf Hossain as Minhajul’s successor, starting March 1. The news was welcomed in Bangladesh, mainly because of the years of talk about Minhajul being a weak selector with little influence – BCB president Nazmul Hassan often talked to the media instead of Minhajul about selection matters.

Ashraf has the reputation of being an able administrator, and is known to have one of the best cricket brains in Bangladesh. Ashraf will be the first BCB chief selector with the stature of a board director. This is impressive. Firstly, just that he could arrange such a deal. Secondly, more importantly, because it will allow him the authority a chief selector needs in the BCB, where there is a lot of interference in selection matters by the board’s administrators.

Ashraf led Bangladesh in their first seven ODIs, from 1986 to 1990, also the entire length of his international career, where his top score was a rearguard 18 against Merv Hughes & Co.

“It was really surprising for me. I hadn’t heard his name as a candidate. Many other names were floating around. I am the [BCB’s] vice-chairman of cricket operations, still I didn’t know anything. This is what surprised me the most”

Khaled Mahmud on Gazi Ashraf Hossain’s appointment

Bangladesh’s pre-Full Member days are now so removed from the average Bangladesh fans’ consciousness that the likes of Ashraf and Minhajul are sometimes judged only by their poor numbers – Minhajul averaged 18.87 with the bat and 39.30 with the ball in 27 ODIs between 1986 and 1999. But both Ashraf and Minhajul were domestic giants in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

Ashraf’s peak was from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. After leading Abahani Limited to six Dhaka Premier League titles during his time, Ashraf gained a reputation of being an astute strategist and is regarded as one of the architects of Bangladesh’s 1997 ICC Trophy title win in his role as manager. It is the triumph that started Bangladesh’s ascent towards Test status.

As a board director, Ashraf held various roles in the BCB, including being the first BPL governing council chairman. After Khaled Mahmud defeated him in the 2013 BCB directors’ elections, Ashraf became a prominent face in TV talk shows and wrote a newspaper column. But unlike many former Bangladesh cricketers, he offered well-informed views and was usually a voice of reason.

Former cricketers, however, rarely get roles in the BCB. Even in selection. Usually, one of the men in the chief’s panel is promoted.

There have been exceptions. In 2007, Rafiqul Alam was a chief selector appointed from outside the board bosses’ close circle. But Faruque Ahmed was first made chief selector in 2003 after he had served under Aliul Islam’s selection panel; Akram Khan was made chief in 2011 after serving in Rafiqul’s panel; Faruque returned to the top role in 2013 after his 2003-07 tenure; when Faruque resigned in 2016 after clashing with BCB president Nazmul Hassan and head coach Chandika Hathurusingha, Minhajul, who was part of Faruque’s team, was given the top job.

With Ashraf, there is an argument to be made about his lack of experience as a selector. Faruque, Akram and Minhajul had experience as selectors before they got the chief’s job. Ashraf doesn’t.

That the appointment has polarised the BCB became clear less than 24 hours after it was made formal – BCB director Khaled Mahmud, who had defeated Ashraf in the 2013 elections, said that he was surprised. He felt that former captain Habibul Bashar “deserved” the job.

“It was really surprising for me. I hadn’t heard his name as a candidate,” Mahmud, also the coach of BPL team Durdanto Dhaka, said at a press meet in Chattogram on February 13. “Many other names were floating around. I am the [BCB’s] vice-chairman of cricket operations, still I didn’t know anything. This is what surprised me the most.

“I feel that [Bashar] definitely deserved it. He was a successful captain of the Bangladesh team, he was a successful cricketer, and he also worked with the team for many years. I had hoped that he would be made chief selector if [Minhajul] is replaced.”

Mahmud might have a point, but he wasn’t present at the board meeting. He was with the Dhaka franchise and the BCB directors present at the meeting reportedly agreed on Ashraf’s appointment unanimously after the BCB chief had proposed his name.

There were no such questions about Hannan Sarkar, the other selector appointed alongside Ashraf. Hannan was the BCB’s age-group selector since 2015. It has been one of the best periods for the age-group sides in the country, culminating in the 2020 men’s Under-19 World Cup triumph. Hannan’s progression to the senior selection committee makes sense in Bangladesh’s context, since age-group cricket produces almost all of Bangladesh’s future senior cricketers.

Hannan’s promotion seems ideal. But the BCB’s overall structure isn’t really supportive of such a pathway. Selectors have often been picked based on their status as cricketers. Faruque, Akram and Minhajul, and now Ashraf, are all ex-captains, while Rafiqul was a well-established senior cricketer. Those who toil for years in the age-group level and are considered good at scouting or talent spotting don’t get the BCB’s call-up for selection. Like former fast bowler Hasibul Hossain Shanto, who is known in the circuit as an efficient selector but has been kept in age-group cricket. Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, one of the senior-most coaches who is known for his depth of knowledge in age-group and senior cricket, was reportedly part of the discussions this time as a selector, but was passed over.

And then there is the BCB’s overall culture about team selection. Faruque resigned in 2016 after the BCB put the head coach, team manager, and cricket operations chairman in a “selection panel” to approve the selectors’ selections. Faruque’s exit was seen as a huge blow to the independent selection system. Minhajul, it is understood, worked with the system of interference in place, with Hassan taking on the media’s questions and offering his opinions on selection matters, and the understanding was that the selectors would not be taking the final call.

The most extreme example of this came in 2018. Imrul Kayes and Soumya Sarkar were flown in to Dubai for the Asia Cup. It was reported at the time that everyone in the team management, including the captain and the coach, knew what was going on. The BCB’s top brass were fully aware, too, and arranged for the two players to fly in. Minhajul had no idea.

Understandably, one of the early questions in Ashraf’s first press conference was about whether he would be allowed to work independently. Ashraf said that he wanted to follow “global standards” when it came to taking suggestions from coach Hathurusingha, but if recent history is any indication, it could be an uphill battle. Ashraf will not only have to change the selection panel’s image, but also put in place the right methods of selection.

The new selection committee officially begins work on March 1. They will follow Bangladesh playing against Sri Lanka through the month. The white-ball squad is already out. The Minhajul Minhajul-led panel will be remembered for being weak, taking a backseat to the board and the team management. Ashraf’s stature as a board-director equivalent could help him, but his task is complicated, and it’s not just about selecting the best team for Bangladesh.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

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