Here are the five major takeaways from Bangladesh's practice matches, including the BCB President's Cup that marked the resumption of cricket in the country after the hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cricket at last, but…
On the day Bangladesh's tour of Sri Lanka was postponed for a second time, BCB president Nazmul Hassan announced that Bangladesh's preliminary touring party would play intra-squad matches instead. The board quickly organised a one-day tournament, later naming it the BCB President's Cup, which officially became the start of the 2020-21 domestic season.
To make up the numbers in the three line-ups, the selectors called up 22 more players. The board also put together an attractive package for the best performers, spending over $43,000 as prize money for the seven matches.
All good there, but only 46 players actually got a chance to play the tournament, and that's only a fraction of the total number of professional cricketers in the country. There remains uncertainty about the remaining part of the 2019-20 Dhaka Premier League, but with the announcement of another T20 tournament next month, competitive cricket is slowly making its return.
Pacers' improved fitness
The extra zip in the bowling of Taskin Ahmed and Rubel Hossain, the latter adjudged best bowler of the President's Cup, was noticeable throughout the one-day matches. They bowled at their usual pace but looked more disciplined all along, which was a missing ingredient in their make-up in the past. Hossain, who finished with 12 wickets at an average of 10.33, also had a 4.02 economy rate, while Ahmed managed to pick up seven wickets at 26.28, and he was also impressive in the early and late spells in the two two-day intra-squad matches.
It was a refreshing change after the rough couple of years the two have had, and it was down to the extra work they put in on their fitness during the pandemic.
It wasn't just Ahmed and Hossain, but also the likes of Mohammad Saifuddin, Mustafizur Rahman, Al-Amin Hossain, Ebadat Hossain and Abu Jayed, who looked fitter and bowled more accurately than often in the past. Among the younger lot, Shoriful Islam and Sumon Khan also impressed with their pace, swing, and yes, fitness.
Under-19 champions get a taste of the higher level
Eight members of Bangladesh's Under-19 World Cup-winning squad, including captain Akbar Ali, were distributed in the three President's Cup teams. Mahmudul Hasan Joy spent more than two hours for a half-century and the patience was good to see, as he supported Imrul Kayes and Mahmudullah in two partnerships. Shoriful, the only fast bowler chosen from the age-group set-up, took a four-wicket haul in one of his three appearances, and generally impressed everyone with his spirit.
The likes of Islam and Ali, however, come with the heavy "very talented" tags, and as Bangladesh coach Russell Domingo pointed out last week, it is going to be crucial that patience is shown with these young achievers.
A few new contenders
The selectors picked an array of players to diversify the bowling attacks of the three one-day sides, in particular. The fast bowlers did well, including Khan, who took a five-wicket haul in the final. And Nayeem Hasan was the only spinner who stood out in the two-day matches and the one-day competition with his accuracy and spin.
Among the three legspinners, only Rishad Hossain bowled enough to catch the eye, while Irfan Sukkur, the left-hand wicketkeeper-batsman, struck two half-centuries. Some of these players will remain in the selectors' log if they continue to do well in the T20 tournament in November.
Domingo's note of caution
But as coach Domingo pointed out, these matches were mere practice matches, and he warned against putting too much emphasis on these performances. Part of Domingo's statement was partly a counter towards the criticism of the batsmen, but he was mostly correct in his assessment.
The cricketers had come back from a long break, and it was an unusual time for a group of batsmen who do better when playing international cricket regularly. That said, there were good signs, especially in the performance of the fast bowlers, and in how some of the younger cricketers did well despite the brief period of training before the tournament.