The national selectors broke from recent convention by picking a specialist off-spinner, Shohag Gazi, after a long time in the 14-member squad for the first Test against the West Indies. The squad, announced by chief selector Akram Khan yesterday, also had space for another newcomer in pace bowler Abul Hasan, and left-handed batsman Junaed Siddiqui who last played a Test in June 2010 against England.
The 21-year old off-spinner from Patuakhali hogged all the spotlight when Akram announced the squad in an official press conference at Mirpur yesterday. In another welcome break from tradition, it was the first time that his panel announced the team -- previously the team had to be sent for approval to the board, which then made the announcement.
There have long been calls for a genuine off-spinner in the team to balance the presence of the left-arm spinners. The last time a specialist off-spinner played a Test for the Tigers was in 2002 when Fahim Muntasir played against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
"We have been looking for a genuine off-spinner for a long time and fortunately he [Shohag Gazi] has been doing well for the last two years with the Academy, A team and in the domestic competitions. He also bowled well during Barisal's first game (he has 11 wickets including a hattrick and a hundred from the two NCL matches this season) and you know West Indies also have a few left-handers, so we took the off-spinner," Akram explained the reason behind Gazi's inclusion, adding that Abul Hasan, who has been with the national team for the last six months and played four T20Is, got the nod ahead of Nazmul Hossain and Shafiul Islam for his extra pace.
The young spinner, who started his career as a pace bowler but later changed his mind due to a lack of pace especially after a hammering at the hands of Tamim Iqbal during an Under-13 match in Chittagong in 2000, was so excited with the call-up that he could barely express his emotions.
"I can't express how excited I'm with this call-up but I have had the confidence that this day will come sooner or later because of my performances at different levels. I started to play cricket in 2000 in Khulna when I was a student of class seven. I started my career in Khulna because at that time my father was a government service holder there," said Gazi in his instant reaction.
"I must thank my first coach Selim bhai who helped me a lot in my career. My parents were waiting for this day because their dream is to watch their son on the TV screen (smiling). There had been talk about an
off-spinner for a long time and because of that I had a
target to fill the vacuum. But I know I have a long way
to go to establish myself in the national team," added the young bowler.
The question for the chief selector was whether the panel would be able be patient with Shohag as it is common knowledge that it often takes time to establish an off-spinner in the team.
"You know our policy is to give a player enough opportunity once he gets the call and it will be no exception for Shohag Gazi. We are really hopeful about his success," said a confident Akram, who with his panel trimmed the squad from a 22-member preliminary squad.
Many were however surprised to see left-arm spinner Enamul Haque not in the squad but Akram said that Enamul lost out to Elias Sunny for the second left-arm spinner's role behind Shakib Al Hasan.
"Enamul is bowling brilliantly, but there's a lot of competition among the left-arm spinners here. We discussed with Saqlain [Mushtaq] and decided to go with Elias Sunny, because he did well in the last Test. His economy rate too is very good," Akram explained the reason behind the absence of Enamul.
There was however a lack of clarity about some batting selections as the selectors had to go on reputations and performances in the last two Tests.
"We wanted the three-day match to be played because we are concerned about two or three places. We considered reputation, the last two Test series and overall experience of the players to pick the first Test team.
"We have tried to play the same team in ODIs and T20s. We play fewer Tests and we haven't played one in 11 months. I think there are a few places that are up for grabs, and no one has established themselves in those positions," said Akram