Two years ago, Soumya Sarkar was the heartthrob of Bangladesh. His wristy stroke-play and adventurous innovations amalgamated with classic timing, made him a treat to watch. The guy is a once in a generation willow-wielder. But recently, his bat has not sparked the way one expects. Whether he should remain in the final XI or not remains a moot question.
Following the 0-6 thrashing in the limited overs’ leg of the New Zealand tour, Bangladesh cricket is facing a mini-turmoil of late. Mashrafe Mortaza’s boys were never expected to win the ODI and T20I series in New Zealand, but they were certainly expected to put up some fight. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do that during the tour so far. As a result, their media and fans have launched an all-out attack against the non-performers and amongst those, Soumya Sarkar’s name is at the top of the list.
The 23-year old boy from Satkhira is a product of Bangladesh cricket’s recent Renaissance under the Mortaza-Hathurusingha era. Came into the frame of schemes of the senior side ahead of the 2015 World Cup, this elegant left-hander has rapidly made a name for himself. Gifted with excellent hand-eye coordination, Sarkar is being regarded as one the most elegant Bangladeshi batsmen against pace bowling. Against spin bowling, he uses his long stride to good effect.
Sarkar is one of those modern day batsmen, for whom attack is the best form of defense. In his ODI career, Sarkar has a strike rate of 99.45 in 20 matches along with a healthy average of 40.22. Sometimes he tries to be over-attacking early in his innings and has to perish. But, interestingly in his ODI career Sarkar has only three single-digit scores. Probably he is a calculated risk taker.
However, in past one and half year, the southpaw has experienced a horrible dip in form. In 2016, Bangladesh played a lot of T20 cricket and Sarkar only managed to average 15.93 in 16 games. In four ODIs in the past year, he only scored 0, 20, 11 and 1. His poor run continued even in the last Bangladesh Premier League and domestic List A matches. He had not featured in a First-Class game in 2016.
Despite this pathetic form, coach Chandika Hathurusingha and Mashrafe Mortaza choose to back him for the New Zealand tour and they have their reasons as well.
“When he [Soumya] scores runs we win matches. That’s why we are still banking on him,”Hathurusingha recently said, answering a question regarding Sarkar’s selection in the playing eleven for the first T20I against New Zealand, despite being overlooked in the last two ODIs of the tour.
“Someone who has got a batting average of 40-odd and strike-rate over hundred [In ODIs], we don’t have many in Bangladesh or even in world cricket.
“That kid can play international cricket. If you look at history, every good player – [Steven] Smith, [Joe] Root – all these guys got into the international stage and then had a blip and then came back. I’m hoping that he will come back sooner than later,” Hathurusingha had a valid reason to back the youngster, one must feel.
Sarkar too did not disappoint him. He scored 39 and 42 in the final two T20Is and looked very much at ease against Kiwi pace attack.
Skipper Mashrafe also has immense faith in Sarkar’s abilities. According to him, Sarkar is a match-winner and in the past, he had proved that.
“We don’t have that many players. Not only me, but everyone believes that if you look at Soumya’s history, he is a match-winner of the Bangladesh team. I think nobody has won as many games like Soumya did for us. He is not in form, but it’s a matter of time for him to come back.”
International cricket is a tough stage to perform on a consistent basis, especially for a young cricketer. If you go through the records of all great cricketers, you will find, they all had gone through such lean patches during the course of their international careers. Steven Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul — these are examples of some contemporary cricketers who experienced such phases and come out of it as a better cricketer. Their respective boards and captains had backed their abilities to overcome those tough phases because they knew, these players belong at the international arena.
Sarkar, who has already proved his capabilities in his short career, deserves the similar kind of backing from the national selectors and board. It is good that Mortaza and Hathurusingha are beside him as they have rightly identified him one for the future.
The two-match Test series starts from Thursday (January 12) in Wellington and if I was the captain of the Tigers, I would have picked Sarkar in the playing eleven, considering the way the left-hander handled the New Zealand bowling in the last two T20Is and the greenish pitch conditions, where along with his batting, Sarkar’s medium pace can be effective as well.
But will Rahim take this gamble? Well, time will tell.
Before concluding, I would like to mention that one famous saying in cricket — form is temporary but class is permanent.