Sports, Cricket

Saifuddin wobbles: Can Tigers trust him for WC?

Published : 13 May 2024 10:15 PM

Mohammad Saifuddin's reputation as a pace-bowling all-rounder seems inflated by exaggeration. Flashes of brilliance with both bat and ball in domestic tournaments haven't translated to international success. Can these fleeting sparks in lower-tier contests truly justify the team's faith in the 27-year-old as the T20 World Cup looms?

Saifuddin's showing in Bangladesh's crushing eight-wicket defeat in the final T20I against Zimbabwe on Sunday in Mirpur was underwhelming. The right-arm seamer lacked control, leaking 55 runs from his four overs, including a calamitous penultimate over that yielded 19 runs. This lapse in concentration proved decisive in Zimbabwe's solitary victory in an otherwise unmemorable series for the visitors.

Both fans and pundits have overinflated expectations surrounding Saifuddin's inclusion, given his status as the sole pace-bowling all-rounder in the current Bangladesh squad. Ideally, the Tigers would deploy Saifuddin primarily for his bowling, especially during the death overs. He possesses a reputation for hitting the blockhole and bowling searing yorkers in domestic cricket, a skillset that has often seen him called upon in death-bowling crises. However, his ability to deliver on this strength, particularly in international matches, remains a question mark.

Saifuddin has often resorted to changes of pace, opting to pitch the ball shorter rather than deploying the yorkers that were his signature weapon during his Under-19 days. The ongoing series was intended to be a test of the 27-year-old's fitness over five matches. While he did manage to pick up eight wickets at a respectable economy rate of 9.31 and was utilised by skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto throughout the innings, his bowling lacked potency.

With Shoriful Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, and Taskin Ahmed (whose inclusion for the T20 World Cup depends on his recovery from a recent rib injury) forming the backbone of the pace attack, the Tigers can't realistically deploy Saifuddin as a strike bowler. His gentle pace would struggle to discombobulate batsmen. He could potentially be a useful option in the middle overs due to his ability to vary pace, but his overall effectiveness hinges on mastering his yorkers.

Despite his reputation for bowling vicious yorkers, Saifuddin relied on ineffective slower-ball bouncers throughout the Zimbabwe series, and was frequently dispatched to the boundary. Only a meagre six of his 96 deliveries were yorkers (a mere 6.25%), though these conceded the least runs (only three) and yielded two wickets. Saifuddin's role as a lower-middle-order batsman who can provide some late-innings fireworks is also a topic of debate. While he scored 101 runs in this year's Dhaka Premier League at a strike rate of 100 from 10 innings, this statistic does little to bolster his case as an explosive lower-order batsman, particularly considering the lower quality of the domestic competition. Perhaps it's time for the Bangladesh team management to conduct a frank assessment and re-evaluate their expectations of Saifuddin.