Bangladesh are set to play a three-match ODI series against hosts Zimbabwe in November before the two sides enter the biobubble for the 10-team women's ODI World Cup Qualifier to be played in the African nation. The bilateral series will be Bangladesh's first international assignment since the T20 World Cup held in Australia in February-March last year.
"The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and Zimbabwe Cricket have had talks regarding this series and it was decided our women's team will be play three ODIs against Zimbabwe ahead of the World Cup Qualifier," Shafiul Alam Chowdhury Nadel, the head of BCB's women cricket wing told ESPNcricinfo. "We have stuck to just the ODI matches for the bilateral series because the qualifier are in the one-day format and it will serve as an important preparatory exercise for our team in terms of getting match time before the qualifier."
Since the 2020 T20 World Cup, where Bangladesh were eliminated in the league stage, the only top-flight competitive cricket the players took part in was in April, when the South Africa Emerging side had toured Sylhet for a five-game one-day series. The fifth match, however, was cancelled "to accommodate the visiting side's return home before the suspension of international flight operations" following a Covid-19-induced lockdown in Bangladesh," a BCB release said at the time.
Asked about Bangladesh's protracted time away from international cricket, stretching to 18 months at present, Nadel said: "We had been trying to organise tours for Bangladesh Women for a long time, but our plans didn't come off. The coronavirus pandemic was a reason but we came across hurdles arising from issues related to sports and social-cultural perceptions that exist in the subcontinent - I won't name the countries but we didn't agree to conduct tours with a few of them because of this reason.
"Unfortunately, roadblocks continue to exist around women's sport, related to prevailing gender inequality, even though we continue to work to eradicate them. The investment required to create a biobubble is significant for a women's team; we often don't get that from our sponsors. Sponsors and investors expect mileage out of every series they invest in, and against that backdrop, that doesn't seem to be possible now (with the women's side), so the matches against Zimbabwe is all we have been able to finalise."
The qualifying event, delayed twice due to the pandemic, runs from November 21 to December 5, with Bangladesh, who last played an ODI series in November 2019, expected to depart for Zimbabwe on November 4 or 5. The visitors' coaching staff, Nadel said, would comprise only local personnel, considering the BCB has not found a suitable candidate yet for the head coach role, a position that has remained vacant since the muddled exit of former India captain Anju Jain in June 2020 following the end of her contract two months earlier.
The BCB had formally invited applications for the head coach's job in May, with June 10 the deadline. However, ESPNcricinfo understands a raft of pandemic-enforced last-minute withdrawals by high-profile foreign candidates either side of publication of the job advert derailed the BCB's plans of filling up the post. Mark Robinson, who coached England to the 2017 women's World Cup title at home, was among them.
Nadel said the BCB remains focused on hiring a foreign national as head coach, as has been "the tradition over the recent past," but even if the board ends up shortlisting applicants before the Zimbabwe tour, he made it clear the appointment would be made only after the qualifier.
"We have several reputed coaches in the national pool who work with women cricketers. And we have seen interest from foreign coaches, too, not to mention our last few national head coaches for the women's team have been from overseas," Nadel said. "Our team is still relatively inexperienced on the international stage, so went want to avail of the services of coaches with strong international experience because we want our women's team to be mentally strong. That's the reason we're looking for a foreign coach.
"That said, we are not looking to hire a coach from abroad for the Zimbabwe series or the World Cup Qualifier because we don't think 15 days or a month would be adequate time for the coach to get to know the players, assess their strengths and weaknesses, or prepare them accordingly," he said. "So, we want to use our local coaches for these assignments."
To get preparations for the tour of Zimbabwe underway, the BCB recently organised a skills-and-fitness camp at BKSP Ground in Savar for 60 women cricketers, the board's 22 centrally contracted players included. The camp began on August 14, ran in two phases, and ended with a four-team, 50-over tournament.
The final of the seven-match competition was held on September 11 and saw Bangladesh regulars in Salma Khatun, Fargana Hoque, Shamima Sultana, Rumana Ahmed, Khadija Tul Kubra, Lata Mondal lock horns in the Eastern vs Southern clash. The other two teams - Northern and Western - featured the likes of Jahanara Alam and Murshida Khatun among other prominent names from the national side.
According to Nadel, the camp was held under the watch of six coaches with prior experience of working with women cricketers in Bangladesh: Wahidul Gani, Dipu Roy, Ruhul Amin, Faruque, Shanu and Emon, some of whom who are expected to accompany Bangladesh on the Zimbabwe tour and oversee the World Cup Qualifier campaign.
The three qualifiers for the 2022 ODI World Cup as well as the next two teams will book places in the next ICC Women's Championship along with the top five from last time, as the ICC increased the number of teams in the third cycle of the IWC from eight to 10. Bangladesh, currently ranked eighth in the ODI team rankings, were not part of the previous IWC cycles. In T20I rankings, they hold the No. 9 position.