In the first ODI, it was the penultimate delivery of the 21st over of India’s innings. Chasing a target of 307, India were more or less on track, having lost just three wickets at 105 with opener Rohit Sharma leading the run chase. With the wicket on the slower side and with the white Kookaburra ball showing signs of wear and tear, Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza called on pacer Mustafizur Rahman, who by then had finished his first spell of four overs and had conceded 27 runs at an economy of 6.75.
The lanky 19-year-old pacer had gone unnoticed until then. But what followed not only broke India’s backbone but also put Bangladesh in contention for a ‘Banglawash’.
Mustafizur’s 29th delivery, bowled slightly wide of the crease, pitched on leg and invited Rohit to go for the on-drive. But what Rohit did not pick and what Mustafizur had loaded the ball with turned out to be a mystery for majority of the Indian batting. The ball deviated from the track and took a leading edge of Rohit’s downswing. And suddenly, Mustafizur had arrived.
Ten runs later, and with Ajinkya Rahane on strike, Mustafizur once again rolled his fingers and snapped his supple wrist, giving the ball additional revs. With a quick arm action, Mustafizur is gifted with a strong wrist, which enables him to make the ball jump as well as break off the wicket. And because he belongs to the military medium family, he knows that his slower one or the leg-cutter has to have some pace in order to take the batsmen by surprise.
That is exactly what had happened a ball before Rahane lost his wicket. The Mumbai batsman had stroked his usual pacey delivery for a boundary and wasn’t expecting that he would produce something like a fast leg-cutter.
That was it. Mustafizur ran and once again rolled both his fingers and wrist over the seams and Rahane fell into the trap, scooping the ball to cover.
Repeating it again
In the second ODI, MS Dhoni got out to a similar delivery, after failing to reach the pitch of the ball. All the Indian captain could do was to gently scoop the ball into the hands of cover.
Mustafizur is aware that in order to make his slower ones effective, he will have to impart a little pace on them, combining it with a wristy tweak. Unlike his left-arm contemporaries in Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult — who are quick, use their shoulders/back and who surprise batsmen with a slower ball 40 kmph slower than their stock delivery —Mustafizur’s wristy slower one is just marginally slower than his stock ball. Just about 5 clicks slower. And because the fall in speed is so minimal, the batsmen have tended to go in for the expansive drive. And immediately, they are done in with the break off the wicket.
Mustafizur also owns a perfect follow-through. It is this aspect that allows him to land the ball on the three-quarter length. And it was both these factors that castled Suresh Raina in the first ODI. Mustafizur invited the southpaw to drive and ended up dislodging his off-stump through the gate. This is not too different from what a left-arm spinner does. Just as an orthodox looks to push the ball during the slog overs, Mustafizur makes sure his arm completes a quick follow-through.
Immediately after dismissing Raina, the left-arm seamer foxed Ravichandran Ashwin with a similar delivery and found himself on a hat-trick. Though he didn’t get one, each of his five wickets that day were gained off the cutter.
From the little that we have seen of him, Mustafizur’s pluses just keep on adding up. So far, in his short international stint, he doesn’t allow a batsman to settle. After dismissing Dhoni with a slow ball, he found Axar Patel napping and darted a quick delivery on to his pads. Later Ravindra Jadeja was sent home in a similar fashion.
With 11 wickets in two games, Mustafizur has quickly darted to stardom. He now has more five-wicket hauls in ODIs than Shane Warne and Kapil Dev. But, of course, it is far too early to rate him among the greats. After all, the 11 wickets not withstanding, he has only played two ODIs.
So are there any chinks in his armour at all? Yes. For one, he isn’t quite as demonising with the new ball. As a new ball bowler, he has taken just one wicket so far, going at nearly six an over. Without an incoming ball, it will be easy for batsmen to target him in this period in the future. And on tracks that aren’t conducive to a good break, like on a fast or placid wicket, the bowler will surely go for runs.
But the story is a different one with the old ball on a suitable track. That’s where, as we have noticed, Mustafizur turns into a new-age magician.