Call it compulsion, but sporting achievements are often measured by numbers in hand and that is precisely why it will be difficult to analyse Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza’s influence and contribution in the country’s ever-growing cricketing ambitions.
Because numbers alone like 78 Test, 204 ODI and 35 T20 International wickets cannot explain why the strapping 32-year-old pacer is the country’s most iconic cricketer despite not being in the league of a global star like Shakib Al Hasan or the new sensation Mustafizur Rahaman.
Because Mashrafe is Bangladesh’s own boy – a people’s man, who can effortlessly carry the burden of expectations of millions of cricket crazy fans here.
Perhaps the only national cricket captain, who would dump his luxury sedan and travel to training on a cycle rickshaw with his gigantic cricket coffin. Someone who is ready for a good scrap despite his cricketing limitations and injuries, that has dogged his career throughout.
He is a man, who is ready to gracefully accept challenge of a local journalist who can tell him on his face that “your team will not win a single match in Asia Cup T20”.
But Mashrafe politely told him, “I accept the challenge and will not say a word till we reach the final.”
After winning a thriller, the same scribe with a huge grin asked him the same question about how a big a challenge it was and Mashrafe smiled and replied: “But you only said that we won’t win a single match.”
The local media had their apprehensions about the team’s chances in Asia Cup and most of them had booked flights on March 5 to either Kolkata or Delhi from where they would fly to Dharamsala for the World T20 qualifiers. One scribe asked Mashrafe, “I don’t know what to do as I have flight tickets booked for Dharamsala on March 5.”
Mashrafe smiled and said: “Go to Dharamsala. What will you do watching the final?” There was no arrogance or sarcasm in his voice when he said this but an air of normalcy which ensured that nobody was offended.
That’s the reason one is not surprised when he terms the two boundaries he hit off Mohammed Amir’s bowling as “lucky shots”.
“I was a bit lucky that I connected both. You can say in my T20 international career, the two most important boundaries that I have struck,” his smile was almost apologetic.
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But what takes the cake was a quick dialogue exchange in East Bengal dialect (Bangal as they call it here) with a journalist. “Mash (the scribes call Mashrafe by that name) aktu bolen kyamon lagtyase? (Mash, please tell us how are you feeling right now?)
Mashrafe, composed as ever, answered: “Pore ki hoibo zanina akhon obdi swabhabiki aasi” (Don’t know what will happen later but right now I am absolutely feeling normal”)
Then comes a punch line from the scribe trying to describe his happiness and probably explain why the entire Dhaka came to a standstill after Mahmudullah Riyadh hit the winning stroke. “Aapni swabhabik aasen kintu aamra nai” (You may be normal but we are not in normal state).
On Wednesday, the press box at Shere Bangla turned into a ‘Fan Zone’ – something very difficult to imagine in India. Maybe because, there are numerous non-cricketing icons like Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Vijender Singh to look upto. But in Bangladesh, the sports journalists only have cricketers as sporting heroes.
Dhoni is known as ‘Captain Cool’ but Mashrafe can also score highly on the cool quotient.
When asked about his discussions with Mahmudullah during their match-winning two-over stand, the skipper said: “There was normal discussion. After I hit those two boundaries off Amir, before the start of Sami’s over, (Mahmudullah) Riyadh came upto me and asked, ‘Skipper do I take a chance against Sami?’
“I said you decide because a bad ball is a bad ball and it needs to be punished. He also had the 2012 Asia Cup final against Pakistan at the back of his mind as he could not win that close game. I personally wanted him to hit the winning shot today.”
Bangladeshi fans have enormous expectations from their skipper and the team. The scenes outside the stadium last night were there to be seen.
But Mashrafe has a word of caution for everyone. “We have a match to go but our feet are firmly grounded.”
That’s Mashrafe Bin Mortaza – Pakistan’s envy and Bangladesh’s pride.