Tamim Iqbal was about to leave after Bangladesh’s practice session at on Friday, when Mashrafe Mortaza took him aside for a private chat. A peek-a-boo into the dressing room allowed the waiting hacks (only a handful cared to stay till the end) to capture the moment, although the conversation was not audible.
Iqbal is a big star in Bangladesh, but when Mortaza spoke, he simply listened. A nod from the opener and a pat on the back from the captain – mutual respect was evident. Mortaza is larger than life in this Bangladesh dressing room. It was down to his ability to inspire a divided unit to work together towards a common goal. Mortaza, along with coach Chandika Hathurusingha, changed the team culture after he took charge of the limited-overs squads in 2014. Bangladesh would be playing the Asia Cup final in two days time which attests their rise as a limited-overs force.
A well-settled team now allows him the luxury to think about his retirement. “I don’t think I would be continuing for long. This year, and then I would take a call. At this moment, it would be difficult to say if the upcoming World T20 is going to be my last ICC tournament. I basically follow my instincts and don’t plan things too much in advance. Whatever I do, I will ensure my decision doesn’t put my team mates under pressure,” Mashrafe said. At 32 years of age, the medium-fast bowler is certainly not a veteran. But injuries have plagued him throughout his career – a major reason why he is already contemplating his international swansong.
Mortaza doesn’t like the word captain-fantastic. He prefers to keep a low profile. But everyone related to Bangladesh cricket credits him for the team’s limited-overs/ODI resurgence – from reaching the World Cup quarter-final last year to beating Pakistan, India and South Africa at home. Not that Mortaza is considered a tactical genius. It’s his management skills that are richly appreciated.
Reintegrating Al-Amin Hossain into the team is a case in point. The medium pacer had been sent home from the World Cup last year for breaking a team curfew. But Mortaza always had confidence in Hossain’s ability and allowed him the space to return. “Hossain has had been our best bowler in T20s and ODIs; especially in the shortest format. What had happened in the World Cup was unfortunate and he repented the error. After that he worked hard and performed in all domestic competitions including the last Bangladesh Premier League. My job, the whole team’s job, was to back him during crisis. We don’t have many bowlers of his ability, so it was important to give him the space,” Mortaza said. Hossain has been instrumental in their march to the final in this Asia Cup, taking 10 wickets in four matches at an average of 10. 40 (economy 7.42).
To be precise, team spirit had never been Bangladesh’s strength until Mortaza returned as captain for his second stint two years ago. His first term in 2009 had ended after just one Test, when he limped off after bowling 6.3 overs in the first Test against West Indies at Kingstown. “Good team atmosphere is a direct result of my relationship with the players. Skill-wise there hasn’t been a major change. But now the dressing room atmosphere allows the players play with freedom and express themselves. We no longer have the fear of failure which sums up our progress as a team. Our coach, too, has contributed a lot,” the captain observed.
Mortaza has had a couple of regrets. Playing just one match in the IPL tops the list. “I went to the IPL 2 at my peak, but then Kolkata Knight Riders management gave me only one game. Maybe I deserved a bit more chance.”