Mustafizur Rahman’s international debut was impressive. It was a T20 international against Pakistan and the left-arm seamer from Khulna division returned with 2/20 in four overs. His transition to 50-over format was natural and it was where the teenager announced his presence.
For Bangladesh, winning a series against India had always been their Holy Grail. They eventually achieved the feat, clinching a three-match ODI series 2-1 in June last year. Mustafizur finished with 13 wickets at 11.53. History was made and the youngster became a star overnight. Last season had been excellent for Bangladesh in ODIs. So was it for Mustafizur, who played nine matches, picking 26 scalps at 12.34. His team won seven of those games.
Somehow Bangladesh couldn’t replicate their ODI heroics in T20s. Not that Mustafizur had been a failure in that format. Far from it. A tally of 10 wickets in seven matches at 14.90 confirms his utility. His team played nine matches since he his debut in April 2015, winning four and losing five. A 2-2 home series draw against Zimbabwe last month exposed Bangladesh’s vulnerability. A ninth-placed ranking with only 47 rating points attest to their sloppiness.
Captain Mashrafe Mortaza admitted the tedium. “To be honest, we have been struggling in T20s. But it’s a new tournament and we are well prepared. If you look at our ranking, it’s not up to the mark, but something has to change and we would like to make a fresh beginning from this tournament — play confidently without thinking of the outcome,” he said before facing India in the Asia Cup opener tomorrow.
Not that the hosts don’t have the wherewithal to upset the Indian applecart. Tamim Iqbal would be missed but Shakib Al Hasan is a match-winner on his day. Soumya Sarkar is a fine batsman who offers solidity up the order. Sabbir Rahman is a big-hitter at No. 3 or 4 and can take the attack to the opposition. Asked about the preparation for this tournament, Mashrafe said: “We have trained as well as we could, but it’s more important to execute it on the ground.”
Execution would be down to belief and Bangladesh need plenty of that against the best T20 team in the world. They are depending on Mustafizur, the four-over limit (per bowler) notwithstanding. “He has got some extraordinary variations, which is very important in the shorter formats. He is a very important member of our team at the moment,” Mashrafe explained.
Even Virat Kohli, who had found the young fast bowler a little difficult to negotiate last year, was full of praise.
“Mustafizur has done really well in the past one year, if you see. Since he played against us, he has bowled well for Bangladesh. It was exciting to see, a 19-year-old, bowling slower balls and touching 140K. It was different for us as well to experience. He was bowling slower balls and cutters with the new ball. He spiced the game up a bit more, which is always exciting. Look at Kagiso Rabada of South Africa; he is a very exciting bowler. So it is very good for the game when you have bowlers coming in and making life difficult for the batsmen. If you are playing in conditions like in Bangladesh, and a guy can come in and take four-five wickets and trouble the batsmen all over, it makes the game more competitive. As a batsman also, you feel, okay, this guy has got a different set of skills, and you have got to prepare differently, tackle him differently. So you improve your game. He is obviously going to be a big factor for Bangladesh in this tournament.” Not for nothing Mustafizur has bagged a Rs 1.4 crore IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The young man, however, faces a new challenge. He was a relatively unknown quantity last term. But one year is a long time in cricket and batsmen are expected to figure him out. Can he avoid the second season blues? His captain has prescribed “home work” for his pace bowling spearhead. That Mustafizur is said to be immune to pressure is a bonus.