He is barely able to run without a grimace, wears a brace to hold up his creaking knees and walks gingerly between overs, but Mashrafe Mortaza refuses to give up on Bangladesh at the World Cup. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
The 31-year-old captain and pace spearhead has led from the front as the Tigers celebrated their greatest World Cup moment – a place in the quarter-finals for the first time after Monday night’s 15-run win over England in Adelaide.
The only other time Bangladesh went beyond the first round was in 2007 in the Caribbean, but that was into the round-robin Super Eights following a remarkable win over India in the league stage.
It will probably be defending champions India again that Bangladesh meet in the quarter-final at the gigantic Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 19, and Mortaza will eagerly await the challenge ahead.
It was his four-wicket haul at Port of Spain that sent India crashing out in 2007, reserving his best against a star-studded side that included captain Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.
Mortaza was forced to miss the last World Cup, co-hosted by Bangladesh along with India and Sri Lanka, due to a knee injury, one of the many he has endured in his 14-year-career.
Mortaza has missed more matches than he has played due to various leg, knee and ankle injuries. At the last count, he has been sidelined 11 times due to injuries and undergone surgery seven times over the last decade.
He has modified his bowling action to lessen the burden on his legs, but the desperation to play and do well for Bangladesh means he has been unable to rest his body for long periods.
“You have to bear the pain if you want to perform for your country,” said Mortaza. “But the pain goes away when you do well and the team wins…like against England.”
Bowling in short spells, Mortaza claimed the wickets of Alex Hales and Joe Root, both caught behind, to support the four-wicket haul by Rubel Hossain and two more by fellow-seamer Taskin Ahmed.
Mortaza, annoyed by comments in the past that Bangladesh were more dependent on spinners than their new-ball bowlers, said his seamers had not got the respect they deserved.
“Hopefully opinions will change now,” said the captain, who has take six wickets in the tournament, including three in the first match against Afghanistan.
Mohammad Mahmudullah, who on Monday became the first Bangladesh batsman to score a World Cup century, said Mortaza was an inspiration for the entire team.
“How many players have fought back from injuries like he has….not once but several times?” Mahmudullah asked. “His self-belief rubs off on all of us.”
Bangladesh fly across the Tasman Sea later on Tuesday to prepare for their last league match against co-hosts New Zealand in Hamilton on Friday.
“It will obviously be a tough game because New Zealand are playing at home, but we will be ready for the challenge. We need to keep the momentum going.”
Mortaza will need to ensure the over-rate does not lag on Friday, otherwise he will be in danger of missing the quarter-final.
Bangladesh were two overs short against England and fined – Mortaza 40 per cent of his match fee and his players 20 per cent each – and another such offence will invite a one-match suspension for the captain.
It’s a forced rest the injury-prone Mortaza can do without.