All that is gold does not glitter, wrote JRR Tolkien. 2016 saw four passages of play which got overshadowed by widely celebrated feats that followed. Hopefully this quartet – to quote from Tolkien’s poem again – ‘a light from the shadows shall spring’ in 2017.
The kid Mashrafe Mortaza catches fish by bare hands. The teenaged Mortaza jumps off a bridge onto moving trucks 20 feet below. The cricketer Mortaza gets into a rickshaw to go to stadiums in Dhaka. The superstar urges the cops to go easy on a fan who rushes out to the field to hug him. The much-adored captain is almost crushed to death by a bus and even as the fans seek vengeance, he decides not to press charges against the driver. He is there in billboards, in television adverts, and in people’s hearts as the most grounded cricketing legend. Everybody loves Mash.
In March, though, Bangladesh’s emotional lodestar was choking up in Bangalore. The game against India in the T20 world cup was couple of days away and the camp was sucker-punched by the news that the pacer Taskin Ahmed and spinner Arafat Sunny were suspended by the ICC from bowling due to suspect actions. The press conference seemed like a funereal place as the emotional Bangladesh journalists trooped in for commiserations and condolences.
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Mortaza sat hunched, face weighed down by sadness, and he admitted grief had gate-crashed into their camp. “If two of the boys at home are in some sort of trouble, you can’t focus on your work. You will be dispirited. It’s like that with us now. If you look at us, you can tell,” Mortaza mumbled out somberly.
Sad, hurt, emotional, confused, helpless but somehow Mortaza managed to not let any anger seep through. The press interaction ran over half-an-hour, and half of it was in Bangla but you didn’t need to understand the language to feel the sadness. Mortaza was the emotionally sorted-out senior in the team but you felt he could do with an avuncular arm around the shoulder. You wondered whether he and his team could recover in time for the India game.
They nearly sent India out of the tournament in an astonishing emotional turnaround. It’s clear that it wouldn’t have been possible without Mortaza. That evening, as ever, it’s his arms that told the story — sometimes he waved them here and there to set fields, often he wrapped them around his younger team-mates’ shoulder, at times he held his face and by the end, he must have been holding his head. He had bowled craftily giving just 22 runs in four overs and even promoted himself in the chase though he couldn’t do what he would have hoped. But his team inspired by their leader nearly did the job.
The match itself needs no retelling – the game would turn on its head in the last over when Mahmudullah slapped a full toss and Mushfiqur Rahim swatted a short ball to waiting palms, and they would have still managed to pull off a special win off the last ball but were done in by MS Dhoni’s run to run-out Mustafizur Rehman. Rehman ran, Dhoni ran, and the match ran away from Mortaza’s grasp but he had once again won the hearts.
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