An unsung player from Asia’s cricket crazy nation who has seen his country’s cricket team build from absolutely nothing to a squad which can spoil any opposition’s party on its day is central character of theme today.
Many people have been involved in taking the Bangladesh cricket team from the floor to the hailstones, but the biggest role in it has been that of its former captain Mashrafe Mortaza. His on-field exploits have earned him the title of “Narail Express”, a remote town from where he hails, and also “Prince of Hearts” by his fans.
Mashrafe Mortaza is a bowling all-rounder now playing for about 20 years for the Bangladesh Cricket Team, making his debut in 2001 at the age of 17. He was the leader in the bowling attack of the Bangladesh cricket team in its nascent stage in the 2000s and still continue to do so. In 2001, Mortaza was sent to a bowling camp run by former West Indian bowling great Andy Roberts, then a temporary bowling coach for Bangladesh. Impressed by his pace and aggression, Roberts recommended his selection for Bangladesh A. His notable performance for Bangladesh A on India’s tour, where he led the bowling attack in four matches and picked up eight wickets, fast-tracked his selection into the national team. His test debut against Zimbabwe in 2001 was interestingly his First-class debut also. He was the 31st player and only third since 1899 to achieve this feat. In 2004, playing against India, Mortaza produced a dream spell and scripted Bangladesh’s first ODI victory over neighbouring giants India. He scored 31 not out and picked up the important wickets of Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni to help his side win a close encounter by 15 runs. He was declared Man of the Match in the historic win.
Mashrafe Mortaza career has been hampered by 15 injuries and has undergone 10 operations. During his cricketing career, he altered his bowling action as per ICC’s new guidelines which has reduced him to a medium pacer (pretty accurate though). However, he once clocked a speed of 148 kmph early in his career and was considered the fastest bowler Bangladesh has ever produced.
We only talk about Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim’s crucial half centuries in crashing India out of the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the league stage, but it was Mortaza who bagged figures of 4/38 in the first innings to bundle India out for 191 and set the stage for a historic win. He contributed immensely in Bangladesh’s success in World Cups in 2007 and 2015 and in recent Asia Cups. He may not be as exciting to watch as some of the modern era Bangladeshi players, but he has been a fatherly figure guiding the Bangladesh Cricket and his leadership has been a major contribution in taking Bangladesh Cricket Team to the level where they are a major threat for any team.
Call it a 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. He has taken 270 wickets in 220 ODIs for Bangladesh and 78 wickets in 36 Tests. At the same time, he has got 42 wickets in 54 T20s. He is the fifth bowler in ODI history to bag 100 wickets as captain. Before Mashrafe, only Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Shaun Pollock Windies captain Jason Holder had attained the record.
His International wickets cannot explain why the 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 Rahman. Perhaps the only national cricket captain, who dumped his luxury sedan and travelled to training on a cycle rickshaw with his gigantic cricket coffin. He is the Member of Parliament from Narail-2 constituency and won the election with 96% votes. It shows that Mashrafe is Bangladesh’s own boy — a people’s man and humanist. Sportsnasha feels Mashrafe Mortaza’s contribution needs to be acknowledged by cricket fans from the perspective of how he started and what has his team has achieved so far in his presence. With Bangladesh winning the U-19 World Cup this year, it needs experienced mentors and examples like Mortaza to nurture such promising young talent to become great cricketers of tomorrow. Mashrafe Mortaza is undoubtedly one of the greatest Bangladeshi cricketers of all time. His contribution to Bangladesh Cricket will be greatly appreciated, who effortlessly carried the burden of expectations of millions of crazy cricket fans.
by Paramdeep Rathee