Mashrafe Bin Mortaza leads from the front, and embodies all that is good in cricket
The image of Mashrafe, ball clasped with his left arm raised high after the remarkable catch he took to dismiss Shoaib Malik, in a game that was a must-win for the Tigers, was perhaps the most iconic image of the recently concluded Asia Cup.
That catch, particularly remarkable given how quickly Mashrafe’s body, ravaged with injuries over the years, had to move to pluck the ball from a perfectly middled on-drive from Malik, embodied everything Mashrafe stands for -- defying the odds, giving his 110%, and persevering, no matter how dire the situation.
To judge Mashrafe based on numbers would do him the greatest disservice -- indeed, it would be a disservice to cricket in general. A handful of players throughout history have transcended statistics, and though stats are an integral part of the game, sometimes it is important to look beyond.
Even so, Mashrafe recently became the first Bangladeshi to take 250 ODI wickets -- a truly spectacular achievement, especially considering the trajectory of Mashrafe’s career.
Making his debut in 2001, the teenage Mashrafe was perhaps the first Bangladeshi fast bowler ever to possess genuine pace, and was able to hit the elusive 90mph mark consistently, with his height and high arm action generating additional bounce, and movement off the seam.
During the time Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were terrorizing batsmen with their frightening deliveries, Bangladeshis had every reason to be hopeful of young Mashrafe -- it had never had a bowler quite like him, blessed with height, pace, and great movement off the seam. He was also barely an adult, and there was hope that he would get stronger, and place himself in contention among the best and quickest bowlers in the world.
Injuries never allowed that dream to become reality -- Mashrafe is yet to hit 200 ODIs, despite his 17-year-long career, and has missed more games than he has had the opportunity to play. An uneven bowling action, and perhaps a cricket board that was not adequately prepared to deal with the mercurial, yet unstable talent of the young pacer from Narail, is perhaps to be blamed.
Operations followed, to his back, and to his legs, knees, ankles -- and with each injury blow, Mashrafe was robbed of his pace. He was also robbed of the ability to play the longer format, and prematurely left Test cricket in 2009.
What he was not robbed of, and what continues to set him apart from others in the national team, is his sheer will. It would have been easy for a player so razed with injuries, to be stripped of his natural pace and athleticism to be devastated -- instead, Mashrafe persevered, using his brain more than his body and strength now in his bowling, and has never stopped being an effective bowler for Bangladesh in limited overs cricket.
Even if Mashrafe had stopped being an effective bowler for Bangladesh, his leadership alone could possibly warrant him a place in the national side. In an era when cricket is often criticized for not having the great captains of previous generations such as Steve Waugh, Stephen Fleming, or Graeme Smith, Mashrafe’s captaincy, his ability to motivate his players, and set an example for all the others in the team in how to approach a game of cricket has rightfully won him plaudits from the entirety of the cricketing world.
Indeed, it is under Mashrafe’s captaincy that Bangladesh has truly been transformed in ODI cricket, from the tag of “minnows” to a genuine threat to any team.
Of course, senior players, especially Shakib Al Hasan, and young talents such as Mustafizur Rahman have played a major role in bringing about this transformation, but having a leader such as Mashrafe has most certainly been the primary driver. Easily the captain with the most experience under his belt, he is also the only captain to have an overall winning record, winning over 56% of his matches, and also has the most bilateral series wins.
But here again, we come to the intangibles, even though Mashrafe also has the numbers to back up just why he is so revered in this country. Nobody embodies a “never say die” attitude better than him, and when the leader leads with such a mentality, the rest of the team naturally follows. He makes casual watchers of the sport become fans, and somehow embodies a spirit of patriotism through the game of cricket that one can’t help but be swept up by.
He makes neutrals root for Bangladesh, to watch him, to pay attention, to listen. He has earned and commands respect, whether it be through his now slow, languid, easy on the eye action, through his determination, as evidenced by the remarkable catch in the Asia Cup, or through his poise and grace in leading the Bangladeshi Cricket Team.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza turns 35 today. He has already retired from T20 cricket, and it can’t be much longer before his injury-torn body says no more, no matter how much he wills his mind to continue. Cherish him.
AHM Mustafizur Rahman is an Editorial Assistant, Dhaka Tribune.