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An open letter to Mashrafe

  • Published at 12:05 am July 17th, 2019

A tribute to Bangladesh cricket’s Captain Fantastic

For 19 long years, you have served the national cricket team with the utmost sense of dedication, passion, and charisma. During your first spell in international cricket, you bowled a whopping 32 overs, and picked up 4 crucial wickets against Zimbabwe in 2001.

Ever since your debut in that game, you have tirelessly and unwaveringly committed yourself to not just cricket, but the betterment of the nation as a whole. For that, this country owes you its debt and gratitude.

As a bowler, your numbers remain commendable -- 266 ODI wickets at an economy rate of 4.87, that too through injuries, surgeries, and immense physical strains that we seemingly forget, when criticizing you. But more importantly, as the symbolic manifestation and torch-bearer of cricket in a sports frenzy society, you have single-handedly engineered a group of young talents to realize their true potential -- and as such, you have become the architect of a team which is pushed by its fans into wanting to achieve more and more each day.

As ODI captain, your record speaks volumes about your impact. Across 85 ODI matches, your win percentage of 56.62% betters that of many of your more celebrated contemporaries, including Steve Smith of Australia (52.08%), Misbah-ul-Haq (53.48%), Angelo Matthews (49%), and Daniel Vettori (55.33%). But numbers show only one side of a tale -- a tale written, scripted, directed, and produced by you, and you only.

Yes, it is true, that the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup showcased the very credible struggles you face as a bowler today. Nevertheless, as most commentators put it, there is very little doubt about your skill and acumen as a cricketer. Over the last five to six years, when you have slowly started losing the spring and pace which made you the finest seamer that Bangladesh has ever produced, you transitioned yourself into a much cleverer, and one can say, more effective performer.

Nevertheless, 1 wicket in 8 games is a performance that you of all people, will not be satisfied with -- but it takes guts, and an unflinching sense of leadership, to take accountability at a time when the entire nation is supposedly calling for your head on a platter, following our exit from the World Cup.

You landed in Dhaka last week, and almost immediately, the journalists swarmed you with the elusive question regarding retirement. You responded with a simple notion that you will think about it. More so, you publicly declared your decision to take the entire burden and responsibility of Bangladesh’s inability to qualify for the semi-finals -- that showed a lot of character.
We as fans love to bandwagon. When we win, we promote our players to the status of emperors. And yet, in our tougher times, we forget those moments too easily -- and this time around, given your age, fitness, and performance at this World Cup, you are having to take the brunt of this unfortunate criticism.

We apologize -- you do not deserve this.

I do not know whether you will keep on playing after this World Cup. Personally, I do not see a set target for you to be playing towards anymore.

You have done what no other person in this country has done for cricket, and what no one else will -- you taught us to dream and fight till the end. And yes, win.

I am sure that the likes of Habibul Bashar, Khaled Mahmud, Khaled Masud, and other legends who preceded you would say the same -- you will always be our one and only Captain Fantastic. But everyone has a time to go -- in your case, that time might come sooner, rather than later. The decision to prolong your career or to retire now, is a decision which should be yours and yours only.

We as fans can demand many things, but I believe with all my heart, that you have earned the right and the trust of this country, to allow yourself to make the right call. You have done the right thing for the team and the country throughout your career, and never put your interests first -- and it is my genuine belief that you will do the same at your swansong.

As the captain of a team representing more than 160 million people, you have done justice to who a leader is and what they should represent. I sincerely believe that you will continue to have an intrinsic sense of duty in moulding a future generation of nation-builders, whether that be in sports or any other field. But alas, the reality is, that you will be gone from this team soon.
I hope that you can go with your head held high and on your own terms -- be the champion that you are, even as you contemplate retirement, and do so by being the roaring Tiger that has defined your personality throughout the past two decades.

Thank you Mashrafe -- for existing, for leading, and for inspiring us each day.

Mir Aftabuddin Ahmed is a Graduate in Economics and International Relations from The University of Toronto.