Inside the Tiger’s Den

On the road for quite some time now, Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza must have been a tired man. He returned to his Dhaka home yesterday only after leading the Tigers to yet another series win, in fact the fourth on the trot on home soil. During the process he led his side to 15 wins against five losses. So he deserved a long nap to put aside the tiredness. Then he thought the doze at his apartment would not be as relaxing, so he changed his mind and was planning a trip to his home town of Narail, the only place that can give him back the full freshness. Against the backdrop of these many little issues, Mashrafe thought yesterday would not be a perfect day to talk cricket with Bishwajit Roy when The Daily Star reporter contacted him upon his arrival in the capital from Chittagong on completion of the ODI series against South Africa. But at the reporter’s insistence, the pace bowler finally welcomed him and allotted fifteen minutes for him. And that is when Mashrafe started baring his soul. He spoke of things from captaining the Tigers, the fans’ madness towards the game and unbelievable successes of the team to future stars like Soumya Sarkar and Mustafizur Rahman and the real heroes of the country, the freedom fighters, and his 200-wicket feat during his more than an hour conversation. Mashrafe is not someone who will tell you things to please you; rather he always talks from his heart. And that’s the reason we felt to publish the below excerpts from the long tête-à-tête in his own words:
Since the Zimbabwe series I was so engrossed with cricket that I couldn’t even realize when any festivity was coming. After the match yesterday [Wednesday] I went out for sehri and fortunately one shop was open so I did some shopping for my two kids.
Oh! Such a hectic life. After third match, I am finally feeling that Eid is coming and I’m going to my sweet hometown [Narail]. Everyone has some kind of way to blow off steam. Some people like to go outside and visit places, but for me it’s by going home. It refreshes me completely and I feel reenergised.
If someone really understands the game then they will say that what happened to us over the past few months is outstanding. And from my perspective this is a huge achievement for Bangladesh cricket, especially the year 2015. For us, in terms of one-day cricket, the last eight months were like a dream, but we are the ones who realised that dream.
I feel Bangladesh cricket has reached such a stage that it’s time for us to move further forward. Although I still doubt how the normal people are taking this. If they keep on expecting wins then it will become very difficult for us because we still have a long way to go. We will now be playing T20Is one after another, which is always challenging for us, but before that there is an even bigger challenge; playing 4 Test matches against South Africa and Australia.
I said before the World Cup that if we could perform well then it would help us in our series after that, but I didn’t expect it to help us so much.
Honestly, a lot of people have criticised us saying that Tamim [Iqbal] keeps getting out, Soumya [Sarkar] is not making the most of his starts, but we toned everyone out. Out of 16 crore people if 5 crore are watching cricket, then 1 crore people will have the same opinion and the rest of the 4 crore will have different opinions. So if you try to listen to everyone you can never move forward. I feel that we understood what we had to do to play good cricket and we executed that. Tamim is still playing shots, Soumya is playing with freedom, the bowlers know where and when to attack. We did everything based on a system.
I never planned ahead for anything in my life — not for my exams, not when I had to buy clothes for an occasion — I always do things at the last moment. So when I got the captaincy, I kept doing what I always did. I never thought about success, failure, future or past. None of that bothered me.
I never expected that I will captain Bangladesh. There’s a reason behind saying that because when I started playing I always felt that there can be nothing better than playing for my country. I thought there’s no need to go further than that.
People are talking about my attacking captaincy. The thing is very simple to me. Recently I saw that things have become much easier for the batsmen. They have gotten into a habit of hitting shots. They never defend and both the wicket and format suit them. From what I have seen, the batsmen will play shots, but as long as I can stop them from taking singles it will create pressure. If you don’t allow them to rotate the strike then the batsmen are forced into taking risks. I always try to stay one step ahead of the batsmen.
I do what my instinct tells me to do. On Thursday I was told to bring in Mustafizur [Rahman] but I waited, because my gut-feeling was telling me to bring on [Mahmudullah] Riyad. I did that and he got a wicket with his first ball. So it’s mostly all instant decisions.
We’ve climbed from ninth to eighth to seventh [in the ICC ODI rankings] and we can keep moving forward. At least we should try and hold onto this spot for a while and then go up when the time is right. Cricket is all about ups and downs, but the main thing is to hold on to your position and be patient.
I would like to urge everyone not to get too excited. We should respect all teams we play. On the flipside don’t treat our defeats too harshly. Patience is very important in every aspect of life. I think the team that is developing now can put in more professional performances after 2 or 3 years.
Regarding my 200 wickets, if I did play 100 matches more then I might have been a more celebrated bowler. Perhaps everyone would have been more proud of me that I have taken 300 or 350 wickets. I believe I had that ability and longevity, but despite playing for Bangladesh for 14 years, I’ve lost 3-4 years to injury.
Let me shatter some illusions today. We are entertainers. We are not heroes. The heroes are our freedom fighters. We don’t sacrifice anything for the cause of the nation. The freedom fighters did. Don’t misunderstand me, cricket is not everything. What we try to do is to bring happiness to our nation.
We still have to prove many things. We have games in England, New Zealand and Australia. If we can win some matches there then I will say that we can beat any team anywhere. However, the beauty of this team is that none of the players are ever fully satisfied.
I can tell you right now Tamim will finish on 10,000 runs, Shakib 10,000 runs and 400 wickets, Mushfiq 10,000 runs, Mustafiz 400 one-day wickets and Soumya 10,000 runs. Bangladesh is the team that will produce the most world-class players in the next ten years, if the money-spinning T20 leagues don’t creep in.
I don’t know how long I can keep playing with this team. But I can assure you the moment I will understand my drive and willpower have decreased, I will call time.

-With The Daily Star input

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