Mashrafe Mortaza is a natural leader - on and off the cricket field - his charisma is bound to draw the spotlight on him.
Now also a member of the parliament, the most successful captain in the history of Bangladesh cricket spoke about a number of issues regarding his career.
He revealed some untold stories about his career, the board and why he had to retire from T20Is in an exclusive two-part interview with The Business Standard (TBS).
TBS: You have revealed many things about your T20 retirement, being left out, and everything recently. Why are you talking about all these now?
Mashrafe: Well, I had to reveal all these someday. So many things have been told by so many people about my fitness, the way I got dropped and everything. A lot of you tried to speak to me after I was left out of the squad for the West Indies series. But I told the media that I took that very professionally. But since then, many people gave many statements about why I was dropped. (Minhajul Abedin) Nannu Bhai, while announcing the squad, said that he had a word with me. It's a lie. Then a few days later (Habibul Bashar), Sumon Bhai echoed his words.
One of the reasons they cited was my fitness. Well, they have the data, and they know very well if I failed a single fitness test or not. I can assure you that my scores will be higher than even some of the established players, be it the beep test or the yo-yo test. How can you say that I'll fail a fitness test without even checking? I've then told Nannu Bhai and Sumon Bhai that if the media someday asks me about all these, I won't remain silent. When I spoke to Nannu Bhai, he said, "I told the media that I paid a courtesy call on you." But we all know what he said, don't we?
TBS: Leaving you out of the squad was a huge event in the context of Bangladesh cricket. Of course, the selectors, coach, board president and officials were involved. Did you get any message from them?
Mashrafe: I don't think that the issue was handled professionally by any means. Look, when I retired from T20Is in 2017, I was in good form. So you have to understand that I am a person who knows when to leave.
I was never officially given any proposal. Only (Nazmul Hassan) Papon Bhai asked me what I thought about it before the Zimbabwe series. I, in fact, did not want to retire with the memory of the World Cup. I was the highest wicket-taker in the previous three series. After the Covid-19, I gained fitness and took five wickets and bowled well. But no one told me officially that they were not considering me. They could've told me, "Look, we are not considering you for the World Cup. Play the West Indies series and retire." The senior players of the team could've suggested so. There was not a single e-mail or SMS.
Let me tell you about one incident. After the 2015 World Cup, we played a series against Zimbabwe. Four matches were played in Khulna. One of the left-arm spinners missed out. So I tried to convince the management to bring back Raz (Abdur Razzak). I had it in my mind that he can be given a farewell. But the management didn't agree. Then I went straight to Papon Bhai and told him what I thought. He gave me the green signal. So, if you want to give a player a nice farewell, it cannot be one-sided. Someone from the board or management needs to approach the player. It didn't happen to me. Yes, Tamim (Iqbal) called me on the night I got five wickets. He explained the scenario and said that he had nothing to do. I told him not to worry about me.
TBS: You will never be picked in the team after the way you're speaking against the people involved with the board. Are you assuming that your international career is over?
Mashrafe: When I was left out of the squad, I immediately knew that the chances of my comeback are meager. On top of that, I am 38 now. I said that I would continue to play domestic cricket as I love the game. I am just pointing out what professionalism is. The board hasn't shown it. Whether I have shown it, it's up to you to decide. I never said anything against the board in my entire career because of the code of conduct. Otherwise, I wouldn't have kept my mouth shut in 2017.
TBS: Many believe that Chandika Hathurusingha was the reason behind your T20 retirement. Was he the only reason why you retired? You said before that you were compelled to retire.
Mashrafe: The second day of the second Test match was going on on the day I landed in Sri Lanka. I didn't go to my room and waited for my teammates in the lobby. After I had met them, I had a meeting Hathurusingha and (Khaled Mahmud) Sujon bhai. What Hathurusingha told me was very surprising to me. It was all a personal attack. But I remained patient and tried to understand why he's saying all these.
Then the board members started to arrive and ask me about my decision. As the T20Is were approaching, I started to realise that they wanted me to retire. I asked some of my teammates what to do. Tamim told me, "I don't think they will let you play after this. It's better for you to retire."
Then I informed Papon Bhai about my decision. He wasn't surprised at all and took it very normally. Then it all became crystal clear. After that, I spoke to my family about this. I only informed my teammates just before the team meeting.
TBS: Did you have any plan to retire at Lord's? Would it have been better to retire then?
Mashrafe: At that time, I was out of my mind. I was quite composed until the second match though I didn't bowl well. But as I saw board officials giving interviews and talking only about my performance, my morale started to go down. I couldn't bounce back from there. Probably I couldn't remain professional. Before the Pakistan match, I was sort of became impatient to escape from there.
I told Shakib (Al Hasan) that I could not carry on and informed him that I wouldn't play. Then I returned to my room and called my family members. They told me to let bygones be bygones, and I realised that I was showing a weak mentality.
Neither did I attend the practice, nor I went to the press conference. But I then decided to play. I returned to Shakib and asked, "If I say that I will play, will I hurt your ego? You've already had a meeting with the team." He assured me that I could take my time and let him know my decision on the match morning.
In the morning, in front of all the board officials, I said that I could retire from ODIs if they wanted me to do so. I didn't think about that and said it just like that. But they told me not to do so and said, "Get back to form and retire in a good way back home." That's it.
TBS: Your performance in the World Cup was heavily criticised, and some board officials were even involved in it. The media was used to create hype about your retirement. Are you aware of that?
Mashrafe: I have never been so hurt in my life. I came to know that two of our board directors called some TV channels and told them to turn me into a villain. When the board needed to be by my side, they used the media.
I believe that truth will someday be unveiled and nature is a great leveller. One of them has already been accused of corruption and all. But nothing happened to me. Probably Papon Bhai is not aware of this but this is the truth.
TBS: You were told that you would be given a farewell at home. But did we see anything like that?
Mashrafe: There was one proposal, you know, in the Zimbabwe series. Before that, I didn't go to Sri Lanka. I was supposed to go but injured myself while practising. But I told the management that I played with such an injury in the World Cup and I could carry on in Sri Lanka. But they disagreed.
Yes, I was given that proposal to retire in the Zimbabwe series but it was all after they made the plan and it came in the media. Still, Papon Bhai gave me due respect and I told him that I would play the BPL and let him know about my decision. He agreed. So there was an agreement and I expected to get another proposal but it never came to me.
TBS: We have seen this during that Zimbabwe series and recently about the Shakib issue. The communication between the board and players is being conducted through media. The board and the players are not sitting face-to-face. What do you think about this culture?
Mashrafe: This is unprofessionalism of the highest level. You see, when the media of other countries predict the squad for a series, they are never accurate. But when you guys in Bangladesh do so, you are absolutely spot on. How does this happen? There must be some people who leak this. I don't think they intentionally do it. It has become a habit.
TBS: It's been said by people and also some media that on a few occasions you have leaked some information about the team. What's your take on this?
Mashrafe: Let me clarify. There was one incident about (Mohammad) Saifuddin. He himself told me on the day I was retiring as a captain, "Bhai, I have been told by a senior player and from the board that you leaked the news of my injury and not playing in the Australia match in the World Cup." I immediately called the journalist who made that report and requested him to tell the truth. Then he said that a selector told him about that.
After the England match in the World Cup, Shakib was a little upset about Mahmudullah's approach as he was trying to settle down rather than being aggressive. I told a few journalists that Shakib was upset. Then I spoke to Mahmudullah for a long time and explained how it needs to be done. So when that news was all over the media, why did Shakib and Mahmudullah not react? Because they know exactly what happened.
I even told some of them that if Shakib were the captain, Bangladesh would've qualified for the semis. But that never became news. A few days ago, Shakib gave a statement where he said that he was upset regarding the fact that news has been leaked from the dressing room. Now I am not here. Who is leaking all these? I was waiting for this day.
TBS: We have seen that many board officials travel with the team during big tournaments and series. How is the team benefitted from it?
Mashrafe: We don't think about these because we know at the end of the day we ourselves need to perform. But if we fail to do so, we know what these board directors are capable of and what they can do to us. So there is always a sense of fear, you know. It happened to Tamim. He cried the whole night before the match against Scotland in the 2015 World Cup. I have seen all these.
The spectators can criticise the players, the media can as well. But if the cricket board does so, I will stand beside the player. Sachin Tendulkar was tagged 'Endulkar' by the media. But the board didn't bash him. They must have had meetings but it never was in the media.