Taskin Ahmed had a glamorous beginning to his international career. Who can forget such a rare fiery bowling display from a 17-year old! But all the glamours and hypes started fading away as soon as he lost his place in the national side, mostly due to injuries. He tried to claw his way back a few times, but he looked ordinary and out of place.
Taskin had a 4-year gap since he last played Test cricket before this Sri Lanka tour. A new Taskin was seen just like a Pheonix, rising from the ashes.
He talked exclusively to The Business Standard (TBS) where he opened up about the process of his resurrection and his thirst to do even better in future.
TBS: How was the Sri Lanka tour for you? Will it be a difficult question for you if you're asked to evaluate your performance there?
Taskin Ahmed: Not really. Definitely, I've done much better than before.
But I feel there's always room for improvement. What I can control is the process. Every match, every series is a new opportunity and I want to give my best. In Sri Lanka, I did well but it wasn't overwhelming.
TBS: You returned to the side after a long time. Surely you had set a performance goal before the series. Could you fulfil your expectation?
Taskin: No. I always expect myself to do well. I am working very hard on this too. I thought I would do better. But now that the series is over, I have to learn from my mistakes and look to get better with each passing day. I may not always take many wickets every day but the process is important.
TBS: In Bangladesh, fast bowlers aren't prioritised especially in Test cricket. But after the way you performed in Sri Lanka, everyone is saying that you've broken the ground, set the tone. How do you feel when you hear these?
Taskin: To be honest, I am not really aware of what people are saying. And there is nothing to be overjoyed. Because I know that all these will stop if I don't play well. But I want to see our fast bowlers getting more and more opportunities in international and domestic cricket. You can work hard, sweat it out in practice but you have to play competitive cricket in order to improve your skills. That's why the pacers should be given more opportunities in domestic cricket.
TBS: How relieving was the Sri Lanka tour for you? You previously consulted a mental health expert. So how did you feel after making a comeback and performing well?
Taskin: Obviously I was relieved. Representing the country is always a great feeling. Every international wicket is precious. I am glad to make a comeback and pick up wickets. I am in constant touch with the mind trainer and fitness trainer because I think both physical and mental health is really significant. I am focusing on the controllable things and trying my best to improve. I think every new day gives us an opportunity to better our skills. There's a lot of work to be done.
TBS: How different is bowling with a red ball from bowling with a white ball?
Taskin: It's definitely different. Test cricket is real cricket. It may not be prioritised in our country but it is definitely the best form of cricket. Bowling with a red ball certainly demands more physical and mental fitness. But then again, bowling with a white ball is going to be another exciting opportunity. It's different in many ways but I am up for the challenge.
TBS: Can we call this version of yours 'Taskin 2.0'?
Taskin: I've changed a lot but I want to be the best version of myself.
TBS: Do you think you are on the right track in terms of bowling and fitness?
Taskin: I think so. I always speak to my fitness trainer, (Khaled Mahmud) Sujon Sir and (Mahbub Ali) Zaki Sir. According to them, I am on the right track. But there's still a long way to go.
TBS: Last year during the shutdown, you worked on your fitness yourself and lost weight. How effective that has been for you?
Taskin: Definitely it has been effective. But more than weight loss, what's important is to stay lean and strong. I'm still working on it.
TBS: We watched a different Taskin Ahmed in the previous series in terms of physique and bowling. Tell us about the whole process in brief.
Taskin: It all started during the last lockdown. I went to my fitness trainer and told him to give me some drills so that I could improve my fitness. He said, "How can you do these during the lockdown?" But I insisted as I feared I'd fade away if I didn't work hard. I took help from Sabit (Rayhan) Bhai and Debu da (Debashish Ghosh). It helped me improve my fitness and I am still following the same process.
TBS: You've developed a more accurate bouncer. You are also consistently maintaining good lines and lengths. How did this change happen?
Taskin: I've spoken and worked with bowling coaches. Ottis Gibson in the national team also helped a lot in terms of technique and skill development.
TBS: Tell us about your experience of working with Ottis Gibson. And how big a role Mahbub Ali Zaki has played in your comeback?
Taskin: Both of them have helped me a lot. Zaki Sir knows me since my childhood and always helps me. I cannot thank Sabit bhai, Zaki Sir, Sujon Sir and Debu da enough for supporting me. In the national team, Ottis Gibson has helped me a lot as well.
TBS: Normally when a cricketer is dropped from the team, he tends to lose focus. How did you stay focused and motivated especially when you were out of the team?
Taskin: I was adamant that I would bounce back. I always thought that if I stopped working hard, I would remain another average player. I took inspiration from Mashrafe bhai. I have always idolised him. My family members always encouraged me to make a comeback. Those four people as well as Mashrafe bhai encouraged me. It was my willpower that helped me bounce back.
TBS: When did you realise that you needed to change, increase your pace and accuracy?
Taskin: Two years ago when I saw everything change in front of my eyes- from personal life to cricket. I felt I was giving up on my dreams. That's when I realised that a change was necessary.
TBS: Did you ever think that everything was over?
Taskin: To be honest, yes. But not more than a couple of times. I realised quickly that giving up couldn't be a solution. I always thought that I needed to be someone different.
TBS: International cricket is changing and bowlers need various weapons in their armoury to survive. What's the best weapon you have now with which you can trouble batters?
Taskin: Right now I am focusing on the basic things. I've been naturally gifted with pace and I am trying to sustain it. I am also trying to learn swing and seam movement. I am trying to stick to the basics now and will work on the swing, knuckleball and slower ball.
TBS: What was going through your head when you were included in Test XI after three and a half years?
Taskin: In Sri Lanka, even in New Zealand where I played in the ODIs, I delivered every ball with utmost dedication. You see, I bowled 70 overs in Sri Lanka. I focused hard on each and every delivery. Whenever I felt tired, I pushed myself thinking that I was playing for my country.
TBS: How was the New Zealand tour? Did the wickets assist pace bowling?
Taskin: In the ODIs, I might not have gotten many wickets, but I think I bowled decently there. Unfortunately, we couldn't do well as a team but I bowled pretty well.
TBS: We've seen fielders dropping catches off your bowling multiple times. Does this fact cross your mind before you start bowling?
Taskin: Not really. I cannot control this. I don't react much when a catch is dropped. Because no one drops a catch intentionally. Sometimes I feel disappointed after the match but it's all part of the game.
TBS: You've always idolised Mashrafe Mortaza. Did you speak to him when you were out of the team?
Taskin: I played a lot of games for Bangladesh under his captaincy. His story always inspired me to bounce back. And I speak to him at least once before and after each series, seeking advice. He is a legendary fast bowler and always encourages me to get better.
TBS: The next series is against Sri Lanka in your own backyard. Will this be an opportunity for you to do better?
Taskin: See, the conditions are pretty similar. So Sri Lanka won't face much difficulty to adjust. Yes, there's always an extra advantage while playing at home. But every match is a new challenge and we need to maintain the process.
TBS: It's always difficult for a fast bowler in Bangladesh to come back from injuries and remain fit. But you are an exception. Your improvement is visible. What are the things you focused on exclusively during that period?
Taskin: I stuck to the process. I gave my hundred per cent on what I am doing now and what I did before. I had to sacrifice a lot of my favourite things. But I stuck to the process that included fitness training, mind training, diet and skill training.
TBS: What are the aspects of bowling you worked on when you were out of the team?
Taskin: As a fast bowler, I cannot compromise with pace. I always thought that there would be many better bowlers than me if I continued to bowl in the 130s. That's why I focused on increasing the pace.
TBS: Mashrafe was like the goose laying golden eggs. He was so good that the captains ended up over bowling him especially away from home. Is there a sense of fear that something similar can happen to you? Are you ready to take that extra responsibility?
Taskin: If my body permits and I can do well, I am ready to take the responsibility and serve the team. If I get an opportunity, I have to make sure I make the best use of it. It all depends on Allah's plans and my perseverance.