Mashrafe Bin Mortaza is a name that is synonymous with Bangladesh cricket and one that has transcended into being a household name.
The most successful captain in Bangladesh cricket history spoke in-depth with The Business Standard (TBS) about his career, and how he is helping those in need during the coronavirus pandemic, and much more in an exclusive interview.
TBS: Life has come to a standstill due to Coronavirus and we all have to stay quarantined. How are you spending your time amid all these?
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza: I have been spending time with my family. There is nothing much to do other than this. Everyone is experiencing the same.
TBS: You have extended your helping hand during this crisis. Is this because of the responsibility of being a member of the parliament? What Mashrafe Bin Mortaza the individual would do during this tough time?
Mashrafe: It's not important what Mashrafe the individual would do. But he would definitely do something. What I have been doing as a member of the parliament is totally different. This is my responsibility. But as I said, Mashrafe the individual would do something substantial too.
TBS: Will it be difficult for the cricketers to adapt when the crisis ends? A lot of things are going to change. What will be the challenges do you think the cricketers will face?
Mashrafe: Well, the toughest challenge will be maintaining fitness. Because you have to train on the field to gain proper fitness. Besides, cricketers will need some time to get things right as far as skills are concerned. It has been three months now. We don't know how long we have to wait. Even if we return to cricket shortly, we will need some time to overcome the challenges.
TBS: What about your fitness?
Mashrafe: I have been working on it. I don't usually diet during Ramadan. But I have been dieting this year. I can tell you, I am now in the best possible shape.
TBS: How much change being a public representative has brought to your life? Now you have to deal with people, you have to make their dreams come true. Is this more difficult?
Mashrafe: Well, everything is difficult. Nothing comes easy. It depends on how you look at it. You will always want to give your best whichever platform you are working for. That's what is the most important thing, giving your best.
TBS: Have you forgotten about the 2019 World Cup or it still remains a nightmare?
Mashrafe: Obviously it remains a nightmare. It's not something to forget so easily. It will always remain a nightmare.
TBS: Was it your worst ever World Cup?
Mashrafe: Yes, it was a very disappointing tournament for me. I felt bad. It will continue to haunt me.
TBS: When you look back, what you feel went wrong in the World Cup? You hardly experienced such a decline in form in your career.
Mashrafe: To be honest, I have never had a tournament like this. Starting with my performance, it was not up to the mark. If I had been able to carry out my responsibilities appropriately, things would have been different. If I had picked up early wickets, the team would have been in a much better position.
See, if I had got four more wickets in the tournament, two against New Zealand and two against Pakistan upfront, we could have played the semifinal. If Tamim (Iqbal) had got a couple of more fifties, things would have been different altogether. It's about doing the right things at the right time, which we couldn't do.
TBS: You won a multinational tournament as the first-ever Bangladesh captain. You were in top form going into the World Cup. So many highs and lows within a short period of time- how do you evaluate this?
Mashrafe: We were in the race till the India match. We had a clear idea that if I could get 10 points, we would be through. It became easier for England and New Zealand as Pakistan and South Africa lost all their matches in the early part of the tournament. But they were in a bit of trouble despite winning most of the games comprehensively. New Zealand were through because the match between South Africa and Pakistan didn't produce the expected result. That's why no real drama took place.
The tournament became wide open at the latter part as some big teams lost matches. If we had won against Pakistan despite losing to India, our points would have been 9. We got only 1 point in the game against Sri Lanka. If we had won the match, our points would have been 10. As per our calculations, we would have been through. Unfortunately that didn't happen. We would have finished fifth if we had won the last match. It wouldn't help either, but it could be a moral victory for us.
It's not that our cricket has fallen down. Yes, it was disappointing to fail at such a crucial time. The way Shakib (Al Hasan) played, we should have actually won the tournament. When someone performs like that, the team is likely to become champions. That's what happened to Yuvraj Singh and India in 2011. Shakib produced a tournament-winning performance, but we could not support him.
TBS: Would things have been different if you had won against New Zealand?
Mashrafe: Yes, that was the match which could turn things to our favour. We were agonisingly close, but not close enough.
TBS: There were lots of talks about your retirement during the World Cup itself. After the World Cup, it didn't decrease. How did you control yourself at that time?
Mashrafe: I didn't think much actually. You can't get back what Allah takes away from you. Then again, none can't take away what Allah gives to you. I firmly believe in that. You are the one who has to make the decision. I have always listened to my heart. I honestly never bothered about others' decisions. I never thought about the decisions of BCB or the selectors.
TBS: Only one bad tournament and people started criticising you. Don't you feel that people tend to forget the past easily?
Mashrafe: The main reason behind this was probably politics. I think there was a political reason behind the criticism. See, I don't think there is a single person who is neutral. Everyone is, more or less, a part of political culture. Everyone has a particular political party that they support. Otherwise people would not vote for us.
I didn't perform well in the World Cup and I was bound to be criticised for that. But the way I was pushed from different angles was not normal and not just because I failed in the World Cup. It was completely regarding politics. Even I was attacked for political reasons before the World Cup. The criticism which I got after the World Cup was absolutely fine. But I will talk specifically about BCB and others some other time, not now.
TBS: Shakib Al Hasan told after the World Cup that it becomes tough for a team to perform when the captain doesn't and Bangladesh lagged behind because of that. What do you think?
Mashrafe: It is definitely true. I find two things in this. My success as a captain in the last 4-5 years means that I was a performer. And the team was unsuccessful in the World Cup because I did not perform. You can understand a statement from Shakib's words that I was successful in the last 5-6 years because I performed. The team did not do well in the World Cup because I did not perform.
Shakib has given out a clear message. I could not come forward in the World Cup as a captain should have. But I did not take any bad decisions as the captain. I could not perform. But it is a part of our cricketing culture that we pick someone to put under the screw when the team does not perform. So it was easy to pick me because I did not perform and also, Tamim was picked on in some cases.
TBS: Shakib also said that when dressing room chatters don't stay within the dressing room, it hurts the team morale. He said it is enough to make a team fall behind. What do you think about that?
Mashrafe: I would say that he is absolutely correct.
TBS: The players went on strike with their demands last October. You were not informed about it. Did it hurt you? How were you feeling?
Mashrafe: I have clarified the matter earlier. I am saying it now too that no player can say that they informed me. Some people lied there saying that 'Mashrafe bhai is now an MP, he won't come', some said, 'Mashrafe bhai knows about it but he won't come.' Some also said, 'Mashrafe bhai is busy, he is not in Dhaka.' When it was asked where Mashrafe is, these lies were given out. I didn't even want to think about why I was not informed. Tamim said that he called me. True, he did but he did not clarify the matter to me.
When I talked to him 3-4 days earlier, we were talking about a contract. Then he said that he called me but I was not online. It is not a tough job to find me. Many people come to my house when they are in need. But I was not informed about the strike. I don't have any complaints about it.
I can question a lot of things if I want. None of you ask questions positively, you ask why I was not there. It doesn't sound good then. Then I have to say that I was not there because I was not informed. I don't know why I was not informed. But Mashrafe did not come because he is an MP, what is the relation between an MP and the players - these are lies. When they fail to understand it, how can the mass be blamed?
TBS: Did Bangladesh's poor performances, especially in Tests, happen because of Shakib, Tamim's absence? Even though Tamim's return did not make much of a difference in the Pakistan tour. What do you think?
Mashrafe: The form Shakib was in, he definitely would have had an impact. Tamim is also one of the best players. They have always played well. It is true that it is a great thing when they both perform together. I can not say about Tests but it would have been very good in the T20Is.
TBS: Mustafiz played well for a long time but since then his performance curve is going downwards. Do you find any reason behind that?
Mashrafe: Mustafiz is not gone yet. But you can say that he is facing reality. You can not call this getting lost. Let me give you an example of Ishant Sharma. He can swing the ball in any direction he wants now. He is India's main Test bowler. How many years did he take? He took 10-12 years to reach his prime. Mustafiz did extremely well at the beginning and that is why we are not being able to accept his bad days.
His career is only four years long. He is only 21-22. A player reaches his peak when he is 28 to 32-33 years old. He still has 5-6 years to reach that place. I don't understand what our concern is. Everyone talks about his cutter but it is tough to survive in Tests with his cutter. He is learning how to survive in Tests. I think he has a lot of time left. So, it is better if we do not talk about it unnecessarily.
TBS: You have led the pace bowling unit for a long time. From that place, how do you see the future of Bangladesh's pace attack? How much can the ones who are playing or are in the pipeline be trusted?
Mashrafe: It is very challenging in Tests, I have been saying this for some time. (Abu Jayed) Rahi has been doing very well, I have to say this. Ebadot (Hossain) has passion. But considering everything, I think that our pace attack is in a very challenging situation in Tests. It will still take a long time. It will take a lot of time to grasp a few things. It is challenging but not impossible. But we have a strong pace attack in ODIs and T20Is. It has become even stronger after Saifuddin's arrival.
TBS: What do you think of cricket at the dusk of your career? You have always said that cricket is not life, then what is cricket?
Mashrafe: I will say the same thing. This is a good question. Your thoughts change with time. But still, my thoughts about cricket are still the same. Cricket is a massive part of my life, but it is not my life.
TBS: You became very emotional on two occasions in your life. Among them, one was when you left ODI captaincy. How tough was that?
Mashrafe: I took the decision within two minutes. Nothing is difficult after making the decision. It was not tough to make a decision. I woke up, called Papon bhai, and said, 'I am done.' I let my family know. I might disclose later why I took the decision.
TBS: You were forced to retire from T20Is. Now you left captaincy while playing. Any connections?
Mashrafe: Actually there are no connections if I speak the truth. But yes, if you think of it from some angles you might get something. I will clarify these answers later on.
TBS: You could not captain the side properly in 2009 because of injuries. How much did you enjoy captaincy in the latter parts? What were the best things at this time?
Mashrafe: There are a lot of memories. Five-six years is quite some time. There are bad and good memories. But amid this, I have mostly enjoyed it. For that, I thank the board, my teammates, the journalists, the fans. Everyone helped and the team was successful because the team combination was good. Every player chipped in and there was unity in the squad. We were successful because of these and I enjoyed it.
TBS: Tamim has taken your place. What chance do you think of Tamim has of being successful as a skipper?
Mashrafe: Actually, it can not be said like that. When I took over the captaincy the last time, I am sure nobody saw any chance of me succeeding. Because I got injured so it is natural for everyone to think that. I have also said many times that I did not have consent. There was no guarantee of who will be successful. But his willingness, mental strength, dedication, ability to keep the team together - these are important. As long as these things are there, even if he does not succeed, he has to be given credit.
And as you are asking about Tamim, I hope he will be more successful than his predecessors. I want this. Tamim is very smart, he understands everything. He will be able to provide the players with a lot of facilities. He will be able to do that from his ability. I think that whatever has been done, has been done very well. Mominul (Haque) as the Test skipper, Riyad as the T20I skipper - I think everything is in the right place. Everything is going in the right direction and the main thing to do is to perform.
TBS: How safe the Bangladesh team is in the hands of Russell Domingo? If you were asked to evaluate, what would you say?
Mashrafe: It has been six months since his arrival. Within that, three months have been in lockdown. But he could not do anything big in these six months. Where our cricket is right now, it is not the time to experiment. Now is the time for everyone to do their best. What the board or the others are thinking about him, I don't know. What is their thoughts or planning, that is their headache. I will not put in a fast comment on Domingo, let a little more time pass.
TBS: There are rumours that he does not work on plans about the matches that much. Is there a chance for the team to fall behind because of this?
Mashrafe: You guys see everything and understand it too. I have played three matches against Zimbabwe but we did not have any such words that I can explain about him. As you guys cover his press conferences or talk to many people, you have a better idea than me. Saying he doesn't prepare a game plan is absurd, every coach does that.
TBS: You are an idol to many in cricket, now you are becoming one in politics too. Will you be with cricket after retiring? If you do, then what are your plans for maintaining both cricket and politics?
Mashrafe: We will see Almighty willing. I could not do anything for anyone being a cricketing idol. But by being a political idol, I can do a lot of things for many.