Enjoying the ‘cutter’ and thrust of competition

Memorable debut... Mustafizur Rahman (left) celebrates with team-mates Nasir Hossain (right) and Shakib Al Hasan after dismissing India's Ravichandran Ashwin, one of his five victims, in the first one-day international in Dhaka.-AP Memorable debut... Mustafizur Rahman (left) celebrates with team-mates Nasir Hossain (right) and Shakib Al Hasan after dismissing India's Ravichandran Ashwin, one of his five victims, in the first one-day international in Dhaka.

Mustafizur Rahman is not the one to be overawed by big names. He has the confidence in his ability to excel. By Y. B. Sarangi.

Mustafizur Rahman has everything that takes to be a good fast bowler. He is an exciting mix of skill, guile and competitiveness. He has had his share of controversy too.

Even as he made his one-day international debut against India at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, recently, Mustafizur knew that he was special. And when the Bangladesh captain, Mashrafe Mortaza, tossed the ball to him to open the bowling, the left-arm fast bowler was ready for the challenge. It is the kind of confidence one seldom sees in a 19-year-old. With the consistency of a thorough professional and composure of a veteran, Mustafizur performed extraordinarily to return figures of five for 50 on debut and sink the formidable Indian team in the first one-day international.

Mustafizur displayed astonishing control and variation. His cutters were lethal, and he used them with such control and finesse that it left the best of the Indian batsmen bemused. Scalping Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and R. Ashwin was no mean feat.

Mustafizur was not overawed by the big names he was bowling to. He had the confidence in his ability to excel.

Indian skipper M. S. Dhoni’s collision with Mustafizur was a dramatic moment in the match that will be remembered for a long time. Before running into Dhoni, the youngster had blocked Rohit Sharma and that enraged the Indian opener. The Bangladeshi was repeatedly running down the wrong line and video footage suggested that he was doing it deliberately.

Mustafizur, who retired briefly following the collision with Dhoni, returned to claim three wickets for a five-wicket haul in his maiden ODI appearance. He had also impressed everybody when he had made his T20 debut against Pakistan in April.

Mustafizur, who was fined 50 per cent of his match fee for the unsavoury episode along with Dhoni (the Indian captain was docked 75 per cent of his match fee) by the Match Referee, Andy Pycroft, later admitted to his mistake. However, the incident was an example of the boy’s tremendous competitiveness, and gamesmanship too.

Even his rivals appreciated Mustafizur’s skills. “What is important is how well you execute (plans). I felt Mustafizur bowled really well. Being a left-armer is certainly a slight advantage, but he also mixed his deliveries really well,” said Dhoni.

Rohit also acknowledged the youngster’s fine performance. “As the ball gets older and the game progresses, the surface plays slower and slower. That is where he made the most of it. Initially, with the new ball, he wasn’t getting the kind of grip that he got after the 20th over,” he noted.

Mustafizur is so talented that Mortaza did not have any hesitation in picking him in his four-member pace attack. Four fast bowlers playing in the same match is a novelty in Bangladesh cricket. “He is a brand new bowler, and his cutter is quite unplayable. The ball turns more than that of the off-spinners. On this type of wicket he was expected to be effective,” said Mortaza.

As Bangladesh is planning to strengthen its pace attack, Mustafizur is likely to play a key role in the team’s scheme of things.

However, these are early days for Mustafizur and, as the Bangladesh coach, Chandika Hathurasinghe, points out, he will have to cope with the changing times when various international sides figure out the chinks in the young bowler’s armour.

Mustafizur is a kid and the Bangladesh Cricket Board needs to nurture him well. The rookie, who idolises Mohammad Aamer for the Pakistani pacer’s bowling skills, also needs to be kept on the right track so that he does not fall into the trap of unscrupulous elements.

Mustafizur, who expresses himself on the cricket field with a lot of freedom, is a shy person nevertheless. A boy of few words, he even struggles to express himself in his mother tongue, Bengali.

He has shown a lot of dedication to come through the age-group cricket structure in Bangladesh. Mustafizur, who made his first-class debut a year ago, used to ride pillion on a scooter with his brother Muktasur Rahman and travel 40 kilometres in order to play competitive cricket.

“'My first ODI, that too against India! I was very happy to get five wickets,” he said with a lot of excitement.

When asked about his special weapon, the cutter, Mustafizur narrated a nice story. “'During my under-19 days, while practising with the National team, I used to swing the ball regularly. Anamul Haque bhai (a Test cricketer) told me to try the cutter against him, and I dismissed him with that ball. From that point, I started practising it (more seriously),” he said.

Now that he has caught the attention of the cricketing world, his own world is bound to change sooner than later. Endorsements, an Indian Premier League contract and elevated status in Bangladesh cricket could perhaps come his way. Only time will tell how far he goes from here.