Sports: Tiger cub Mustafizur leaps onto world stage
Ten successive ODI wins at home. A first-ever series victory over India. A record-breaking introduction from a teenage tearaway.
No matter which way you look at it, the past week has been a truly unforgettable one for Bangladesh cricket.
The nation viewed as the little brother to India and Pakistan on the subcontinent has beaten both its bigger siblings in series in 2015, and in doing so has taken more meaningful strides towards being considered a genuine rival to cricket’s heavyweights. And there’s little doubt 19-year-old paceman Mustafizur Rahman will be playing an instrumental role if the country’s hot streak is to continue, cricket.com.au reports..
Mustafizur, a 19-year-old from Satkhira in the country’s remote south-west – closer to Kolkata than Dhaka – caused minor tremors across Bangladesh with his T20 debut back in late April when he snared the wickets of veteran Pakistan pair Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez.
But in the past seven days, the left-arm quick’s first two ODI performances have captured the imagination of the cricket world, and it’s little wonder why.
Figures of 5-50 on debut were followed by 6-43 in his second match, earning him the most wickets of any bowler after two ODIs.
That they were against India, and part of two ground-breaking victories, only added to what quickly became a mild hysteria.
“No-one thinks of getting five-fors in two matches in a row,” the softly-spoken Mustafizur said in an exclusive chat.
“I just wanted to do what I know and bowl in good areas. India have such a formidable batting line-up.”
In consecutive matches, the teenager ran through that much-vaunted batting order, claiming the scalps of Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni twice as well as world-class pair Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina once each.
In the middle of India’s tense run chase in the series opener, Mustafizur also clashed mid-pitch with cricketing royalty, finding himself on the wrong end of a Dhoni shoulder charge.
“I never thought about it – it was an accident,” he said, despite the ICC fining both players for the confrontation. “Those things happen in a cricket match.”
Mustafizur, who as a kid would hop a lift on his brother’s bike for 40km to cricket training, idolised fellow left-arm speedster Mohammad Amir as he was learning his craft.
The Pakistani, who this year returned to cricket after plumbing the depths of spot-fixing in 2010, offered reciprocal adulation.
“It felt so good to hear what Mustafizur had to say and I must say he is set for a great career because he is not an easy bowler to reckon with,” Amir said. “He has all the weapons and he appears to have good cricketing sense.
“(Bangladesh) appear to have developed more self-belief and confidence and they have good youngsters coming up. Rahman has added lot of spike to their bowling.”
Mustafizur said the key to his rapid rise – he has played just 10 first-class matches (28 wickets at 21) – has been to keep things simple.
“I don’t think about too many things and make things complicated,” he said. “I can keep calm under pressure and execute my variations.
“(I plan to keep) working hard with my coaches and improving my fitness and skills.”
One of those mentors is fast-bowling coach Heath Streak, the former Zimbabwe captain, who moved to temper excitement about his teenage prodigy.
“He is still very young. We have to be careful,” Streak said.
“He has taken 11 wickets but we can’t expect him to take five wickets every time. He has shown his potential. If we look after him and support him, he will be a big match-winner for us.
“For me, he has to execute (his skills) more regularly and consistently. When you are training with the guys on a regular basis, you can make their skills better.
“There’s no magic trick. It is making sure they are training at a high level for a long period of time.
“We discussed some other options (after the first ODI) if he didn’t succeed with what he was doing in the first game, some variations that we might have to try to counteract it (because) India would have seen his video footage.”
Now the world has seen it also, and the prospect of playing Australia in Test cricket in October is one that Mustafizur insists excites both him and his teammates – though the youngster is still to debut in the five-day game.
“If I get the opportunity (to play) then that would be fantastic,” he said. “I know that the Bangladesh team is looking forward to it, especially as we are playing a very high standard of cricket this year.”
The rain-affected one-off drawn Test against India earlier this month highlighted the fact that Bangladesh still have some way to go to be competing with the world’s top nations in Test cricket, however with a seemingly bottomless pool of talent, that time may not be too far away.
As well as Mustafizur, 20-year-old right-arm quick Taskin Ahmed is awaiting a Test debut, while batsman Mominul Haque, 23, has taken significant strides already, averaging 58.75 across 15 matches with four hundreds.
Throw in 20-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Litton Das, who debuted with a rapid 44 against India, and left-arm spinner Taijul Islam, 23, who has taken 35 wickets in eight Tests, and the next generation of Bangladesh cricket appears extremely promising.
“I have grown up watching the Bangladesh team getting more and more successful,” Mustafizur added. “I know I am in a team that could beat anybody.”
That theory will be emphatically put to the test next month, when the might of South Africa arrive for two Tests, three ODIs and two Twenty20s.
But after toppling two-time world champions India, the Tigers believe anything is possible.