India v Bangladesh, Asia Cup, Dhaka February 23, 2016

Mustafizur shields himself from pressure - Mashrafe

Mashrafe Mortaza on Mustafizur Rahman: "He believes in his variations, not what the batsman will do with them." © AFP

Mustafizur Rahman became the toast of Bangladesh last season when he took India down, becoming only the second bowler to take five-wicket hauls in his first two ODIs. His remarkable run in 2015 even led to a place in the ICC's ODI team of the year.

On the day before Bangladesh's clash against India, Virat Kohli credited Mustafizur, saying that he "spiced the game up" with his pace as well as cutters.

"Mustafizur has done really well in the past one year," Kohli said. "Since he played against us, he has bowled well for Bangladesh. It was exciting to see a 19-year old bowling slower balls and touching 140 clicks. He came on board and did really well. It was different for us as well to experience. He was bowling slower balls and cutters with the new ball. He spiced the game up a bit more, which is always exciting.

"Look at Kagiso Rabada for South Africa, he is a very exciting bowler. So it is very good for the game when you have bowlers coming in and making life difficult for the batsmen. If you are playing in conditions like in Bangladesh and a guy can come in and take four-five wickets and trouble the batsmen all over, it makes the game more competitive."

Mustafizur, though, is shy and hardly likes the attention trained on him. Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza identified Mustafizur's ability to shut out all the attention and pressure as his major strength.

"Mustafizur doesn't really have a clue about all of this attention," Mortaza said. "And I am sure that even if he notices these things, he doesn't spend too much time thinking about it. I think it is something he was born with, that he doesn't really take pressure upon himself.

"He is always confident. He can deliver the slower ball, which we call cutter, in various ways. He doesn't think about an opposition or a particular batsman before a game. He thinks about his own performance mainly.

Mashrafe also warned that doing "homework" on Mustafizur might backfire. "He believes in his variations, not what the batsman will do with them," Mashrafe said. "This mindset keeps him ahead, makes him win the battles. If you try to do homework on him, it will still be difficult to face him."

Mustafizur, however, will have to prove his fitness first, having missed the last two T20s against Zimbabwe last month because of a shoulder injury, which has apparently been connected to delivering one of his slower balls. The injury had forced Mustafizur out of the Pakistan Super League as well.

Mashrafe was wary of India's batting and called for a collective bowling performance to ease the burden off Mustafizur. Bangladesh's success against India last year was built on pace, and this time, too, they have a well-stacked pace attack; the likes of Taskin Ahmed, Al-Amin Hossain and Abu Hider will assist Mashrafe and Mustafizur.

"Everyone else have to help Mustafizur because the India batting line-up is a tough one," Mashrafe said. We have to make fewer mistakes as a bowling unit to do well in this game."

Even Kohli felt Mustafizur would be crucial to Bangladesh's chances in the tournament. "As a batsman also, you feel okay, this guy [Mustafizur] has got a different set of skills, and you've got to prepare differently, tackle him differently," Kohli said. "So you improve your game. He is obviously going to be a big factor for Bangladesh in this tournament."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

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