Bangladesh news June 20, 2010

Mashrafe Mortaza not giving up on Tests

Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladesh fast bowler, has scotched doubts over his Test future, saying he definitely wants to continue playing the five-day game. There had been concerns that six knee operations in eight years might make him follow the example of other injury-prone fast bowlers like Andrew Flintoff and Brett Lee and give up the cricket's most demanding format to prolong his career in the shorter ones.

"I'm looking forward to it, not sure how long it's going to take but I want to play Test cricket again," Mortaza told Cricinfo after the Bangladesh side went through an extended practice session in Dambulla on Sunday.

A year ago Mortaza was leading Bangladesh, and was their pace spearhead, but he broke down in his first Test as captain during the tour of the West Indies. That injury led to an eight-month layoff and more surgery on his knees. There was an aborted comeback bid in February, when Mortaza pulled out of the England one-dayers after one wicketless match.

A wicket-laden performance in the domestic Twenty20 league pumped up his confidence, but after an injury-free World Twenty20, Mortaza asked to not be considered for the Tests in England. He has not had a happy time in the Asia Cup so far. The sharp pace of his prime is missing, and he had little answer against a Tillakaratne Dilshan on the loose.

"Day by day I'm getting there, when I started bowling, I was not that confident but I am feeling better now," he said. Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons was blunt in his assessment of Mortaza. "He's going to have to improve a lot on his current form," Siddons said. "Unfortunately there's no ready replacement for Mashrafe at the moment, we're hoping his experience will pull him through. We'll keep looking for others and if Mash can't stand up we'll have to replace him."

It's been a hard road back for Mortaza, who has shed 12 kgs in an attempt to reduce the load on his knees while bowling. "I was getting injured in the delivery stride, it took me 3-4 months to get my confidence back during delivery," he said. "I need to get to 100% in the run-up and follow-through also. I don't need to change my run-up, but I need change a bit of follow-through."

Besides being Bangladesh's most successful fast bowler, Mortaza has also played some big-hitting cameos for them, but the focus now is solely on his main skill. "Now the first thing that has to be sorted is my bowling, then I'll go for the batting."

After so many injury setbacks, Mortaza is keeping his targets modest - of maintaining his place in the side. "First are the ODIs against England, and then Scotland and Ireland. If I'm in the team, I want to perform well," he said. "I need to play as much as possible, then I'll come back [to my best]. When you come back after 12 months, not that easy to perform in the middle right away, it takes a bit of time.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo