Rubel gets his confidence back
Rubel Hossain's international career of nearly five years has been one of constant ups and downs, the likes of which not many of his team-mates can relate to so early in their careers. The six-wicket haul and hat-trick which triggered the 43-run win over New Zealand in Mirpur was a performance that should give him a lot more confidence on and off the field.
He became the first Bangladeshi bowler to take four wickets or more on ODI debut, his 4 for 33 setting up a win against Sri Lanka in early 2009. In the next match however, he was the villain, getting hit for four fours and two sixes by, of all people, Muttiah Muralitharan. Bangladesh lost a nailbiting tri-series final, and Rubel drew the ire of the nation. He started off his Test career with a three-wicket haul, but has been expensive in this format. His first and only five-for cost him 166 runs in 29 overs, in early 2010. He was hardly picking up wickets until the four-wicket haul against New Zealand in October that year, a performance that sealed one of the most famous wins in the country's history.
He fell into another lull thereafter, only picking up a four-wicket haul against Zimbabwe in a dead rubber in mid-2011. He continued to be expensive and bereft of wickets before being injured in the BPL's inaugural edition. It put him out for nearly a year, but even after returning against West Indies, his fortunes didn't change, giving away 63 in four overs of a T20 game.
He had another shoulder niggle, then fared poorly against Sri Lanka and was ordinary compared to Man of the Series Robiul Islam in the Test series in Zimbabwe. He was again out of the team, this time due to a bout of chicken pox which prevented him from playing the ODI series against Zimbabwe in May. He regained his fitness, took 19 wickets in six Dhaka Premier Division matches, after which the coach Shane Jurgensen saw a "different Rubel".
An introvert, even listening to him from close quarters can be a task at times. But on Tuesday evening, his confidence imposed itself on New Zealand. His was the loudest whoop at the Shere Bangla National Stadium.
He was actually Mushfiqur Rahim's last resort after three spinners were smashed for 38 runs in three overs after the rain break after 20 overs. The Bangladesh captain had one over of Mashrafe Mortaza after the New Zealand innings was reduced to 33 overs, so when he turned to Rubel, and given the bowler's recent performances in the slog overs, he was taking a major risk.
The visitors too had started to get the run-rate within their grasp quickly with that early impetus after the rain break. When they got back at 9:00pm, they needed to score at 9.53 runs per over, but by the time Rubel was handed the ball, they required 86 to win from 60 balls.
His first two balls yielded one run before Corey Anderson, Bangladesh's biggest threat with a rapid 46, swung high and hard but only at air. It was a fuller length delivery on the stumps, something that Jurgensen had asked him to bowl repeatedly for the last two years. Anderson's wicket was key to Bangladesh staying in the game but what happened next swung the game further Bangladesh's way. Rubel didn't give Brendon McCullum much room to move, and a ball that took off on the batsman took a leading edge and was caught at point.
The pitch was perhaps spiced up a little with the 35-minute spell of rain, and it was evident in the McCullum dismissal. James Neesham became the hat-trick victim, caught down the leg side by a diving Mushfiqur.
Rubel had earlier dismissed Ross Taylor with a delivery that cut back in after pitching and took the edge as he tried to play it through backward point. He added two more after the hat-trick, those of Nathan McCullum and Grant Elliott, equaling the best figures for a Bangladesh bowler in ODI cricket - Mortaza too had taken 6 for 26 seven years ago against Kenya.
And it was appropriate that Mortaza took both catches to give him his fifth and sixth wickets, because it was Mortaza who inspired Rubel in his childhood in Bagerhat. It was Mortaza whose image he carried when he came to Dhaka after being one of the top-finishers in a nationwide pace-bowling hunt.
Rubel, in his own soft-spoken manner, said that Mortaza had been an inspiration in the field today as well.
"Mashrafe bhai kept running towards me, telling me that I was bowling the right way," Rubel said. "He told me that the cutters and slower balls I was using were perfect.
"Every bowler wants to bowl such a spell. It was in my fate, it happened. I was out due to a shoulder injury for a long time. I worked hard, went through rehab. I wasn't in the ODI squad for a bit. I bowled well in the Dhaka Premier League recently. I feel confident these days."
He added, "It is fun bowling against New Zealand."
To those who know Rubel or have followed him over the last few years, this was an off-the-cuff comment and not one in jest. A few wickets under his belt has given him much-needed confidence.
On Tuesday evening, he soared, and there is hope among those who are going to persist with him, he keeps soaring on and off the field.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here