Captain Mushfiqur looks to continue Mashrafe's success
The Bangladesh captaincy will return to Mushfiqur Rahim five months after it has been altered by Mashrafe Mortaza's successes. The decision to split the captaincy last September has made an effective start, initiated by Mushfiqur's 3-0 Test series win over Zimbabwe in November. Now, the Test captain has to take forward the team's form and confidence of November to April.
Mashrafe led in the 5-0 ODI series win against Zimbabwe before Bangladesh achieved their goal of reaching the World Cup quarterfinals. It was thought to be a difficult mission but Bangladesh came out of Australia and New Zealand a mentally stronger side. The last time Bangladesh had done well at a World Cup was in 2007 when they followed up the Super Eights qualification with four winless months. So it was significant when they beat Pakistan 3-0 in the ODI series following the 2015 World Cup, and also in the only T20, breaking a 16-year drought against this opponent in any format.
A string of losses in 2014 had cost Mushfiqur his limited-overs captaincy. Bangladesh conceded bilateral series to Sri Lanka, India and West Indies while also doing poorly in the Asia Cup and the World T20 at home. The change of fortunes came under Mashrafe, who is known as a more hands-on leader spending a lot of time in man-management. His results speak as much about his approach being successful. Mushfiqur said that he is taking the challenge, and not pressure, to continue Mashrafe's good work.
"You can call it challenge rather than pressure," Mushfiqur said. "I will try to continue how we played in the ODIs and T20 but Test cricket isn't going to be easy. They are the No 4 team in the world, so it becomes a different challenge for us. They have included some experienced players. So it is not pressure, but expectation. I think that works for our players because it brings the best out of them. They are confident and ready for hard work.
Since November, Mushfiqur has been the highest run-scorer for Bangladesh in ODIs, with 731 runs at 56.23, including a century and six fifties, all of which came in wins. His form hasn't wavered much since mid-2011, after he took over the captaincy from Shakib Al Hasan.
"Captains have an important role in every format. There is a positive impact on the team when the captain scores runs, takes wickets and makes correct decisions. The captain has to lead from the front. The ones who have done well recently, we have to carry that form into the Test match. I will definitely try to play a big innings."
Coach Chandika Hathurusingha said that the break from captaincy in the limited-overs arena gives Mushfiqur breathing space to bat freely in that format and for his Test captaincy.
"Mushfiqur and Mashrafe are really good players," Hathurusingha said. "Mashrafe is doing well in ODIs as captain and Mushfiqur is doing a great job in the Test team. I think they get time to reflect on what they are doing. Mushi is playing both formats, but it gives time for him to be refreshed and refocused on Test cricket. For me both are really good leaders."
Mushfiqur doesn't want to go into the Test series with a draw in mind, and took a dig at critics who he said complain about the opposition when Bangladesh does well.
"Nobody plays Test cricket to draw or lose. We hadn't won in 16 years against Pakistan. A lot of people would say that their team wasn't that good. Those of us who played in the middle exactly know how hard it was to score runs. It is quite natural that when we score runs, everyone says it is an easy attack and when we don't, they say we can't score runs against a weak attack.
"If you play with draw in mind, you will be defensive. The opponent can understand that pretty quickly. I think we should play our natural game; the batsmen should be allowed to bat freely while the bowlers should be attacking. We are thinking of winning, and we have a number of match-winners."
Mushfiqur said that Pakistan will have the four successive losses in Dhaka in mind when they play the first Test in Khulna, despite having the additional experience and calmness of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
"They are legends of Test cricket, and they will add to this batting line-up. But the 4-0 margin will be in their mind. They will be mentally a bit down as a result. Our bowlers have to keep these two batsmen under pressure, and get them out quickly. Azhar Ali is also batting well, and (Mohammad) Hafeez has experience."
Mushfiqur had been a good batsman during his full captaincy stint but his leadership didn't inspire as much or for long enough. Mashrafe, in the last five months, has completely changed the make-up of the Bangladesh team. Now, Mushfiqur has to be inspired by his own overall form, his form during Mashrafe's captaincy and Bangladesh's results under Mashrafe. For a man who has always batted for the team's cause, captain Mushfiqur now can count on the team's stronger mentality.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84