Mortaza eyes international comeback in October
Bangladesh pace bowler Mashrafe Mortaza is targeting the home ODI series against New Zealand in October for his international comeback. His fitness has been boosted by a three-week fitness programme that ended at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Sunday.
Mortaza, who has been recovering from a left-heel injury, said that he has lost weight and has started to bowl more overs progressively. He suffered the injury during the Bangladesh Premier League final in February, and has taken unusually long to cure because of the myriad injuries on his left leg. He had undergone a rehabilitation programme while the Bangladesh team was touring Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and continued to work on his fitness thereafter to participate in the fitness camp which began last month.
Mortaza now believes that not only has he completely recovered from the injury, his confidence has also been on the rise.
"I have lost four kilos from the start of the camp, and I still need to reduce [another] four to five kilos," he said. "I need to weigh around 84-85 to feel completely fit. Vibhav Singh [Bangladesh physio] told me that I still need four to five weeks to be completely fit."
This time, however, Mortaza hasn't required a surgery, which would have been his 11th since his Test debut in 2001. His last international match was an ODI in December last year against West Indies. "I bowled four-five overs yesterday with a short run up, and I bowled almost six overs today with the same run-up, and I didn't feel any pain," he said.
"But I am not able to bowl at my full strength as I feel that the pain may return if I rush myself. There is enough time for me to make myself fitter as the New Zealand series is in October, and I am confident of getting there on time."
The fitness programme has been useful for many players who were injured after the BPL this year, and have been trying for a comeback since then. According to one of the coaches, the programme was their first since their preparations for the 2011 World Cup. They will return next week with more focus on skills, but Mortaza will continue to build confidence through more fitness work.
Closing in on his 30th birthday, and having suffered several injuries, Mortaza has little margin for more injuries. He has already been restricted to limited-overs cricket, and a return to Tests or first-class cricket is still quite a distance away.
The ODIs against New Zealand are scheduled after the Test series, which will give Mortaza more time to recover. The last time New Zealand toured Bangladesh, he tumbled over after bowling just one over in the first ODI, injuring his ankle. This time, he knows that his international career would be jeopardised if there's another injury.
"I am very careful about recovering from my injury this time. I can't afford any more injuries at this point of my career," he said.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here