Mortaza uncertain of Test future
Mashrafe Mortaza, the most successful fast bowler in Bangladesh's Test history, believes that he too may be forced to follow the route chosen by the likes of Andrew Flintoff, Brett Lee and Shane Bond, and retire from Test cricket in order to preserve his injury-ravaged body for the shorter forms of the game.
After eight months on the sidelines, Mortaza has been named in a 13-man squad for the three one-dayers that get underway at Mirpur on Sunday, but he has already ruled himself out of contention for next month's Test series against England. He returned to competitive action for a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI in Fatullah on Thursday, his first appearance in national colours since breaking down during the tour of West Indies in July.
"It would be very hard to come back straightaway into Test cricket," Mortaza told Cricinfo. "It will take some time, and you can't make a decision on Test cricket just from playing in three one-dayers. In Test cricket you have to bowl 20-25 overs a day, and you have to be 100% at all times. It's always difficult and against England massively so. You first have to play some proper cricket, and I'll only be back when I feel good."
Mortaza, 26, has claimed 78 wickets in 36 Tests since 2001, and is second on Bangladesh's list of wicket-takers, behind the spinner Mohammad Rafique. He was one of his country's stand-out players on England's last tour in 2003, claiming four wickets in consecutive innings at Dhaka and Chittagong, but it was during the last rites of the series that he suffered one of the many knee injuries that has plagued his career ever since.
In total, Mortaza has undergone six knee reconstructions in the space of eight years, but his latest return to fitness followed arguably the most demoralising setback yet. In July 2009, he was handed the captaincy for Bangladesh's tour of the Caribbean to allow Mohammad Ashraful to concentrate on his batting. But he was able to bowl just 6.3 overs of their famous Test victory at Kingstown, his first match in charge, before collapsing in his followthrough on the second day of the game.
"It was tough when I got injured in that first Test," said Mortaza. "It was a very difficult moment for me to survive out there, but straightway afterwards I flew to Australia to have the situation explained by my doctor. It would have been a great honour to have led the side to victory, but you can't do anything when you get injured and the first priority has always been the team."
To that end, Mortaza has no interest in reclaiming the captaincy, especially given the manner in which Shakib has been leading from the front. "I'd like to give this opportunity to Shakib because he's doing well so far, and I'd like to play in his team," said Mortaza. "But also, I'm not playing both forms of cricket right now - I'm only looking to one-day cricket - and if I don't do both, then the captaincy and the relationship with the team is difficult."
Nevertheless, there's no denying Mortaza's enduring popularity. In an otherwise low-key contest at Fatullah, his reappearance was the highlight for an enthusiastic crowd, who reserved the loudest cheer of the day for the moment he walked out to bat with the BCB XI floundering on 76 for 6 in the 20th over. He soon departed for a third-ball duck, but he showed enough glimpses of form in his eight subsequent overs with the ball to suggest he's on the right track.
"To make a comeback after so long against international players is hard, but I felt good today," said Mortaza. "England are a very good team right now. They were playing good cricket in South Africa and against West Indies in England, and this is a great opportunity for me after injury to come back and play cricket. My pace is not yet at 100%, but my line and length is still there, so I was happy. I think I can get better than this, and hopefully I will."
The selectors saw enough in his performance at Fatullah to recall him to the one-day squad, even though his most recent limited-overs appearances came against Zimbabwe back in January 2009. He was given the all-clear on a recent visit to Melbourne by his surgeon, Dr David Young, following a double knee operation back in July, but his progress will have to be monitored carefully in a series as prominent as an England campaign.
But there is no realistic prospect of Mortaza appearing in the two Tests at Chittagong and Dhaka, and in the long-term, it could well be that his final five-day match was the one that got away from him at Kingstown. "I am not going to make a decision exactly now, but my only choice is to play one-day cricket and see how it's going," he said. "If everything is alright then I'll be back in Tests. But if not, I'll have to make a different decision."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.