Shaken Bangladesh need their Mashrafe back
Mashrafe Mortaza has the ability to make anyone feel comfortable around him. He will make you wait for the punchline of a long story or if you are new to him, he doesn't mind making fun of himself, just to ease any nervousness. But, Bangladesh haven't seen that side of Mashrafe in the last few days at the World Twenty20.
Given his efficient man-management skills, it came as a no surprise that Mashrafe was the first to calm Taskin Ahmed down, after the quick broke down upon receiving the news of his suspension. Arafat Sunny turned quiet upon hearing the news, and the team, including captain Mashrafe, went to him and had a word. The sadness of the pair has shaken Bangladesh up.
Mashrafe's personal distress over the suspensions of Taskin and Sunny was evident on the eve of Bangladesh's match against Australia. On some occasions, he could not control tears while answering questions about the suspensions. Mashrafe's emotional state was on view for journalists who walked with him, after the press conference.
At the toss, it was hard to figure out what Mashrafe was telling the interviewer, and he even forgot to mention Mustafizur Rahman's return to the playing XI, after three weeks. During their haphazard three-wicket loss to Australia, Bangladesh mounted a late challenge both in their batting and bowling. There were plenty of lapses on the field, including couple of dropped catches, to add to bowlers missing their lengths. When Mohammad Mithun, running back and to his left from midwicket, failed to reach a skier from Shane Watson in the sixth over of the chase, it was felt that Mashrafe, who was at mid-on, should have called for the catch. Mashrafe was closer to the skier, and distress was writ large on his face.
It looked like Mashrafe was missing the young Taskin, with whom he bumps chests and breaks into celebratory jigs. Mashrafe's jovial mood is important to the side. On the field, he inspires the players to perform to their potential with his experience. He usually deals with players in an one-on-one manner. Many have publicly said that Mashrafe helps out when they are out of form.
When Mashrafe took over ODI captaincy from Mushfiqur Rahim in November 2014, after a disastrous season, he ensured that there weren't many eggshells in the dressing room. There were concerns, but Mashrafe set about speaking to every player separately to understand why and how things went wrong.
Mashrafe gave Mahmudullah and Nasir Hossain the attention, time and opportunity they needed to grow into new roles: Mahmudullah as a no.3 batsman in ODIs and Nasir as a specialist spinner in the 2015 World Cup. During the same tournament, Tamim Iqbal was going through a personal low. Mashrafe spoke to him extensively, and Tamim later said that those sessions helped him. Apparently Mashrafe's room is where many of the players hang out, and recently Tamim quipped that Mashrafe doesn't complain if they stay for long or even break things.
When the team lost two T20Is and an ODI against South Africa in July last year, the BCB president Nazmul Hassan had summoned the team for an impromptu meeting. Mashrafe then took them aside and told them to focus on the positives that helped them beat Pakistan as well as India at home. Bangladesh lifted themselves, won the next two matches, and secured their maiden ODI series win over South Africa.
When Rubel Hossain was facing arrest, Mashrafe spoke to him regularly on the phone to keep him in good spirits. After Rubel's short stint in jail, Mashrafe ensured the fast bowler was given the space to grow out of the ordeal.
Mashrafe, who dared to play with four out-and-out quicks against India, has been the key man in the resurgence of fast bowling in Bangladesh. The pitches in Mirpur have become spicier to enhance the potency of Bangladesh's pace attack. Coach Chandika Hathurusinga has also lauded Mashrafe's leadership on several occasions.
When Mashrafe suffered a hamstring injury last November during the BPL, he din't bowl for Comilla Victorians in several matches, but made sure he never left the field. He pushed himself, took running catches, inspired a team that was low on confidence, and led them to the title.
Even during the lowest moments of his international career, Mashrafe has shown immense fortitude. He has moved past injuries, poor form, and even rejections. He has the ability to pick himself and the team up.
Given the mental strain he has suffered in the last few days, Mashrafe might need one adda (hang out) to fix things. Perhaps, Taskin, who shares a strong bond with his captain, should come forward and instigate it.
Mashrafe may also be homesick. Even when he is in Dhaka, he misses his hometown Narail, and when on tour, he misses his kids. Having been an international cricketer for the last 15 years, Mashrafe knows how to handle everything. He has done so with grace and a smile on his face. The pressure, however, has been severe on Mashrafe in the last few days. Perhaps, it is the turn of his team-mates to return the favour.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84