November 8, 2016

'I doubt anyone will take care of me like Mashrafe bhai'

As Mashrafe Mortaza completes 15 years in international cricket, his team-mates and friends recall their favourite stories about him
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Mash-up: Mortaza is like an older brother to several of his Bangladesh team-mates, who feel he inspires them and looks out for them © AFP

Today Mashrafe Mortaza becomes the first Bangladesh cricketer in the era since they gained Test status to finish 15 years in international cricket. To mark the occasion, a collection of anecdotes, tributes and reflections by fellow cricketers, administrators, journalists, and the man himself.

Tamim Iqbal, Bangladesh team-mate
I was really down during the 2015 World Cup. There was a lot of talk about me and it would have been easy to drop me or forget about me, but the way he took care of me was unbelievable. He gave me a lot of time, spoke about everything else other than cricket. He joked with me, and while I knew that he was trying to distract me away from my troubles, I did indeed end up forgetting about them. During team meetings he would start off by saying, "Tamim will be the key." When I used to hear him speak about me in that way, it gave me a positive mindset. He did it through the tournament. I might play under a better captain than him but I seriously doubt whether if anyone else will take care of me like Mashrafe bhai.

Brendan Taylor Former Zimbabwe captain, who played against Mashrafe in 28 international matches
In 2006 we were level at one-all in a five-match series. We were chasing 237 to go 2-1 up.

I remember Shahadat Hossain getting a hat-trick, and we were under serious pressure. Mash had had some success upfront and at the death. We needed 17 off the last over when he bowled a full toss that I hit for a six. I felt he was now under pressure, but knowing his character, I knew he would bounce back strong.

We needed five off the last ball, which I managed to hit for six to win the game. I'll never forget him pull his jumper over his head in disbelief.

One thing was for sure that he put all that behind him and made life very difficult for us when we toured Bangladesh a few months later. Again, it's his strong mental side that has made him very successful. We have always respected each other and maintain a great friendship.

"'I believe in you,' he said. I can't explain how much it motivated me. I went on to be selected and I did quite well in that series. This is what Mashrafe bhai does to players. He can motivate them in many ways"
Shahriar Nafees

Mahmudullah, Bangladesh team-mate
On our way to West Indies in 2009, Mashrafe bhai's first series as Bangladesh captain, he handed me an envelope in the airport lounge. "Read it later," he said.

I got on the plane and opened the envelope. The letter I read that day is something that I still remember. He had written some very inspiring words about me, and it seemed like he had taken a lot of time to write it, with lots of personal touches.

He is an extraordinary human being who has taken our team to new heights. He is like an older brother, a friend. I pray that he leads Bangladesh into more success, and may he play for many years.

Habibul Bashar, Former Bangladesh captain and current selector
I always found Mashrafe to be a freakishly talented and determined individual. There are many occasions when he was unfit but pulled himself out somehow and managed to perform really well.

It happened in Antigua when we were preparing for the 2007 World Cup. He was about to be sent back home with back spasms. The physio was observing him for a couple of days - with Mashrafe, you always wait till the last moment. We went on a day trip and he seemed a bit better, but the next day, when everyone thought he would have to go home, he arrived at the nets. And I was the unfortunate man facing his bowling - which was really fast that day!

Shane JurgensenFormer Bangladesh head coach, current New Zealand bowling coach
We were playing T20s in Ireland in 2012, and Mashrafe had just returned from an injury. In the first couple of games he struggled a little while bowling, so he was mentally down about it. During a team dinner before the next game, we spoke for ages, and I remember on the bus ride home he opened up about his numerous operations, most of them with no support to and from the hospitals, and then rehab. I was taken aback by his story. He is truly inspirational and you could tell he was a deep thinker, smart and extremely determined.

Tamim Iqbal: "He joked with me, and while I knew that he was trying to distract me away from my troubles, I did indeed end up forgetting about them" © Bangladesh Cricket Board

Next day, in the third T20, he smashed a couple of big sixes and bowled beautifully under pressure to close out the game at the death, and all the self-doubt went out the window. He came into the dressing room, gave me a high five and a hug and said, as he always said, "Bowling Shane!"

"Bowling Mash," I replied.

It was just one of those things we did.

Shahriar Nafees, Bangladesh team-mate
I returned from the Indian Cricket League in 2010 and had been in a national team training camp when news came that Tamim Iqbal wouldn't be available for the series against New Zealand. Mashrafe bhai had returned as captain. One of those days he called me into the dressing room when no one was around and told me that he had spoken to the selectors about me and wanted me to return to the team. "I believe in you," he said.

I can't explain how much it motivated me. I went on to be selected and I did quite well in that series. This is what Mashrafe bhai does to players. He can motivate them in many ways. I think this is why the team has been doing so well in the last two years.

Khaled Mahmud, Former Bangladesh captain and current manager
Fifteen years ago we were in India for an A team tour, just before the Test series against Zimbabwe in which Mashrafe would make his Test debut.

We were having dinner on the balcony of the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai when the club's president, Raj Singh Dungarpur, walked up to us and asked who the captain of the team was. I stood up and shook his hand. He said, "Please play well tomorrow. Don't lose too badly."

Mashrafe was just a kid back then. He asked me what was being said, and I told him. I think Mr Dungarpur's words did us a huge favour that day. Mashrafe bowled really fast in that game, and took three wickets. I have seen Taskin bowl, but in those days, Mashrafe was really quick. That day, Mashrafe showed us how good he would be for Bangladesh.

"He might have been one of the most recognisable faces in the country, but he is a human being first - a really good one"
Rajib Biswas Raju

Abdur Razzak, Bangladesh team-mate and long-time friend
We have known each other most of our lives. We have bowled together plenty of times too, but what most people don't know is that we also shared a few 50-run stands.

Once in Kenya we were in a tight spot chasing 185 runs. We needed another 50 runs when I arrived at the crease, with two wickets in hand. Nobody really believed that we could win that game. All we did was tell each other to stay there till the end. We did, shared a 51-run stand, and Bangladesh won. I didn't make much but he was unbeaten on 43.

Debbabrata Mukherjee writer of Mashrafe's first biography
I have known Mashrafe since 2002, but two years ago I went to his home town, Narail, for the first time to research his biography. He usually stays with his maternal grandparents, where he grew up. When I got there, he took out his motorcycle and gestured for me to sit behind him.

From the stories I've heard, I was a bit apprehensive about the ride, but I went along. A few hundred yards down the road, he headed into the jungle on a makeshift road made of bricks laid down. I asked him where we were going.

"You will see," he replied.

The motorcycle skidded and slipped as we tore along. I sat tight.

Suddenly he stopped. I could sense that there was a river in front of me but it took me a while to get a good look, since it had become dark by then.

Punk'd: Mortaza loves to pull pranks and tease his team-mates © AFP

Mashrafe looked like he had come to his natural habitat.

"This is the Chitra River, the love of my life," he said.

Ariful Islam Roney Cricket writer
Mashrafe had been asking me for a long time to visit Narail, so he could show me his fish farm and his vegetable and sesame fields. Finally, after the BPL in 2015, I was able to take the trip.

The plan was to drive from Mirpur to Mawa Ferry Ghat, and then we take a speedboat to cross the Padma River, and then another car from the other side. He drove us to Mawa, seeming like a sprightly kid going back home from hostel.

In the speedboat, he kept telling the driver to go faster, and at one point, he managed to get behind the wheel despite our protests. Suddenly the boat spun 180 degrees, tilting dangerously to one side. The boatman managed to get it steady just in the nick of time. While the rest of us were left horrified, Mashrafe laughed uncontrollably.

None of us in the boat, except perhaps for the boatman, knew how to swim.

Zahid Reza Babu Cricket organiser and Mashrafe's guardian in Dhaka in the early days
Mashrafe was playing New Zealand in 2008, and we had a deal that if he took a five-wicket haul, he would pay me Tk 25,000. He had taken four wickets in the first game and was bowling the final over of the innings. Off the fifth ball, Mahmudullah dropped a sitter at deep square leg.

I was standing under the press box at the end of the innings. He walked a long way towards me with a smile on his face, and said, "So how are you feeling right now? Your 25,000 just slipped away."

I couldn't stop laughing that day.

Rajib Biswas Raju Childhood friend
This was from a few years ago. Mashrafe's had come to Narail for a short vacation, but as usual, he rounded us up for a bit of stretching and warm-ups on the local ground. We were on the way from his house when a bus from Dhaka stopped next to us, near the house of someone we knew, whose mother we then saw get off the bus.

She was about 65. The bus helper had put her bags, five of them, on the road. The house was close, but she couldn't have carried those bags on her own. Mashrafe, who had seen all of it, took her bags to the house. For me, it showed what kind of person he is. He might have been one of the most recognisable faces in the country, but he is a human being first - a really good one.

Mashrafe Mortaza
When touring England in 2005, we were put up in Lumley Castle in Durham. People said the castle had ghosts, and we had heard a lot of stories about it.

One night I asked my friend Rana [the late Manzarul Islam] to record his voice in the spookiest manner he could think of. Then we went to a room where Aftab Ahmed and a few other players were. I tapped on their window and played the recording. Within seconds the lot of them ran out of the room.

Then I went to Javed [Omar] bhai's room and played the recording outside it. From inside, I heard him shout, "Mashrafe, we know it's you. Go away!" But he didn't come out, and I knew it was because he wasn't really sure if it was me.

Then I went to Sumon bhai's [Habibul Bashar] room. As soon as he opened the door, he saw a figure wrapped in a white sheet. He was there with his wife and naturally they were frightened.

The next morning I didn't dare go to the breakfast room for fear of what they all might do to me.

What's your favourite Mortaza memory?

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan93892160 on November 18, 2016, 5:59 GMT

    Mashrafe Mortaza is a name of inspiration, character of good human being. I love him very much. He is really a fighter.

  • SammySoSo on November 14, 2016, 22:15 GMT

    Leaders, I mean the really good ones are born to be such. Mash is a born leader of man. I am not surprised that he is so successful and so widely loved.

  • Cricinfouser on November 14, 2016, 13:32 GMT

    Interesting to see only bangladesis and one zimbabwe'ian has spoken about him here. does no other country know anything about him at all ?

  • imsrk on November 12, 2016, 21:02 GMT

    When he took the captaincy, BD was not considered as a great team...Today he has completely changed the team and now BD is a favourite for the upcoming champions trophy and WC..

  • imsrk on November 12, 2016, 21:00 GMT

    he is far better captain than likes of dhoni Imran khan etc....he changed the attitude of the team and its bcoz of him that today BD has become the best team in the world..

  • BanglaBandhu on November 11, 2016, 19:39 GMT

    An amazing and inspirational player for Bangladesh, these memories are not only rich but give an insight into the comarade Bangladesh cricket has endured over the last 15 years

  • ThewisemanofGotham on November 11, 2016, 0:36 GMT

    The day Mashrafe retires is the last day i will be watching a cricket match. Seriously!

  • Fogu on November 10, 2016, 11:46 GMT

    Great leader. @ keithnkin, which country, USA?