June 15, 2013

'The biggest change is the belief that we can beat any team'

Mushfiqur Rahim regrets his hasty resignation from captaincy, but despite the pressure of the job and the fixing scandal, he is satisfied with the team's consistency in the last six months

The six months between November 2012 and May 2013 have been eventful for Bangladesh. They had major wins against West Indies at home and made significant progress in Sri Lanka. But there was also the disappointment of losing to Zimbabwe, of Mushfiqur Rahim's impetuous decision to resign as captain, and the match-fixing scandal that followed. Mushfiqur looks back at the highs and lows of the 2012-13 season, and the overall change in Bangladesh cricket, in terms of performance and attitude.

How was it captaining Bangladesh in the last six months?
It was a tough period. We started well against West Indies, winning the ODI series. We were without some key players in Sri Lanka, but we still did well in those challenging circumstances.

In Zimbabwe, probably their conditions were a huge factor, especially in the first Test. Losing that game had an effect on our confidence. We fought back in the second Test, but we were again up against the conditions in the ODI series. The facilities were not good enough, plus some of our main players were coming back from injury, like Tamim [Iqbal] and Shakib [Al Hasan].

We lacked a bit in our application in Zimbabwe, but overall in the last six months, we have played a lot of consistent cricket.

Are you a glass-half-full or half-empty sort of person, because there are two ways to look at this season.
We had a lot of positives this season. But there is a lot of talk if we lose one out of ten matches against lower-ranked sides like Ireland and Zimbabwe. Everyone expects us to win. We did fight back in the Test series, won the first ODI, and also fought back in the T20 series. If the finishing was better, we would have felt great, but yes, there have been many positives.

Bangladesh's international season began with you employing offspinner Sohag Gazi as an opening bowler against Chris Gayle. Was it a sign of your changing mentality as captain?
Traditionally, opening batsmen have started off comfortably against our pace bowlers. So we planned to do something different. Obviously they would have expected a left-arm spinner starting off. I was confident about using Gazi, and I will do it again if it brings the result for the team.

Was it a victory for you, especially seeing how Gazi troubled Gayle later on?
I don't know if it is my victory, but any captain will tell you that if their decision pays off, it's great. The credit goes to the bowler, because Gazi was a huge part of that plan. He got hit for a six off his first ball in his very first international match, and that too by a batsman of Chris Gayle's calibre. When Gayle was going after him, I kept telling everyone in between overs that Gazi will take his wicket. The way Gayle was going after him was not natural. He was trying to get Gazi out of the attack. I told Gazi, "Let Gayle hit you for four sixes, I have no problem. I know you will get him out if he makes one mistake."

In that first Test, Bangladesh made 500-odd in the first innings but couldn't win the game. Does the nothing-to-lose mentality help you?
Even if we have nothing to lose, we are playing in front of our home crowd, so there's pressure. But you look at our Test record - we are not a consistent team. We don't do well against bigger teams, but we are growing up.

Our on-field attitude has changed a lot. Our batsmen are scoring more runs, bowlers are taking five-fors. These are signs that our attitude is turning towards a match-winning one.

Bangladesh beat West Indies in the second ODI with 90 minutes to spare. How did it feel? You are always on the wrong end of such a drubbing.
It was a dream game for us. They had just won the World Twenty20, and they had ten batsmen. We never thought that we would beat them so easily, but we had the confidence from the first ODI, which we also won.

We can beat anyone in our home territory, in all three formats, if we play to our potential. Everyone has this confidence, and I must give credit to all the young players. They supported us throughout that ODI series. We were without Shakib, so the likes of Anamul Haque, Mominul Haque, Nasir Haque and Gazi really helped us.

"Now when Bangladesh play, nobody can tell what will happen until the last ball is bowled, whether against Australia or Ireland"

How was the Sri Lanka tour in March different from the previous ones there?
From the beginning of this tour, we tried to create a different environment in the dressing room, because Sri Lanka is one team that has been dominant against us. We have lost by an innings, lost inside three days.

My message to the team was to change this attitude against them, whether we win or lose. We just wanted to play competitive cricket for five days. It was our minimum goal, and I am happy the players took it that way. We often did well in one session but gave away the next. We reminded the players at every session that our goal is not yet fulfilled. The coach and I kept telling everyone that the team has to do well, not just the individual.

What did the double-hundred mean for you as a batsman?
I never actually thought that I would score a double-hundred. [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni had scored 200 against Australia the month before, and I thought that if he can score a double in such a short time, why can't one of us? If they can score 200s so easily, when will we score these runs? I tried to give this message and fortunately, I made the 200. I was very excited at every landmark I was reaching. There was a session break in which I was waiting on 198. I told [Mohammad] Ashraful bhai, that if I don't make a mistake, it will be difficult to get me out. So we kept talking about it: whoever gets set, let's make it a big one.

You faced a myriad off-field problems in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. There have been issues with wickets, the outfield, hotels and practice facilities.
I have seen that we get lesser facilities than the other international teams. Australia and England send advance parties to check out the facilities of the country they are going to visit. What happened to us is not an excuse, but it is a factor. We were playing a Test in Galle in 35 degrees heat and had an hour's drive to the hotel. It was a disadvantage for us, that's true.

What do the Galle draw and the Harare win mean to your captaincy?
When I became captain, my motto was to do well in matches where one of us does well individually. It stirs up a connection with each other, where you want to finish the job that, say, someone like a Tamim Iqbal started. I have tried to bring this into the team, and I am happy that they have respected me in this regard.

Have you brought your brand of discipline into the side?
Discipline is a lot better, certainly. There are areas, like our food habits, that we have to change. Our coaches had to take a class on our food habits so that we can prevent injuries ultimately. I always try to do something extra, which I feel can bring me success. It depends on the individual. Some can gain perfection without training too much. At the same time, attitude is very important. Everyone has shown the hunger in the last 12 months. The new boys have been consistent, which is a very positive sign.

Why did you snap in Zimbabwe at the end of the third ODI?
I felt bad. I didn't think we would lose to them. But there was nothing wrong off the field. It was an emotional decision. I took the bulk of the responsibility of the loss, although it was a shared blame. I think it was wrong of me, because we play together. I didn't play at my best and I couldn't bring the best out of my players. But before and after the decision, the players were supportive. I wasn't thinking straight at the time, so I felt very bad.

Is Bangladesh too emotional a cricket nation?
Definitely, and it has been like this since our liberation war in 1971. The Pakistanis had tanks and everything, but we went to war with sticks. Cricket should be played with emotion, otherwise you won't have that passion. But it should be controlled.

Have you enjoyed your captaincy stint so far?
Of course, but captaining Bangladesh means a lot of pressure and responsibility. On top of that, some of the players have to be taught the basics. It is a huge challenge, but everyone helps me out. There are some off-field issues, not just with players but with our management. I think if everyone works professionally, it will help us.

Since 2005, what is the biggest difference in the Bangladesh team these days?
When we used to walk out against a stronger opponent, people used to think that we will lose but let's see if we can lessen the margin of defeat. Now when Bangladesh play, nobody can tell what will happen until the last ball is bowled, whether against Australia or Ireland.

Our attitude is to play hard, so this is the biggest change - the belief that we can beat any team. The other major change is in the number of consistent performers. If we can continue this in the next two years, Bangladesh will be a much stronger side.

You talk about the new performers, but are the qualities brought in by the likes of Robiul Islam or Mominul Haque appreciated in the team?
It is definitely appreciated. Shane [Jurgensen, the coach] and I talk to these players a lot. We tell them that they should perform according to their role. Mominul is not a batsman like Tamim Iqbal, but we tell him to do exactly what he is good at. We tell him to train in that way. If he fails, we will be with him. There are areas to improve, and the best thing is that everyone is aware of their shortcomings.

Was there a sense of betrayal when you heard that one of the matches being investigated in the Mohammad Ashraful fixing affair was played under you?
I felt bad at first. I couldn't believe it. Afterwards, if you talk about the reality, the investigation is still ongoing, but when I heard it from him, I felt worse. Taking the BPL matches aside, when I heard about the international matches, I felt it was unusual and unbelievable. Our pride was in the knowledge that none of our players is involved in such things. Some of our players got offers but said no, so hats off to them. So it was a matter of pride that whether we played badly, nobody was in this line. The investigation is still ongoing but it is very wrong what has happened.

We have been with him for so long, but we never realised what was going on. Mashrafe bhai said that he slept in his room. If [Ashraful] is guilty, he should be given punishment. Our younger players should know this is a big crime. You cannot betray a nation. It doesn't matter how big or small a player you are. At the same time, I hope he returns to cricket quickly.

What does the immediate future hold for Mushfiqur Rahim, as a batsman and a wicketkeeper?
I have some personal goals but I don't want to disclose them. I want to stay consistent, and being captain has helped me in that regard. I think I bat better under pressure, I enjoy it. Our next three series are all at home, and hopefully we can play at our best. As an individual player, I want to reach all my goals for this upcoming season.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here