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Mustafizur Rahman learns new-ball tricks in bid for World Cup ticket

His patchy form means he is no longer Bangladesh's first-choice left-arm pacer despite his end-over skills. So now he's looking to add to his repertoire

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Wanted by Bangladesh: The Mustafizur Rahman of old - with new-ball tricks to boot  •  AFP/Getty Images

Wanted by Bangladesh: The Mustafizur Rahman of old - with new-ball tricks to boot  •  AFP/Getty Images

Not much cricket was played in Dhaka today, thanks to the on-again, off-again unseasonal rain, but what little was managed provided the stage for Mustafizur Rahman to show some vital rhythm ahead of the World Cup.
Someone like Mustafizur would usually be a shoo-in for a spot in Bangladesh's World Cup fifteen, but patchy form meant that the selectors and team management were looking for signs of this rhythm. His numbers for this season might be deceptively good, but he has looked out of sorts in most spells since last year and, for a while now, Shoriful Islam has edged ahead of him in Bangladesh's left-arm pace pecking order. Shoriful bowled well enough in the Asia Cup to earn a rest in this series, meaning he is also confirmed pick for the World Cup. Mustafizur has this one series to state his strongest case for his own spot.
Today, he took three wickets, conceding just 3.85 per over in his seven overs. That sort of economy is not common for him, and even more uncommonly, he got two of his three wickets in the first powerplay. He has only done this four times - in 90 ODI innings - in his career before today, the last instance coming 20 months ago, in January 2021.
With his old-ball tricks - he is known for his use of his variations like cutters and slower-balls in the death overs - being deciphered more and more by batters since roughly the start of 2022, he has been working on sharpening his skills with the new ball. Bangladesh's assistant coach Nic Pothas, speaking after today's abandoned ODI, said as much.
"Fizz [Mustafizur] has been working hard for the last month or so, to try to find some rhythm with the new ball," Pothas said. "He has worked hard with [fast-bowling coach] Allan Donald. You can see the fruits, and it is coming along at the right time before the World Cup. We are very happy for him. We know his death-bowling credentials. You can wake him up at 3 o'clock in the morning to bowl death overs, and he will do them with the best in the world."
Pothas said that the skills needed to bowl with the new ball and being a death-overs specialist are very different things. Pothas believes Mustafizur is experienced enough to excel in both areas. "Those two roles are very specific. They almost live in two different boxes. It is no different to a batsman playing a particular type of innings and then having to do range hitting at the end.
"[But] these guys are professionals. They have to be able to do anything. He prioritises very well. He is very experienced."
Mustafizur also earned praise from New Zealand captain Lockie Ferguson. "Certainly today was challenging for the boys and I thought the way Youngie [Will Young] and [Henry] Nicholls batted through that middle part really cemented a potential platform for us. Obviously it was difficult coming on and off with rain as well, it wasn't easy.
"Bangladesh bowled really well. Clearly there was some spin, and Mustafiz bowled really nicely as well. So, good learnings to take into the next game, but it's just unfortunate that it rained."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84