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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2015 Debutant of the Year: the quick with the slower ball

Mustafizur Rahman was instrumental in Bangladesh's unprecedented success in 2015, and a lot of that came from one particular type of delivery

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mustafizur Rahman delivers the ball, Bangladesh v India, 2nd ODI, Mirpur, June 21, 2015

Suresh Raina fell to Mustafizur Rahman thrice in three ODIs last year  •  AFP

Four wickets at 14.50 from two Tests | 26 wickets at 12.34 from nine ODIs | 6 wickets at 18.66 from five T20Is
In his first two ODIs, Mustafizur Rahman dismissed Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane. He took a total of 11 wickets in those matches - five in the first and six in the second - and every dismissal was celebrated with an air of wonderment and a toothy grin that won over a nation of 160 million.
But as impressive as the numbers from his breakthrough year are - 36 international wickets at 13.63 - they hardly tell the whole story. Mustafizur brings a freshness to the game with his homespun technique, bowling a mix of back-of-the-hand and front-of-the-hand slower balls, offcutters and traditional left-arm deliveries.
His international debut, in April in a T20 against Pakistan, gave little evidence of his varied skills. But by the time he made his Test debut, against South Africa in July, he had evolved from being just a left-armer with wicked variations to one who could, at times, bowl at higher pace and make the ball move in the air sharply and subtly.
Among bowlers who have taken more than 30 international wickets in 2015, Mustafizur's average and strike rate (19.5) are the best, though that's also because he played only 16 matches.
His competitors for debutant of the year included fellow fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada, now a South African regular through his strong performances, Sri Lanka's Dushmantha Chameera, and England's Mark Wood.
Mustafizur's wickets have been high-profile too, which help his case for the best debutant title. Raina, Rohit and Quinton de Kock were three of five batsmen he dismissed three times, while JP Duminy, Regis Chakabva, Shahid Afridi, Sean Williams, Hashim Amla and Mohammad Hafeez also fell to him.
All this is pretty big for a kid from Tetulia village in Satkhira district, 230km to the south-west of Dhaka. Mustafizur is the youngest of three brothers, born in an affluent family. He first learned of cricket when he saw his father follow games on the radio. His older brothers took him to the local field to play, and after trying out as a batsman, Mustafizur took to bowling pace with his left arm, encouraged by a senior cricketer, who told him to go to Satkhira town.
There, Mustafizur impressed scouts in a regional age-group tournament and was sent to a pace bowling camp in Dhaka. Once at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mustafizur bowled to national-team stars, one of whom - Anamul Haque - dared him to bowl a slower ball. Mustafizur did, got Anamul out, and realised that it was a delivery he was quite adept at.
He was picked for the 2014 Under-19 World Cup in UAE. Not long after that, he made his first-class and List A debuts. A call-up to Bangladesh A came unexpectedly, and in a year he was in the national team.
Bangladesh fans have seen many impressive debutants in recent years: Mohammad Ashraful, Tamim Iqbal, Sohag Gazi, Abul Hasan and even Mashrafe Mortaza. Not many have gone on to have very long, consistent careers, which is what Mustafizur should be aiming for. He has been embraced by the country but he needs to remain focused and ensure that his unique skills are used properly if not perfectly.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84