Like all cricketers, Mohammad Mithun knows the deal. You play well, you will be in the team. You don't do well, you will be on your way out. He has seen enough of this world to also know the stuff that happens in between. But even Mithun could never have prepared for the amount of abuse he has been subjected to over the last six months.
Well-known personalities getting abused and trolled on social media platforms in Bangladesh is as common as anywhere else in the world. Cricketers are one of the biggest targets. While there have been instances of religious undercurrent in targeting certain players and their family members, by and large, the abuse on cricketers on Bangladesh's social media is usually related to performances. And Mithun's string of low scores this year, a common phenomenon among Bangladesh batters, has triggered such a relentless barrage of abuse and trolling that it took some of his team-mates by surprise and got them concerned about him.
It started with criticism of his batting when he didn't make runs in the second Test against West Indies in Dhaka, with his place in the team quickly questioned. An unbeaten 73 against New Zealand didn't help matters too, as it was followed by scores of 6, 4, 1 and 0. The memes and trolls were brutal, and then came the abuses. There is also a strange suggestion doing the rounds that Mithun is favoured when it comes to selection. This became a well-established notion on Facebook groups when he was picked as back-up in the T20I sides for Zimbabwe and Australia. The meanest comments sprouted whenever there were photos of him smiling or laughing with team-mates, as if he was not allowed to be a normal person when not scoring runs.
Mithun has averaged 23.16 in nine ODIs this year, and has made just 30 runs in four innings across the two other formats. In his last series, Mithun managed just 51 runs in the ODIs in Zimbabwe last month. That included a crucial hand in a big chase in the third game. He added 57 for the third wicket with a rampant Tamim Iqbal, but when both Tamim and Mahmudullah fell off successive deliveries in the 35th over, Bangladesh needed Mithun to hold steady, as he fed the strike to Nurul Hasan, who smashed six fours during their 64-run fifth-wicket stand. Mithun didn't escape criticism for his 30 off 57 balls though, but his team-mates appreciated the value of that innings, especially when they lost two senior batters in quick succession.
In fact, Mithun remained a back-up for the Zimbabwe and Australia T20Is, the latter purely because bio-bubble rules meant both Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton Das would end up missing the Australia series.
Quite predictably, he is now out of the T20I side for the five-match series against New Zealand due to start September 1. Even Mithun was expecting the drop, and it has given him time to get away from the traumatising months, in which he felt belittled and stuck in this circle of abuse.
"It is insulting when people try to turn you into a joke," Mithun tells ESPNcricinfo. "Firstly, nobody has the right to do so. You don't deserve such behaviour as a human being. I am not just talking about a national cricketer. This applies to everyone. You have control over your life and except for your family members, nobody else should have a say. Secondly, I think we can only work around this culture, which isn't showing any sign of changing.
"Senior players have spoken about [online abuse] in the past but nothing has changed. I feel that those who are making fun of me, they don't have a lot of knowledge about cricket. I prevent myself from seeing social media, but can you ignore everything? Your friends will end up showing you those stuff. I was watching Virat Kohli's interview with Dinesh Karthik before the England series. I agreed with Kohli when he said that these people [who abuse Kohli] mean nothing to him. They didn't make him who he is, so why should he get bothered with what they are saying?"
The online abuse targeting Mithun was at its worst during the Zimbabwe series, where it finally affected his batting and its strengths. He said his captain Tamim immediately picked up on it, and tried to calm him down.
"I spoke to the coach about how the square cut is my favourite shot. It is one of my scoring shots," Mithun adds. "I like anything with width. Zimbabwe were successful in restricting me, but at the same time, it is very common for a player when he is going through a bad patch that he can even get out playing his best shot. That's what kept happening to me. Tamim bhai noticed my frustration, and told me not to overthink the problem. I have to think simply and effectively to take myself forward, he told me.
"My failing was my inability to handle the mental pressure that I have taken on [from the online abuse]. I now have time to work on my overall mentality, to decide on how best to tackle this type of abuse. At the same time, I want to have more clarity in my game."
"I think, right now, I am in a good place from a technical point of view," Mithun says. "I don't think I would have made runs in New Zealand [on two tours] if I had technical problems. In those conditions, you are found out quickly. I believe I can do well in other conditions too."
Mithun's 73 on this tour had nearly even turned around Bangladesh's tour of New Zealand after they had made a dreadful start. He struck two sixes and six fours in his 57-ball knock that gave his side a final flourish following Tamim's watchful start. But the visitors dropped three crucial catches in their defence, which undermined their defence of 271.
Mithun had got runs during the ODIs in New Zealand in 2019 too, but this time made just 11 more across the third ODI and the two T20Is in which he was selected following that half-century. And he believes that he could not quite replicate the mentality from that one good innings for the rest of the tour.
"During this year's innings in New Zealand, I was in a good head space," he recalls. "I was taking good decisions. There were fewer negative thoughts. So these factors also need to be in place to be a more consistent performer. Only a player knows his inner workings, although many outsiders believe they have figured out the player. People say that cricket is 80% a mental game, but we hardly focus on that part. I think on that aspect also we have to think correctly."
"It is not the end of my career, and neither am I too old"
Mithun holds ambitions of coming back strongly
After his low-scoring ODI series against Zimbabwe, Mithun expected to take the flight back home the next day but was told by the selectors to stay back with the T20I squad, mostly to ensure Bangladesh had enough back-up players; eventually, they even ended up losing Mushfiqur and Liton for the Australia series. Mithun, who didn't play any of those combined eight T20Is, understood why he was around with the team, but also realised it was not to help his career.
"I think this was the first time I was with the team even after doing poorly, and that's mainly because of the pandemic," he says. "I didn't play matches, but I was with the team. I was serving a purpose for the team. They needed to keep some players in the bio-bubble. It wasn't as if I was kept in the team to be given support, so that I can come back. Now I am not needed, so they dropped me. It is as simple [as that]."
Mithun now stands at a crossroads in his career, but not necessarily his first one. He went through the domestic grind for eight years before landing his international debut in 2014. It was a rough start when he couldn't establish himself as a white-ball batter. Around 2018, he was a more regular ODI cricketer before making his Test debut after playing a Bangladesh record of 88 first-class matches. Some say that the fall-off point of his career was Bangladesh's match against New Zealand during the 2019 World Cup. Many blamed him for batting slowly, but he was just carrying out dressing-room orders to play an anchor role with big hitters at the other end.
However, Mithun believes that the way forward for him is to become a more mentally strong person to get out of this funk. He says that aged 30, he still has time to make a comeback, and perhaps at least in ODIs, he is still someone the management sees as a middle-order option.
"I have to find out where I need to improve, I sometimes feel I am stuck in one place," he mentions. "I want to come back strongly. I have to improve as a player. I was struggling with my rhythm during the pandemic. It is hard to find out these things when you are continuously playing. You need time for yourself to think. I am taking this positively.
"It is not the end of my career, and neither am I too old. I think it's very normal for a player to be dropped when he is not doing well. I have been dropped from the team in the past, so I have to find a way to get back as a better player. I want to serve the team better rather than playing inconsistently. I always wanted to dominate when playing for Bangladesh but it didn't turn out that way."
Mithun's vast experience, in addition to the comforts of returning to his family after a long stint in the bio-bubble, is already providing him with clarity.
"It is very obvious that if I don't play well, I will get dropped. It is no secret. You do well, people will praise you and you will cement a place in the team. You don't play well, you are left out. It is a simple theory."