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Interviews

Taskin Ahmed: 'I told myself, whether I break or I die, I will wear the red and green jersey again'

The Bangladesh fast bowler talks about his comeback to the national side, and being in the vanguard of his team's pace attack

"I want to set the trend of fast bowling. I hope I can help build a proper fast bowling culture. I want more fast bowlers to come through"  •  BCB

"I want to set the trend of fast bowling. I hope I can help build a proper fast bowling culture. I want more fast bowlers to come through"  •  BCB

Since his comeback in 2021, Taskin Ahmed has gone from cautionary tale to leader of Bangladesh's fast-bowling attack, having played a part in several of Bangladesh's most momentous wins, including most recently their 3-0 sweep of England in T20Is at home. In this interview he spoke about his comeback and the improvement that made to his mental health, and how he wants to be among the best fast bowlers in the world.
Since your last interview with us, shortly after you played your comeback game for Bangladesh, it has been a remarkable time in your international career.
I have always wanted to be a complete team man since I made a comeback during Covid - as a bowler, batter and fielder. I want to give my best, but of course, it won't happen all the time. I have a strong belief that if my process is in place, I can take on any opposition. Everything is decided on those 22 yards, regardless of who you are playing against, so whoever the opposition batter, I want to properly execute my strength. When that happens, life won't be easy for the batter.
Mark Wood said recently that you impressed the England team and that their bowlers picked their lengths from you, and you kept their batters under pressure.
He is no doubt one of the best in the business. I want to be right up there. I appreciate what he said, but what he talked about is essentially my duty.
One of your best spells recently came in the T20 World Cup game against India. No wickets, but you stuck to your guns in those four overs.
Wickets aren't really the measure of good bowling. Sometimes you don't bowl well but end up with three or four wickets. It is all about execution. End of the day, I have to ask myself if I have given my 110% in the field - how my execution was, what areas I can improve on. These are personal check boxes. When these three fields are ticked, I am not too bothered about wickets. That was a spell that went according to the team's requirement in those conditions. It is a team game, so if you can execute the team's plan, you are a good player.
"When your process is in place, your self-belief eclipses any worry you have about the opposition. You know you are honest off the field with your preparations. Homework done, I am well prepared, so why won't I do well?"
Three years ago, did you think you could become the leader of the Bangladesh bowling attack?
Whoever has the ball in hand is the bowling leader. I am not competing with my team-mates. We are family. If a group of us are improving together, we will become a threat to opponents. We are around 60-70% there. I want to compete with the top fast bowlers in the world. I am preparing myself physically, mentally and skill-wise.
All the steps you took three years ago, at the start of the pandemic, have helped, would you say?
When I started [to train] at the start of the pandemic, I wasn't in the national team. I tried to find what I was lacking. I had below-average fitness. I wasn't there skill-wise. I wasn't fielding or batting well. It was hard to comprehend how I was going to play for Bangladesh again. But I had the belief that I could play - I didn't just think about it, I turned it into action.
It was [during] Covid, so it wasn't possible to take coaching, but [physical trainer] Debu da opened up his gym for me. I remember he and I used to be in the gym alone after iftaar.
After a few months my fitness was developing, but what about my depression, anxiety, negativity? Those weren't going away. I went to mind-trainer Sabit Raihan. I am still working with him. I am trying to develop my mentality. I am still fearful of being left out of the team, but I am working on how to get rid of the fear of failure. You can never win if you fear losing before the contest even starts.
I want to be positive in every aspect of my life. Negative company, negative words, really irritate me. My system has changed, so when someone is being negative, I either change the topic or leave. Working with Sabit and Debu da was really enriching. I had phone conversations with [BCB director Khaled Mahmud] Sujon sir and [former bowling coach Mahbub Ali] Zaki sir.
I used places like the garage and the staircase of my house for training. I took gym equipment from the BCB. I did bowling drills, wristwork. Those were the small steps. I ran in the sand after early morning Fazr prayers. I had insane gym sessions after fasting the whole day [during Ramadan]. The trainer used to push me to the point where I thought I would break, but I didn't give up. I thought to myself, I am dead inside seeing the team play on TV. I thought this is it - whether I break or I die, whatever happens, I will wear the red and green jersey again. I have come to believe that if someone really wants something from the heart, it can turn into his strength.
I don't think logic applies to everything. [They say] you are not supposed to train hard after fasting all day - you are hungry and dehydrated. But it is your desire. You have to get out of your comfort zone. My main target was to get back in the Bangladesh team after proper training. Now the target is to slowly rise in the rankings. When you are below 100, it doesn't show [on the ICC rankings]. I was out of the top 100 in all formats. Now I am coming into the 50s, and if Allah wants, I will be in the top ten. Or No. 1. It will happen, Inshallah.
There are two ways of asking Allah for what you want. Firstly, when you are not prepared for the exam, you can ask Him to save you. The other way is [to say], Allah I have prepared myself really well. You be with me. When your process is in place, your self-belief eclipses any worry you have about the opposition. You know you are honest off the field with your preparations. It is a huge gut feeling for a player. Homework done, I am well prepared, so why won't I do well?
Mental health comes from off-field preparations. Honesty and hard work are my main weapons. If the self-belief is in the right place, my skills will keep improving. Mental health is very important.
Commentators and opponents these days talks about how you are a threat. Do you see batters viewing you as a threat?
Out in the field, I back myself fully. When I am executing properly, I see the batter, regardless of how good he is, questioning himself. They will have days when they will play great shots. Some days will be bad. But I try to keep up my end of the bargain, which is executing my skills properly.
What do you think are the highlights from these two years since the comeback?
Winning Player-of-the-Match awards in two World Cup games and the Player-of-the-Series award in South Africa.
The Test win against New Zealand.
My 191-run stand with [Mahmudullah] Riyad bhai in Zimbabwe. The close game against India in the T20 World Cup was another highlight.
"Bowlers like Shaheen Shah Afridi, Kagiso Rabada, Jasprit Bumrah and Josh Hazlewood, these guys will become legends by the end of their careers. I want to be regarded how they are regarded"
About that Test win against New Zealand - you seemed to enjoy Ebadot's wickets in that Mount Maunganui Test.
My comeback raised my love for playing for Bangladesh. Representing the nation is a matter of huge pride. Having team feelings automatically means you enjoy team-mates' success. His performance is helping the team win.
I still remember Ebadot bowling after tea. I was standing at third man, making some calculations looking at the scoreboard. I thought, if we can bowl them out by lunch tomorrow [the fifth day], we can create a chance. If we can't, then we have to find a way to draw this game. Suddenly he takes three wickets. I was like, what is happening?
He took three more the next morning. I took three wickets. We shared nine wickets in the second innings. That's it. We won. Beating New Zealand in their backyard is a massive achievement.
Tell us the story of the five-wicket haul against South Africa.
I got a call from Lucknow Super Giants during that ODI series - I was denied the NOC [for the IPL]. We had Tests against South Africa at the time. Everyone dreams of playing in the IPL. I was a little sad about missing the opportunity. I told myself that I have to keep my focus on playing for the national team.
I was overthinking the night before the third ODI, the series-deciding match. I kept thinking, if I play badly in the third game, the public will think that I played badly because of not getting the NOC. If I did well, I would be satisfied that I did well in this situation. On the field, you can pretend that you are confident with body language and reaction. You can pretend your way into genuine confidence. Everyone feels pressure before a big match.
On the morning of the match, I was a little upset with a family matter. It happens to everyone on a long tour. Just imagine, I had to say no to the IPL. Then this family thing. The team bus leaves in half an hour. On my way to the ground, I thought I was going to put my emotions aside, bowl with all my heart. Whether I get hit for 80 in ten overs, or take five wickets, I will mean every ball. I did my warm-up, measured my run-up before everyone. Then I bowled the first ball, wide. Second ball, wide. I was questioning myself whether I was overexcited or not. I still told myself that I was going to mean every ball. A little later, it happened. Five wickets. We won. Everything worked out in the end.
Your mind and body won't be 110% every day. But your desire, whether you are pretending or it's coming for real, helps a lot. I try to give it my all every day. I am not the best fielder, but I try to take a catch. I try to bowl my best ball. I try to contribute with the bat. I want to have an impact as a team player.
Talking about dropped catches, there have been plenty off your bowling. You don't often react, do you?
A man can react maybe once or twice out of a hundred times (laughs).
Nobody drops a catch willingly. It is about luck. [Yasir Ali] Rabbi took a good catch in the slips in the World Cup. [Najmul Hossain] Shanto took two good catches in the slips against England.
In a way, it is a positive that you are creating so many chances.
Yes, the main thing is creating the chances. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Some days I will get whacked. It is about consistency. Chances are created due to proper execution, movement and extra bounce. I bowl according to the field.
You are rested from time to time, too. You didn't play the third ODI against England. The team management wants you to be fit for the big games.
It is the body, you know. I want to play every game. I wanted to play the third ODI too but the coach and captain thought there's a lot of cricket ahead. I played the first two ODIs with a groin niggle and back soreness. Fast bowlers will always have these things. Physios, trainers and coaches try to maintain the workload.
There's no point asking you what your favourite format is.
You are right. I really can't pick a favourite format. It is slightly difficult to adjust between formats. Lengths vary. You have to go through the delivery variations. If you perform in all three formats, then you have done something. I want to be a player of that class.
Who are the world-class bowlers that you aspire to being like?
Legends like Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Wasim Akram are my heroes. Bowlers like Shaheen Shah Afridi, Kagiso Rabada, Jasprit Bumrah and Josh Hazlewood, these guys will become legends by the end of their careers. I want to be regarded how they are regarded. There's no point in working hard if I can't reach that level. I have to take myself to their level.
"On the field, you can pretend that you are confident with body language and reaction. You can pretend your way into genuine confidence. Everyone feels pressure before a big match"
How have fast bowling coaches like Ottis Gibson and Allan Donald influenced you during your comeback years?
They have definitely been influential. They both had roles to play. Our local bowling coaches are good too. I speak a lot to Sujon sir about my bowling. Ottis Gibson helped me in certain areas. Allan Donald is a well-known coach. He talks to us. But at this level, you have to know what you must do yourself. A coach helps you fine-tune, but you have to do the rest of the work.
Chandika Hathurusingha is back as our coach. He thinks differently than the other coaches. I like his style of coaching. His game awareness is going to help our players. The team management, in general, is really helpful towards me. They want me to keep doing well.
Your comeback story in a way is a catalyst for the improvement of fast bowlers, and specifically why Bangladesh is now relying more on fast bowling. There was a time when they didn't even pick a single fast bowler in a home Test. Now fast bowlers are match-winners. In this pack of fast bowlers, how do you see yourself?
It is a matter of pride. I want to carry it for a long time. I want to set the trend of fast bowling. How to come back and maintain it. I have more responsibility now. I have been able to inspire people, so I want to finish my career in a way that everyone remembers me. I hope I can help build a proper fast bowling culture. I want more fast bowlers to come through. Fast bowlers have to be built from the Under-15s. I had to reach this stage after a lot of ups and downs.
We have the Bangladesh Tigers programme now. There will be fast-bowling camps in the future. Things will get easier. I did it on my own during the Covid pandemic. But now if someone wants to start from a young age, the path will be smooth. I want a fast bowler to know about proper discipline. He should be aware of his diet and training pattern. He must be aware of his own body, how it behaves in different situations. He will get help from the coaches, so when he can build all this into his system, he will be a better player.
I want to take myself to a different level as a fast bowler, to give more to my country. I want to be more skillful and fit. I want to finish my career as a legendary player.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84