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Deserved better after serving the nation for 20 years: Mortaza

Mashrafe Mortaza, former Bangladesh skipper, last played for the country against Zimbabwe in 2020. Since then, he has found himself in the wilderness. In an exclusive chat with Cricbuzz, the experienced pace bowler criticised the board for their ‘unprofessionalism’ in relation to the treatment meted out to him.

Here are the excerpts:

In recent times, we have seen multiple statements about your future from selectors. So what is your take on it?

It’s unfortunate. At least I deserved better after serving the nation for 20 years. A lot of media tried to speak to me after I was left out of the squad for the West Indies series. But I told the media that I took that very professionally. But since then many people have given many statements about why I was dropped. Nannu Bhai (Minhajul Abedin) while announcing the squad said that he had a word with me. It’s a lie. Seeing all this, it seemed to me that the truth was not going to the people and they were seeing only one side of the things. I have already told Nannu Bhai and Sumon Bhai… ‘I am not talking about this now. But if the media questions me, I will tell the truth one day or another.’ Then Sumon Bhai said, ‘Why? Nannu Bhai didn’t tell you?’ I said, ‘You decide together, don’t you know?’

One of the reasons they cited was my fitness. Well, they have the data, and they know very well if I failed a single fitness test or not. I can assure you that my scores will be higher than even some of the established players, be it the beep test or the yo-yo test. How can you say that I failed a fitness test without even checking.

So do you believe the treatment meted out to you has been unfair?

I don’t think that the issue was handled professionally by any means. Look, when I retired from T20Is in 2017, I was in good form. So you have to understand that I am a person who knows when to leave. I was never officially given any proposal. Only Papon Bhai (Nazmul Hassan) asked me what I thought about it before the Zimbabwe series. In fact, I did not want to retire with the memory of the World Cup. I was the highest wicket-taker in the previous three series. After the Covid-19, I gained fitness and took five wickets and bowled well. But no one told me officially that they were not considering me. They could’ve told me, ‘look, we are not considering you for the World Cup, play the West Indies series and retire’. The senior players of the team could’ve suggested so. There was not a single e-mail or SMS. If you want to give a player a nice farewell, it cannot be one-sided. Someone from the board or management needs to approach the player. It didn’t happen to me. Yes, Tamim (Iqbal) called me on the night I got five wickets. He explained the scenario and said that he had nothing to do. I told him not to worry about me.

There was one proposal, you know… in the Zimbabwe series. Before that, I didn’t go to Sri Lanka. I was supposed to go but injured myself while practising. But I told the management that I played with such an injury in the World Cup and I could carry on in Sri Lanka. But they disagreed.

Yes, I was given that proposal to retire in the Zimbabwe series but it was after they made the plan and it came in the media. Still Papon Bhai gave me due respect and I told him that I would play the BPL and let him know about my decision. He agreed. So there was an agreement and I expected to get another proposal but it never came to me.

Do you feel that being a member of the parliament has gone against you?

If that is the case, then I don’t have anything to say because I don’t think that way. When I am playing, my only identity is player and nothing more but if my political identity comes in as you mentioned, then it is quite awful to be honest. I think the board was never sure what they wanted to do with me and that to me is nothing but unprofessionalism.

How do you look at the functioning of the board over a period of time?

I had seen how everything functioned when I was made the captain in 2009. Dr David Young sent an e-mail to physio Mike Henry where he wrote that my ligament wasn’t torn yet and the decision was absolutely mine whether I wanted to risk it or not. Henry conveyed the message to the selectors – chief selector Rafiqul (Alam) Bhai and second selector Akram (Khan) Bhai. Akram Bhai didn’t receive the full e-mail. Now am I responsible for this? How could they decide without even reading the full e-mail?

How was your relationship with the chief selector, Faruk Ahmed?

I will always respect Faruk (Ahmed) because of his gutsiness. He had the guts to go against everyone and pick Mushfiqur ahead of (Khaled Mashud) Pilot Bhai in the 2007 World Cup. He explained the reason appropriately. But when he saw that he wasn’t being able to work freely, he stepped down. I was the captain then and I saw it all.

You had a chance to retire after the World Cup game at Lord’s…

At that time, I was out of my mind. I was quite composed… the second match though I didn’t bowl well. But as I saw board officials giving interviews and talking only about my performance, my morale started to go down. I couldn’t bounce back from there. Probably I couldn’t remain professional. Before the Pakistan match, I sort of became impatient to escape from there.

I told Shakib (Al Hasan) that I could not carry on and informed him that I wouldn’t play. Then I returned to my room and called my family members. They told me to let bygones be bygones, and I realised that I was showing a weak mentality.

Neither did I attend the practice, nor I went to the press conference. But I then decided to play. I returned to Shakib and asked: ‘If I say that I will play, will I hurt your ego? You’ve already had a meeting with the team.’ He assured me that I could take my time and let him know my decision on the morning of the match.

In the morning, in front of all the board officials, I said that I could retire from ODIs if they wanted me to do so. I didn’t think about that and said it just like that. But they told me not to do so and said, ‘get back to form and retire in a good way back home’. That’s it.

What do you have to say about speculations that two of the board directors asked the media to malign you during the World Cup?

There is a thing, I haven’t said before. As bad as I feel… if I’ve ever suffered in cricket, I’ve suffered the most in this one thing. Then I realized how much has happened or could happen to other cricketers. I never believed this before, and I don’t want to. But when I found out that the media were called… two of our cricket board directors, who were sitting in England (during the World Cup), I know the complete information about them, as they had called on some (TV) channels and said: ‘This is an opportunity, an opportunity is coming before us. Let’s make Mashrafe a bad guy in front of the people and make him a villain.’

Because of the bad performance, I was already in a poor condition. Then I thought the cricket board will stand by my side. They could have left me out with being by my side. They could have thought that the boy did at least something for Bangladesh cricket. The audience will not understand much, the media will not know much about the many stories that are stored inside.

I will not disclose their names, but I know the names of both. God knows if there is more. They called up on various media (outlets) and said: ‘Opportunity is coming, make news about Mashrafe. He is going to be excluded from the team.’

They (those media) may have been kind to me, but they have informed some of our cricketers, and then the team discussed it within themselves. The boys were terrified of what would happen to us if it could happen to Mashrafe.

He (Domingo) was fired in South Africa, right? We always tend to work with people with problems: Mortaza
He (Domingo) was fired in South Africa, right? We always tend to work with people with problems: Mortaza ©Getty
How do you look at the current coach, Russell Domingo?

He was fired in South Africa, right? We always tend to work with people with problems. There is a huge mismanagement from his end, as he is still confused to fix the batting order of the batsmen, as he is constantly experimenting with Najmul Hossain Shanto, pushing down Riyad to number six. Thus, Shakib has to play at number four, which is not the best position for him.

If you want to establish Shanto, then it’s a good thing. You can stay by the side of young cricketers. Then leave out Soumya… it is not necessary to play him in another place by force. If Shanto does not perform, then bring in Soumya again. You can’t do man-management properly either.

Let me put up another example. You called Soumya for the Test against West Indies. What was he doing? Is he in the red-ball contract? He was preparing for ODIs when you called him to play the Test. Do you feel that Shakib would not get injured or what? Is there any planning.

The question is with the results. If Bangladesh had played the semi-final (in 2019 World Cup), then there would have been no talk of Mashrafe. And this coach… you had lost a Test to Afghanistan, you had lost two Tests to the West Indies with C- grade team, so please don’t expect love and care as an outcome. In my case, I simply took the embarrassment from the media and the masses, he has to take it too. The problem is whoever becomes our coach, we tend to give him huge acceptance and he develops somewhat of an attitude. But we don’t do that in the case of local coaches. When Sujon Bhai went to Sri Lanka as a coach, what was the difference then? He had lost three matches, Domingo is losing matches too. So how is Domingo better as the coach? I hear the coach saying, ‘Let them sack me, no problem.’ Because, he knows, if he is fired, he will leave with a whole year’s money.

What do you think of the way the board treated Steve Rhodes as the coach?

Steve Rhodes has been the most successful coach after Chandika Hathurusinghe and Dav Whatmore. He was leading the team in the right direction. The strengths and weaknesses of a human being are all there. But seeing the results in Rhodes coaching, there’s nothing hugely bad.

Things have been said about him. For example, three days off without practice in Birmingham (in the 2019 World Cup). We had an India-New Zealand match in Birmingham before our match. Even if you want, you can’t get a practice ground, as those two teams were scheduled to practice in that ground. We then had to rent another practice ground. That is the responsibility of the BCB. The manager or others who were on the board did not take the initiative.

The main reason was (to sack Rhodes) the team could not play in the semi-finals. When the team could not play in the semis, rushing out and hiring a new coach under the pressure of media and spectators were both wrong decisions. And calling the coach from England and handing him a letter is also unprofessional, because after three or four days, the team was going to Sri Lanka. He could have been given that opportunity. There was a lot of time after Sri Lanka tour, the selection of the new coach could have taken place in that time.

You called the coach and said goodbye, then the team could not play the World Cup semi-final… just for Mashrafe? Maybe now it will become personal for some cricketers, I will not say the names. But weren’t we deprived of the semi-final because of fielding? So how the fielding coach is still with the team? Didn’t we lose the Test to Afghanistan because of fielding? Didn’t we lose two Tests to West Indies for that reason? How is that fielding coach still hired? You had fired the main coach… not the actual culprit. It is a double standards.

You had cut Mashrafe. I would have sacrificed myself, if this was the only issue. At least the team wouldn’t be anxious about this. The main coach of a team is a big deal. Removing Mashrafe is not. Everyone has to adapt to the coach. We have this in our culture. You hurriedly brought in someone who wanted a job at the Academy-High Performance, whose goal was in a lower place, and he was made the coach of the national team. If you give someone something above their level, then he won’t be able to balance. What is the positive side of it? Only one victory in a T20I against India

Now that you have brought him, he should also be given some time. The words of the media or the words of the audience like Mashrafe, or the words of other viewers should not be a matter for them. The media, the audience will also put pressure on him. He has to deal with it. You look at India. They claiming the number one position… didn’t happen without a steady effort. If you can’t show a strong character, you won’t be developing. When Anil Kumble was dismissed as the main coach, 500 million people in India seemed to be on his side. Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, even Sourav Ganguly, were all in favour of Kumble. Then Ravi Shastri has been given the responsibility by the acceptance of the Indian current skipper Virat Kohli and the decision of the board. The media was always against Shastri, but he still continued with the position. Now look at them… where are they now? They had achieved their goal because of the mental strength of the board… not to be indecisive… to have full confidence of the board.

You were supposed to have a coffee with Domingo…

Yes, still waiting to have that coffee. Before the tour of Pakistan, one day, I went to the field and he said, ‘What is your plan?’ and then I said that you let me know your plan and I will tell you later. He said that after coming back from Pakistan he will have a coffee with me in Gulshan. I played against Zimbabwe… retired as a captain, but he never had the time to have that coffee with me.

Are you assuming that your international career is over?

When I was left out of the squad, I immediately knew that the chances of making a comeback are meagre. On top of that, I am 38 now. I said that I would continue to play domestic cricket as I love the game. I am just pointing out what professionalism is. The board hasn’t shown it. Whether I have shown it, it’s up to you to decide. I never said anything against the board in my entire career because of the code of conduct. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have kept my mouth shut for so long.

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