A tribute to the legend
Growing up with Mashrafe – How Bangladesh cricket became a man from a boy
The alarm goes off.
His hand reaches the phone as he dismisses the alarm. He can’t feel his legs. They are numb, senseless… they don’t exist. Not in that moment. He has nightmares in the morning, visions that make him feel helpless.
He sees his grandchildren playing in front of him. Running around with glees on their faces. The radiance from their smiles illuminates his world. As his granddaughter rushes towards him with arms flailing, she yells, ‘dadu, amake kaande niye ghurao na!’ (‘Grandpa, take me on your shoulders!’)
He can’t. He can’t get up. He can’t move his legs. As he looks down, he sees himself on a wheelchair, unable to find mobility. He looks up to his granddaughter with tears in his eyes... they are a reflection of the pain in his heart.
‘Dadu, tumi kandcho keno?’ (‘Why are you crying, grandpa?’)
His dream has turned into a nightmare. He snaps out of the vision, but still finds tears in his eyes. No, he won’t get out of bed today. He won’t. He has to preserve his future, he has to ensure that his vision never becomes a reality.
He has to ensure that he plays with his grandchildren. He has to.
He closes his eyes to go back to sleep, but something happens again… he sees it with his eyes closed.
The little boy from Narail
A little boy looks up to his grandfather, who is the secretary of Khulna’s Mohammedan Sporting Club, as he gives him a ball to play with. Like every child, it is the greatest joyous moment of his life. He runs around with it, wearing a pant that barely reaches his knees while mucus drools from his nose.
He is ecstatic. He just wants to bowl fast.
Years go by, but the joy never leaves him. He is in his teens now, but he still feels the shrill down his spine when he sets foot on the field. One fine day, he gets his chance. Khulna Mohammedan are short of players, so his grandpa wants him to play.
But he can’t, not just yet. There is a problem.
His grandma is the empress of the house. Without her permission, the youngster can’t do what he loves the most. His grandpa, however, manages her and gets the clearance for the young kid. He had won the battle of the home, now it was time to win it on the field.
And he didn’t disappoint.
He took six wickets while giving away just 24 runs in his debut for Khulna Mohammedan. His grandpa was euphoric; after all, when your grandchild makes you proud, it is one of the greatest moments of anyone’s lives.
It was the beginning of the journey towards absolute reverence. After his outstanding debut for Khulna Mohammedan, he kept putting up man of the match displays in almost every game. His performances earned him a place in the Khulna U19, from where he leapfrogged to the Bangladesh U19.
It is the U19 Asia Cup. The little youngster is representing Bangladesh U19 in that tournament. He made a name for himself with the ball to get to where he is now, but against Kuwait it was his bat that did the talking.
The Kuwaiti kids don’t know what has hit them. It is the tempest of the little kid. His bat is now a rod of chastisement that punishes the bowlers without mercy. By the time he left the pitch, he had scored 73 runs from just 27 balls and burned the Kuwait bowlers in his inferno.
The word of his feat has spread like wildfire. Who is this kid? Is he the future of Bangladesh? Only time could tell. For him, it is only the cricket that matters.
He now finds himself in an U19 training camp. Legendary former West Indian bowler, Andy Roberts, is incredibly impressed by him. The youngster is bowling at a pace never seen before in Bangladesh cricket. Roberts knew he is a gem, so they have to carefully polish him.
‘Don’t over-bowl him,’ instructed Roberts. ‘He is eager, but don’t unleash him just yet—hold him back.’
Alas, they didn’t.
He looks around as he sets foot on the ground. He is in India now playing for Bangladesh A team. Despite being in a foreign country, he is not intimidated. In fact, if anything, he is the one spreading fear in the hearts of the opponents with his fiery gaze and express speed.
Indeed, his pace was often unfathomable for the Indian batsmen. By the time they knew what hit them, the youngster had already drilled past their entire lineup.
He comes back home after taking 16 wickets in four games in India. He is now the talk of the hour, the nation’s craze… a young hero.
It is 2001 now.
This youngster is special. Everyone knows it by now. Such is the magnitude of the impact that he has made, he has been called up for the national team… without even playing a single first-class game in his life.
He is elated, enthralled… he is so happy that he doesn’t realize that this was a poor decision from everyone involved. The gruelling nature of playing Test cricket means that the body has to be at an optimum level before it sets foot to play red-ball cricket.
The Bangladesh Cricket Board are doing what Andy Roberts specifically asked them not to.
But can we blame them?
Excitement is a dangerous thing. Never before have Bangladesh seen a talented pacer like him, so they are excited to show him off to the top echelons of the cricketing society. It is perhaps their way of being relevant, that even we can produce outstanding talent.
And it is only natural. This is November 2001, exactly one year after Bangladesh had played their first ever Test match. They are still toddlers in the format—and it is the children that are the most excited beings on the planet.
He sees himself in the white shirt of Bangladesh. He is being handed his first Test cap. He distinctively remembers the feeling of that moment. He feels his heart swelling with a tingly sensation… pride is running through him.
His eyes are wet because he can’t contain the pride within the walls made of dust.
Some things in life are inexplicable. Falling in love, making your parents smile and representing your nation in the highest form of cricket. These things can’t be explained simply because words have limitations, but these emotions are eternal and infinite.
There is so much similarity between him and his nation’s cricket team. He is a child, so are the Bangladesh cricket team. Both of them are just beginning to walk in the big world...
As he looks around, he sees people who he idolized all these days. Habibul Bashar, Khaled Mahmud, Khaled Masud… these are the men who took the first steps with the national team. They are the first generation cricketers of the nation and here he was, a lanky 18-year-old kid who is the living the team.
Stuart Carlisle, Grant Flower, Heath Streak and Brian Murphy, they were his first four scalps in international cricket. Zimbabwe knew then and there and Bangladesh had someone special.
It is January, 2002.
The doctors are blabbering something to him, but he can’t understand them. Actually, he doesn’t want to either. All he wants to know is when he could play cricket again. Only that’s what matters to him. It was only some days ago when he was bowling at express pace in New Zealand, but he will now have to go under the knife.
After debuting against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh took him to New Zealand. The Bangladesh Cricket Board did what Andy Roberts specifically asked them not to. They overbowled him. He injured his back in the tour and then wounded his knee while recovering from the back injury.
All of a sudden, everything seems to be crashing down.
He can’t fathom what is happening. For the first time in his life, cricket has made him scared. It is only natural because after all, he is only a teenager.
But then again, he collects himself and decides that something like this won’t be able to stop him. He will fight.
It is October 2003.
He is writhing in pain. Oh, mother. ‘Why did this have to happen to me again’, he thinks as he holds his knees in agony. He has twisted his knee on the follow-through while bowling against England. It is not the physical pain that hurts him the most, it is the thought of not being able to play for the country that puts him in anguish.
The doctors have told him that he might never be able to cricket again. He is shocked. He feels as though the sky with blazing thunderstorms has fallen on his head. After a while, however, he comes back to his senses.
Nah, he is not letting this finish him. He is going to do what he does best: fight.
The comeback and success
It is December 2004.
He looks up towards the skies and thanks heaven for this as his team-mates mob him from all around. Rahul Dravid is walking back to the pavilion after being lynched by him. He has completed his comeback after over a year of sabbatical from the game in order to recuperate from the injury that was inflicted upon him over a year ago.
The New Year comes in and Bangladesh are set to play against a Zimbabwe team that have been depleted due to player disputes.
He can’t see the batsman. His vision is blurred. Almost as though his eyes are covered with a nebulous mist, except only it wasn’t. Instead, it is a wet drapery that is shrouding his gaze. He wipes his eyes, collects himself and continues bowling.
He just took the 9th Zimbabwean wicket and Bangladesh’s first Test win in their history is now imminent, which is why he couldn’t control his tears.
When Enamul Haque Jr took the wicket of Christopher Mpofu, Bangladesh won their first Test ever. The child is slowly growing now.
It is June 2005.
Mohammad Ashraful is being worshipped like an angel sent from God. Why shouldn’t he be, though? He has just scored a century that helped Bangladesh beat Australia in Cardiff. And it was not just any Australian team.
The likes of Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie were made to taste sand by the Tigers. He, meanwhile, is reveling in glory, but without being in the limelight.
He might have just taken a single wicket in the game, but he put constant pressure on the Aussie batsmen and gave away only 33 runs in his 10 overs. He is the underrated star of the game.
More injuries and more success
He looks out of the window of the airplane as he flies out of Sri Lanka in September 2005. He is disappointed to miss out on the Sri Lanka tour. It is the sixth time that he is being sent home in the middle of a series.
Injuries, however, don’t scare him anymore. In fact, he sees them as a challenge. In his mind, they are his greatest rivals—and he will do anything to beat them.
World Cup 2007.
He is laughing as he reminisces how everyone were convinced that India and Sri Lanka would qualify from the group that also had Bangladesh and Bermuda. 10 overs, four wickets and 38 runs. He has just bowled the greatest spell ever in the history of Bangladesh cricket in World Cups.
While a young Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan may have taken most of the plaudits, everyone knows that his bowling is what set up the team. Bangladesh qualified for the next round after dumping India out of the World Cup.
This tournament also marked something else: most of the first generation cricketers of the country were leaving as the new generation—the second one—were taking over.
The child has grown up a little more.
O’ Captain, our captain
It is July 2009.
It felt like it was only yesterday when he made his debut for the national team. And now here he was, setting foot on the field as the captain of the Bangladesh cricket team. He feels the same amount of pride like he did when he played his first Test against Zimbabwe.
He wins the Test against West Indies. He wins his first game as a captain. It is only Bangladesh’s second ever Test win and first one abroad. Everyone is delighted, but perhaps his country are the most unfortunate as they now lose him to injury once again.
And it is the last time he played Test for his country.
People are on the streets. They are angry. They want to know why he has been dropped from the World Cup squad for 2011. He himself is upset. This is perhaps the lowest point of his career—the worst day of his life.
The dejection of missing out of the World Cup due to an injury felt like being struck by a million lightning. His heart is pounding, screeching with agony. He feels like the loneliest person in the world.
He is, however, a fighter. Always has been. So he picks himself up and begins his journey once again.
Historic Asia Cup
So close, yet so far. They couldn’t have done much more. They gave it their all. By the time the match ended, the grass oozed the scent of blood, sweat and tears of the Tigers. The Bangladeshi players are devastated as they lost the 2012 Asia Cup final by just two runs.
He ended the tournament with six wickets from four games—the joint-best for Bangladesh—but he couldn’t inspire them to a win in the final. There was hope when he was spanking the Pakistani bowlers to a pulp, but saw his maelstrom being stopped at 18 runs from 9 balls.
Had he been there till the end, he might have won the game for the country. That’s what’s hurting him the most. Just a little more… just a little.
The child is almost in his adolescence.
O’ Captain, our captain part II
It is October 2014
Ah, back to familiar territories. The captaincy has been somewhat of a curse for him. Whenever he has taken the mantle, injuries ruined it for him. This time, however, he is much more prepared than ever before.
After losing their 13 previous ODI games in a row, the Tigers have finally broken the dubious streak when he led them to a win against Zimbabwe. In the following games, Bangladesh were unbeatable as they whitewashed Zimbabwe.
And then came the World Cup 2015.
Nobody really expected Bangladesh to qualify for the next round. The Bangladeshi only hoped, but there was nothing more than that. They, however, qualify for the quarter-final by defeating England. Under his leadership, the nation stood supreme. They might have lost to India in the quarters, but it is the beginning of the child becoming an adult.
Bangladesh cricket team are no longer minnows. The fans can’t believe what is happening with the team. They dance in euphoria. And there he is, watching over them like a king as they celebrate wildly while also worshipping him.
After the World Cup, he oversaw ODI series wins against Pakistan (3-0), India (2-1) and mighty South Africa (2-1). All those series wins were the first time that Bangladesh had won against those teams. These three series also marked something else: the incoming wave of third-generation stars Soumya Sarkar, Taskin Ahmed and Mustafizur Rahman.
They won the subsequent series against Zimbabwe and once again managed to reach the final of the Asia Cup, but they lost to India this time. Under his captaincy, Bangladesh lost only three bilateral ODI series out of ten.
And they also reached the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy in 2017 for the first time.
The child has now grown up to be an adult.
He realizes that the child is not only he but also the Bangladesh cricket team. He realizes that not only did he grow up from a boy to a man, but so did the Bangladesh cricket team. He realizes that he is the Bangladesh cricket team.
He realizes that he is Mashrafe Bin Mortaza—the true eternal captain of the Bangladesh national cricket team. He realizes that there is no Mashrafe without the Bangladesh cricket team and there can’t be a Bangladesh cricket team without Mashrafe.
He realizes that the spring may go and the winter might come, but the Sun always stays in its place. He realizes that Mashrafe Mortaza will retire someday and make Bangladesh cricket aficionados’ orphans, but his radiance will always shine within the team for eternity.
He realizes that he might be in a wheelchair somewhere down the line and he might not be able to carry his grandchildren on his shoulders, but he has already carried them even before they were born. Indeed, those shoulders have carried an entire nation for three generations and will continue to carry them forever because…
He realizes that those are the shoulders on which the foundations of Bangladesh cricket team lies.
The weight might have taken a toll on his knees, but if given a chance, he would do it again and again and again because he is Mashrafe Mortaza and he is the Bangladesh national cricket team.
He opens his eyes now. He looks at the clock. 6.20 am.
There is a smile on his face. He still can’t feel his legs, it will take a slow massage before he can, but he looks at them and whispers, ‘nah, mate, not today… we’ll sleep after we are done and I am not done yet.’
Yes, Mashrafe Mortaza is not done yet. He has to grow old and wise—and so do the Bangladesh cricket team.
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