A Test career on the brink

Mustafizur Rahman in Test attire, a rare sight on the field.AFP

“It would’ve been good to have Mustafiz in the Test team against Sri Lanka, we needed his bowling in this condition. I still firmly believe that he has a bright future in Tests. Especially at home he can be our number 1 fast bowling option.”

Habibul Bashar, one of the three national team selectors, said this to Prothom Alo on 19 April. Although the selectors officially announced the squad for the 1st Test against Sri Lanka on Monday, Bashar with this statement had already unofficially confirmed that Mustafiz will once again miss a Test series of the Tigers.

Bashar’s statement proves that the selectors would’ve very much liked to have the left-arm pacer in the 15-man squad for the Test series. But their hands were tied.

Mustafiz is currently busy plying his trade for Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) gave Mustafiz a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to take part in the cash-rich tournament. Furthermore, they didn’t include him in the Test series against South Africa and now have not selected him for the Sri Lanka Test series.

Mustafiz with his Delhi Capitals teammates.
IPL Website

But Mustafiz’s absence from the Test squad is hardly news anymore. The 26-year-old last played a Test for Bangladesh back in February 2021 against West Indies. Since then, he has been absent in five Test series. The home series against Sri Lanka is set to be his sixth straight absence in a Test series for the Tigers.

Mustafiz, in his defence, has recently told the media that he isn’t taking part in Tests to steer clear of injuries and prolong his international career. Given the long list of injuries he has suffered in his eight-year-long international career, his reasoning holds merit. But this time his insistence of not playing Tests has placed his fellow pacers in a tough position.

Bangladesh’s most improved pacer in recent times is Taskin Ahmed. But the tall right-arm pacer has suffered an injury and is unavailable for the Sri Lanka Tests.

In his absence, the selectors have kept their faith in Ebadot Hossain and Khaled Ahmed to lead the pace attack. But the dearth of options in the pace bowling department is evident as they opted to pick two uncapped pacers in Shohidul Islam and Rejaur Rahman in the 15-man squad. If Ebadot or Khaled becomes unavailable, then either Shohidul or Rejaur is likely to make their debut.

The selectors are well aware of the lack of proven pacers in the squad. So, in a desperate attempt, they even included an injured Shoriful Islam as the 16th man of the squad.

Shoriful couldn’t take part in the Test series against South Africa due to an ankle injury. He was also suffering from abdominal pain. The BCB officials were planning to send him abroad to treat his ailment and have him fit and ready for a busy international season ahead. But now they have changed their tune and could very well play him in the series while he is not fully fit.

Taskin Ahmed and Shoriful Islam, both suffered injuries in the South Africa tour.
Prothom Alo file photo

With limited reliable pace bowling options in hand and the scorching summer heat in mind, the team management could decide to prepare spin-friendly tracks. But the recently concluded Test series against South Africa proves that the Tigers are not good at tackling quality spin bowling, something the Sri Lankan team has in spades. So, preparing spin-friendly tracks could very well play into the hands of the visitors.

Bangladesh’s selectors wouldn’t have to name an injured Shoriful as the 16th member or the management wouldn’t have to scratch their heads trying to come up with a plan for the Sri Lankans if Mustafiz would’ve been available for selection.

There is also this notion that Mustafiz shouldn’t play Tests as he is not affective with the red-ball. But a closer look at the stats shows that this isn’t true. Although Mustafiz is clearly a superior white-ball bowler, he is also a more than affective bowler in the longest format of the game especially in the context of Bangladesh cricket.

In the 22 years as a Test playing nation, Bangladesh has failed to produce a single world class fast bowler in the longest format of the game. Bangladesh’s best pacer in the format remains Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, who hasn’t played a Test since 2009. Mashrafe has 78 wickets in 36 Tests, at an average of 41.52, meaning he has conceded 41.52 runs per wicket.

Mustafiz has only played 14 Tests and has 30 wickets to his name. His average of 36.73 is the best out of all Bangladeshi pacers.

Moreover, Mustafiz’s fitness has improved in the last few years, with the pacer not missing many matches in recent times. He has played 38 of the 47 white-ball games Bangladesh has played since 2021. Most of those absences were tactical calls and the management’s decision to rest him, not an injury.

Mustafiz has regained his "fizz" in shorter formats.
File photo

But any talk of Mustafiz’s potential in Tests and improved fitness is irrelevant as the pacer himself is not interested to play Tests. He is not part of BCB’s Test contract and has hinted multiple times that he doesn’t want to play Tests anymore.

In the age of franchise cricket, players around the world are opting to retire from Tests at a relatively young age. The way things are going Mustafiz is likely to become the first Bangladeshi cricketer to remove himself from Tests before he hits his 30. If that does happen, it would be a premature end to a Test career that could’ve reached bigger heights two decades ago.