Mustafiz shows signs of resurgence

Mustafiz took four wickets in the final ODI to win the player of the match award in ODIs after four years

Mustafizur Rahman celebrates one of his four wickets against Ireland in the third ODI at the Country Ground in Chelmsford, England on 14 May 2023BCB

In the final Twenty20 of the three-match series against Ireland in Chattogram in March, Mustafizur Rahman experienced something he had rarely encountered in his international career. The left-arm pacer was dropped from the Bangladesh XI for poor performance.

Mustafiz’s bowling was tame to say the least in the first two matches of the series and as a result he lost his place in the third T20 in Chattogram.

After the match, Bangladesh’s pace bowling coach Allan Donald was asked the same old question, “What happened to Mustafiz?’ Donald shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Just wait. He is slowly regaining his rhythm.”

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Head coach Chandika Hathurusingha was asked the same question before the recently concluded series against Ireland in Chelmsford commenced. His answer echoed Donald’s, as the Sri Lankan coach was also waiting for Mustafiz to bounce back. The Bangladesh cricket team fans were also waiting for the same.

The long wait seemingly came to an end on Sunday in Chelmsford. The old Mustafiz, who can flip the fate of a match with just one spell, resurfaced.

In the series decider, Ireland were cruising on 223-3, chasing Bangladesh’s 274. The match was in the hands of the opposition before Mustafiz rattled the Irish batting line-up with his brilliant bowling.

Mustafizur Rahman was named the player of the match in ODIs after four years

In his first spell earlier in the game, Mustafiz took one wicket. In his second spell, Mustafiz bowled three overs, claimed three wickets while conceding just nine runs. His spell set Bangladesh on course to win a match they were well set to lose.

In the end, Bangladesh did win. Mustafiz was named the player of the match for taking four wickets for 44 runs in his 10 overs.

It was not just the wickets, his bowling had that spark which was missing for a long time. He varied his pace, repeatedly changed the angle of his release. He didn’t just rely on cutters in the death overs, he also bowled yorkers. The variety he displayed reflected on the scorecard.

The last time Mustafiz was named the player of the match in an ODI was in May of 2019. It was against the West Indies in a tri-nation series in Ireland right before the World Cup in England.

Mustafizur Rahman took three wickets in his second spell

Since then, he has played 41 ODIs. It’s not that he performed terribly or didn’t have any good performances in this period. He claimed five wickets against India and Pakistan in consecutive matches in the ICC World Cup 2019. He also took a four-wicket haul against Zimbabwe in August last year.

Still, Mustafiz wasn’t his old self in most games. He has been dropped from the team a few times in the guise of being ‘rested’. In the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series against Ireland, Mustafiz sat out in the first two matches and in his place left-arm pacer Shoriful Islam was picked.

This might’ve hurt Mustafiz’s self-esteem. Maybe he wanted to mark his comeback in the final ODI with five wickets. Maybe he wanted to remind everyone who he is with a match-winning performance.

In the post-match press conference, Mustafiz jokingly said exactly that, “I was thinking the day before that I will take five wickets (smiles).”

He was also asked how he handled the pressure in the final overs. Mustafiz, in a nonchalant manner, answered, “I have been fulfilling this duty for the Bangladesh team for a long time. I’ve grown used to it.”

Captain Tamim Iqbal accepted that at one point he had lost all hopes of winning the third ODI. But Mustafiz with his spell restored that belief in the team, “If I tell you we had the believe we’d win, I’d be lying. But cricket is a funny game, wickets fall and scoreboard pressure is bad to have. When the Fizz (Mustafiz) got two wickets, we thought we had a chance.”

Mustafiz returning to his old self is a big relief for Tamim as a captain. He also shared his excitement over Bangladesh’s current pace attack, “If you have a good bowling attack at your disposal, captaining a side gets a lot easier. I’m really excited with the players we currently have in the team. The fast bowlers are doing really well. Some are not here, like Taskin (Ahmed) is injured. He has improved a lot. Our bowling attack right now is really good.”

Tamim specifically brought up Taskin. Pacer Hasan Mahmud’s performance since last year’s T20 World Cup has also been exemplary. Ebadot Hossain is gradually becoming a three-format bowler. Bangladesh cricket was waiting for Mustafiz to return to form. In Chelmsford, that wait, most likely, came to end.