Mahmudullah’s Asia Cup omission and the ‘emotion merchants’ on Facebook
Since 12 August, when chief selector Minhajul Abedin announced the 17-man Bangladesh squad for the forthcoming Asia Cup, these three hashtags have been making rounds on different social media in Bangladesh.
Mahmudullah, the former Bangladesh captain, was left out of the squad for the Asia Cup. And in all fairness, his omission from the squad should not have been too much of a surprise to anyone.
The veteran all-rounder wasn’t a part of Bangladesh’s last three One-Day International (ODI) series. Although the selectors tried to soften the blow of omission for Mahmudullah and his fans by saying they have not dropped him but instead have rested him to try out some other players in the No.7 slot, but everyone could easily read between the lines.
So, when the inevitable happened, the fans of the 37-year-old all-rounder were understandably distraught. In a country where cricketers are hailed as heroes, seeing one of their biggest idols fall from grace was a hard pill to swallow.
Seeing Mahmudullah getting axed from the Asia Cup and potentially the World Cup was heartbreaking for many. And after the sadness from their heartbreak subsided, it was swapped by anger, directed towards the ‘evil’ selectors, the ‘corrupt’ cricket board and the ‘no good’ captain and coach.
Bangladesh cricket fans getting angry when their favourite player didn’t get selected for an important tournament is nothing new. Before Mahmudullah, the biggest example of that happening was in 2011, when fans brought out processions and formed human chains to protest the omission of Mashrafe Bin Mortaza from the World Cup squad.
But Mahmudullah’s case seems different. Mahmudullah’s omission was not as dramatic as Mashrafe’s, who was first expected to lead the team in their first World Cup at home but ended up not even getting selected for the squad due to fitness issues.
Had the selectors picked Mahmudullah for the Asia Cup, there is a good chance that they would’ve received the same level of ire from those who are not a fan of the all-rounder and would’ve been bashed for relying on a player who is way past his prime when they have several young options in hand.
Then, why is Mahmudullah’s omission creating such a stir? Is this because of the love and adulation millions of fans feel for the veteran all-rounder, or is it the result of ‘emotion merchants’ disguised as ‘cricket experts’ on Facebook who are fanning the flame by using crooked logic not for the love of Mahmudullah or Bangladesh cricket, but only to gain a few extra clicks, boost their reach by a few more thousands and pocket a couple of extra bucks.
A statistic that is being pedalled around everywhere on social media since Mahmudullah’s omission is his average in ODIs since the 2019 World Cup, which is much higher than the cricketers who are likely to occupy the No.7 slot in the Asia Cup and the World Cup.
Factually, the stat is correct. Since the World Cup in England, the right-hander has batted 21 times in an ODI where he has scored 1234 runs at an average of 41.13 at a strike rate of 76.21.
Mahmudullah’s average is way better than Afif Hossain (28.73), Mehidy Hasan Miraz (23.33) and Mahedi Hasan (8.00) during the same period, while Shamim Hossain, the other candidate for the No.7 spot, is yet to make his debut in the format.
This stat proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that the selectors have denied Mahmudullah his rightful spot in the Asia Cup squad. Right?
No, not really.
The people pedalling this stat are conveniently forgetting one important fact. The No.7 spot was never Mahmudullah’s to begin with. In fact, the right-hander has not batted in that position in an ODI for almost five years.
Mushfiq took Mahmudullah’s place, not the young guns.
9 December 2018 was the last time Mahmudullah came into bat at No.7 in an ODI. That match was against the West Indies and it took place in Dhaka.
In the years since then, he was slated to bat at No.7 in two more ODIs but in both of those games his services with the bat were not required.
Since the 2019 World Cup, the team management has used Mahmudullah as a No.6 batter. He has made all of his runs in ODI cricket since the 2019 World Cup at No.6. He was not being considered for the finisher’s role long before current coach Chandika Hathurusingha arrived in Bangladesh.
So, the Mahmudullah fans should not be deriding young players like Afif, Mahedi and Shamim. These youngsters didn’t take Mahmudullah’s place in the squad, Mushfq did.
Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah’s long-time teammate and his brother-in-law, was going through a lean patch in ODIs in 2022.
In 11 ODIs, he averaged a meagre 23.00 at a strike rate of 71.65. For the first time in nine years, Mushfiq’s average in a calendar year had dipped below 30.
Mahmudullah, that same year, averaged 51.25 in ODIs.
Still, after the home series defeat against England in this year’s March, the management decided to remove Mahmudullah and try Mushfiq at No.6.
Why did they remove a batter who averaged over 50 to make way for a batsman who was averaging just 23?
Because of Mahmudullah’s awful strike rate.
Mahmudullah averaged over 50 in 2022, but his high average came at the cost of a low strike rate of 69.25.
Captain Tamim Iqbal and coach Hathurusingha knew that to do well in the World Cup in India, they couldn’t afford to take a batter with such a lowly scoring rate at No.6.
And their experiment has so far paid huge dividends for Bangladesh in ODIs. Mushfiq looked like a batter reborn in his new role, scoring 498 runs at an average of 71.14 at a strike rate of 104.18.
Mushfiq’s performance made him irreplaceable at No.6. Furthermore, Mushfiq’s reemergence as a No.6 batter coincided with the emergence of Towhid Hridoy, who in just nine ODIs has already become an indispensable batsman at No.5.
The ‘emotion merchants’ won’t stop
When it comes to cricket, logic has always taken a back seat to emotions in Bangladesh.
The fans in this country are driven by emotion. The fans feel the soaring highs and the crushing lows of the team as much as the players themselves.
So, when one of their favourite players gets ousted from the team, they also feel the dejection. When they use the #JusticeForMahmudullah, they are actually asking for justice for themselves.
This passionate, emotional fan base is the biggest strength of Bangladesh cricket and the main reason why we got into the top echelon of cricket-playing nations in the first place.
To use the emotion of the fans for personal motives is a despicable act, which is exactly what the ‘emotion merchants’ on Facebook are doing right now. And the saddest part is that there is no way to stop them.