Mashrafe Mortaza’s sudden decision to retire from T20 internationals is a surprise, because it comes when Bangladesh cricket is at its most stable.
The unique timing of Mashrafe’s announcement, at the toss for the first T20I against Sri Lanka in Colombo, suggested that all might not be well behind the scenes. Though he admitted later that it was a sudden decision, he said the situation had been several months in the making.
Ever since the 2016 World T20, there have been discussions about radical changes to the team, though Bangladesh are yet to find replacements for the likes of Mashrafe. Those discussions got another airing among senior BCB officials after Bangladesh were crushed 3-0 in the T20Is in New Zealand, and they acquired greater urgency after the 259-run loss in the recent Galle Test.
Mahmudullah was going to be dropped for the following Test, other big calls were being discussed, and it was reported that sweeping changes were coming for the T20I team too, one of which was Mashrafe being removed as captain.
Mashrafe is a proud man and wouldn’t have taken kindly to such reports. He would have weighed his options over the last four weeks, with his passion for cricket and for the Bangladesh team being strong reasons for him to play on. The future of the side, however, played on Mashrafe’s mind: whether he was occupying a spot that could be filled by a younger and better player. Knowing that the team needed constant attention would have played a part in his decision-making process too, because he has a young family now.
Mashrafe will be hard to replace in what is an undercooked T20I team. He is Bangladesh’s third highest wicket-taker in the format – 41 wickets at 36.51 – and the highest among pace bowlers. His achievements as captain include qualifying for the 2016 Asia Cup T20 final, after beating Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the league stages. That remains Bangladesh’s best performance in the format, and Mashrafe led the team admirably during that period. The World T20 that followed in India, where Bangladesh couldn’t win several close games, was a major disappointment for Mashrafe though.
Bangladesh have the resources to replace Mashrafe the T20I bowler because Taskin Ahmed and Mustafizur Rahman have started their careers well. Mashrafe’s multiple leg injuries never allowed him to be the fastest in the field either, but he was a safe catcher. While his batting has, over the years, become underwhelming at international level, he still had some big-hitting capability in the format: he is currently Bangladesh’s fourth highest six-hitter – 23 in 37 innings – and has often made up for the absence of a lower-order hitter. Coach Chandika Hathurusingha will now have to find a new allrounder.
In the very game that Mashrafe announced his retirement, a fast-bowling allrounder Mohammad Saifuddin was making his debut for Bangladesh. He is a young and promising prospect, known to stand up in difficult situations, like Mashrafe did.
There are also a number of candidates to take over as captain. Shakib Al Hasan is the present vice-captain, while Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah will also be in contention.
The new captain will have to function in the environment Mashrafe leaves: one of good spirit and bonhomie among players because they win more, but also one of unease because the BCB president has influence over the team’s affairs.
It was reported that BCB president Nazmul Hassan gets involved with issues concerning the senior team, including selection, and that he even sits in on meetings. Over the last few months, he said several times that he wanted to see a particular player in or out of the team and claimed to have taken the decision to pick and drop players.
Hassan has said he speaks to players regularly and is known to be involved in micro-level decisions too. Mashrafe had informed Hassan of his decision to retire from T20Is and it will be of interest to hear why Hassan could not convince Mashrafe to stay on. There are – and have been – worse ways for a Bangladesh captain to leave the side so, in a weird way, Mashrafe can feel satisfied at retiring on his own terms.
Bangladesh are a markedly improved Test and ODI side but they have not developed similarly in T20Is. And now they will have to find a way to progress without their inspirational captain.