In many ways, Mashrafe Mortaza’s cricket career has been a series of false dawns, glimpses of hope-filled brightness, disappearing quickly into disappointing depths of darkness. Yes, his Test career did proceed along those sombre lines.

Yet there is one particular dawn that he has helped orchestrate that promises to continue into the long-awaited domains of continuous daylight.

When he emerged as a young tearaway, Mashrafe embodied the spirit of the youthful cricketing nation. He was a proverbial oxymoron, a Bangladeshi speedster, someone who bowled genuinely fast even when mapped to the demanding international standards. Andy Roberts sung his praises, and he sped along his run up to dismiss four men on Test debut. Those included the rather weighty names of Grant Flower, Stuart Carlisle and Heath Streak.

It was also the first drawn Test in the history of Bangladesh cricket, after five consecutive defeats — although that had more to do with the benevolent weather gods than any cricketing feat.

But, the fancies of the Bangladesh cricket fans had been fired. A real fast bowler had emerged from a country known for heat, humidity, and slow pitches. And when in the mood, Mashrafe could throw his bat around as well, often with telling effect. Finally, he was just 18. A magnificent career seemed to lie in front, paved with the frenzied cricketing dreams.

However, Mashrafe did more than embodying the spirit of the nation. He embodied the structure as well. The lad from the small village of Narail by the river Chitra underlined what Bangladesh cricket was all about during its formative years.

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There were loads of potential, based on fundamentals that were faulty and flawed. His action was all over the place, the feet landing in a manner that made well-wishers wince, the arm came over wide and awkward, putting the body through unnecessary stress. At 18, he had already a back injury in his cv as he made his Test debut. The curious action was always more prone to notching up medical records rather than cricketing ones. When a month and a half down the line, in Hamilton, captain Khaled Mashud kept him bowling for 27 overs in a single day’s play, the wickets of Lou Vincent, Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan were achieved in exchange of a severely injured ankle and a damaged back.

This kick-started a series of breaks, and what could have been a superb cricket career was interrupted by frequent phases of rehabilitation.  The 8 years that his Test career lasted saw Bangladesh play 55 Tests. Mashrafe missed 19 of them, more than a third. His 78 wickets came at 41.52, and he never took a fiver.

Sadly, a talented fast bowler, who seemed tailor-made to spearhead a new future for Bangladesh in Test cricket, never really became the player he always promised to be. Perhaps his final Test match was symbolic of his career. Made captain of the side in West Indies, Mashrafe entered the fray with the side in one of its perennial struggles, tottering at 149 for 7. He belted two fours and two sixes while top scoring with 39 from No 9, helping them to recover to 238. And then, running in to bowl the fourth ball of his seventh over, he fell over and his knee gave away.

His side went on to win the Test, but it was with Shakib Al Hasan deputising as captain. If we look superficially at the record books, Mashrafe stands as the only Bangladesh captain to have a positive win-loss record in Test cricket. He won the only Test he ever led. But that was the saddest one, as it ended his Test career for ever.

A tale of unprecedented success

The shorter formats have been a different tale, though. He has not blazed through the stadiums around the world, but there have been enough performances to stamp his quality.

Be it the 31 not out and 2 for 36 at Dhaka to give Bangladesh their first ever win against India, or the 4 for 38 to ruin the World Cup dreams of Rahul Dravid’s side in West Indies, 2007, or the recent 29-ball unbeaten 44 followed by 4 for 29 in the victory over England in Mirpur, there have been plenty of sound performances. His 225 wickets in ODIs have come at a far more respectable 30.21.

What is perhaps far more important from the point of view of Bangladesh cricket is the way he has shepherded the side in the shorter formats during the critical transition from a perennial minnow to a force to reckon with.

If we turn to the record books, we come across some very revealing statistics.

In ODIs, Mashrafe is the only Bangladesh captain to have a positive win-loss ratio. Shakib Al Hasan comes the closest, with 23 wins to 26 defeats in 49 matches, 0.88 being the success rate. The rest of them are way behind. In contrast, Mashrafe towers over the others with 24 wins and 15 defeats in 40 matches, resulting in a win-loss ratio of 1.60. That is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh and impressive for any captain of any country in modern cricket.

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One may argue that the stats are helped by the matches that Bangladesh have played against the non-Test playing nations. However, if we consider just the 8 Test-playing opponents, Mashrafe still ends up with 19 wins and 12 losses in 32 matches with a net win-loss ratio of a remarkable 1.583. Once again, he is the only one with a positive rate, the closest once again being Shakib with 0.8.

Bangladesh captains in ODIs against Test-playing nations

Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR W/L
Mashrafe Mortaza


19 12 0 1


Shakib Al Hasan


21 26 0 0


Habibul Bashar


19 39 0 0


Mushfiqur Rahim


11 23 0 2


Mohammad Ashraful


4 30 0 0


Aminul Islam

13 1 12 0 0


Khaled Mashud


1 22 0 2


Minhajul Abedin


0 2 0 0


Rajin Saleh


0 2 0 0


Naimur Rahman


0 4 0 0


Gazi Ashraf


0 7 0 0


Akram Khan


0 11 0 0


Khaled Mahmud


0 15 0 0



If we look at the T20I statistics, we have a slightly different picture. Bangladesh has not been that successful in the shortest format of the game. Even then, the difference between Mashrafe’s captaincy record and that of the others is indeed striking.

Bangladesh captains in T20Is against Test-playing nations

Captain Mat Won Lost Tied NR W/L
Shahriar Nafees


1 0 0 0

Mashrafe Mortaza


7 17 0 0


Mushfiqur Rahim


2 11 0 1


Mohammad Ashraful


1 8 0 0


Shakib Al Hasan

4 0 4 0 0



Of course, one can argue, and with considerable relevance, that the credit for the improvement is not his alone. Bangladesh cricket has improved by leaps and bounds in the last couple of seasons, as is relevant also from the results in Test cricket, a format that Mashrafe has not been involved in.

Plenty of thought, strategy, and subsequent implementation have gone into the turnaround of the cricketing fortunes. Chandika Hathurusingha and Heath Streak, in their respective roles of the chief coach and the bowling coach, have played their roles with plenty of foresight and acumen. The selectors and team management have been astute in their selections and support of the right players. A strong core team has been built up, revolving around the genuine greatness of Shakib, aided by plenty of seasoned campaigners and the infusion of raw talent.

However, it is always difficult to gauge how much role a captain has played in the success of a cricket team. It raises the perennial question, is it the team or the hand at the helm?

Would Mike Brearley have been remotely as successful had it not been for the Packer Circus and the brilliance of Ian Botham? After all, we know that when his side played the full-strength Australia in Australia the result was a disappointing 0-2 defeat in a 3-Test series.

What if VVS Laxman or Rahul Dravid had received an unplayable ball on the morning of the fourth day of the landmark Eden Test of 2001? What if Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble had not enjoyed sustained brilliance during that period? Would Sourav Ganguly have still ended up as a pivotal captain? After all, when Tendulkar was plagued with tennis elbow India did lose the series at home against Australia.

No, such questions are way too difficult to settle without going into a degree of sophistication of analysis that makes it way too rigorous for the general fan.

What we do observe is that Mashrafe has been genuinely successful as a captain in ODIs, and far more than any other Bangladesh skipper in both the shorter formats of the game.

It was surely the overall process of improvement of Bangladesh cricket, but the fast bowling captain did play an important role in that very process and carried it out with plenty of success. He deserves every accolade for that. And at the same time, the entire team along with the selectors, coaches and supports stuff need to share the applause as well.

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It is perhaps the right time for Mashrafe to step aside from the T20I scene. At least the man himself thinks so. At 33 and with a history of injuries behind him, it is probably wise to bid adieu to a format which, self-confessedly, never quite appealed to him.


One hopes that this will enable him to focus on the ODIs and extend the successful run that the side has thus far enjoyed under him.

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