Baby-faced Mustafiz takes tournament by storm

Published: 5 May 2016, 05:19 AM
Baby-faced Mustafiz takes tournament by storm

Pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman has been a revelation since he burst onto the international stage with Bangladesh just a year ago - and now he is taking the Indian Premier League (IPL) by storm.

The baby-faced heart-throb is adjusting to his jetset lifestyle as he flies from city to city in cricket’s glitziest tournament - a far cry from four years ago when he had to cling to the back of his brother’s rickety moped over 40 kilometres of potholed roads just to go to practise in the nearest nets.

‘My brother used to take me to (the nearest town) Satkhira every day and then bring me back home to our village. It was very difficult,’ recalls Mustafizur whose intrinsic shyness belies his nickname of ‘The Fizz’.

‘There were a few academies in Satkhira where I used to practise but otherwise I had to practise in the schoolyard all by myself.’

The 20-year-old has been Sunrisers Hyderabad’s standout bowler in this year’s IPL with his eight scalps coming at an average of 21.25, including big wickets of AB de Villiers, Shane Watson and Virat Kohli.

The left-arm paceman also had the best strike rate at the recent World Twenty20, while his five for 22 against New Zealand was the best single performance by any bowler in the competition.

An unknown 12 months ago, Mustafizur is now one of cricket’s hottest properties after a stunning start to his international career which has earned him big-money contracts in the IPL and in England.

According to figures compiled by Cricinfo, Mustafizur has the best average of any bowler in Twenty20 cricket in the past 12 months and his economy rate is second only to the West Indian Sunil Narine.

Mustafizur, whose trademark delivery is a fizzing off-cutter, first caught the eye of Indian observers last June when he took five for 50 in his one-day international debut as Bangladesh thrashed their giant neighbours in Dhaka.

Bangladeshi players have been routinely patronised by Indian fans but Mustafizur has already earned their respect.

‘Stand tall’
Speaking to AFP, Mustafizur said he was proud to get the chance to fly the flag for Bangladesh whether in the IPL or on the international scene.

‘I always wish for my country to stand tall, not only in cricket but any sport,’ he said in a phone interview.

He also swells with pride when he thinks of the joy he has brought to his home village of Tetulia, a sleepy backwater in southwestern Bangladesh where the main source of employment is shrimp farming.

‘It feels very good. People, my friends come up to me and say: ‘We’re going to watch you play today’ or ‘Oh, we saw you play!’ - it feels really great to hear such things,’ he said.

When the Sunrisers matches are broadcast in the evenings, villagers cluster around projector screens hired out by Mustafizur’s brother Mokhlesur.

‘He was a decent bowler from when he was about 12 but we never thought he was going to be quite this good,’ said Mokhlesur as he recalled the days of ferrying his young brother on the back of his bike.
Fan mail deluge

Their 70-year-old father, Mohammad Abul Kashem, said that cricket fans had made pilgrimages to the village while there has been a deluge of fan mail, including from female admirers who want his mobile number.

‘I’ve been to the post office and told them not to not to deliver these letters to our home,’ said Kashem. ‘He is still too young and needs to concentrate on improving his game.’

Kashem is now the proud owner of a glistening new car that his son personally delivered on a trip back to Tetulia early last month.

‘He is such a nice young man,’ said Kashem, before settling down to watch the Sunrisers weekend victory over the Royal Challengers Bangalore when his son took the prize wicket of Indian Test skipper Virat Kohli.

Mustafizur’s emergence has raised hopes in Bangladesh that a team which has made major strides in ODI cricket in the last three years could finally win a Test series against one of the game’s more established powers.

In his Test debut against South Africa in Chittagong last July, Mustafizur took four for 37 as the hosts had the better of a rain-affected draw.

Mustafizur, who will head to England after the IPL to play for Sussex, said he enjoys playing Tests but prefers the shorter formats.

‘I enjoy playing all kinds of cricket but the ones that wrap up in a day like T20s and ODIs - those are the ones I like the most.’