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A conversation with Mashrafe Mortaza (2009)

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Hot on the heels of the Mohammad Ashraful interview by Utpal Shuvro, we now present his successor's interview also courtesy of Prathom Alo. This interview of new captain Mashrafe Mortaza was taken by Tariq Mahmud and first published in Bangla.

A conversation with Mashrafe Mortaza

Published: 12th July, 2009


Hot on the heels of the Mohammad Ashraful interview by Utpal Shuvro, we now present his successor's interview also courtesy of Prathom Alo. This interview of new captain Mashrafe Mortaza was taken by Tariq Mahmud and first published in Bangla.

From the days of playing neighborhood cricket, where the dressing rooms were the shadows cast by mango trees, he is today, the captain of the national team with the responsibility of leading Bangladesh cricket. In this interview taken by Tarek Mahmud of Prathom Alo, Mortaza talks about his becoming captain, his dreams and his aspirations.

Captains past and present

Mashrafe Mortaza

Tarek Mahmud (TM): You had given a statement immediately after assuming captaincy. You’ve now had some time to reflect on this.  I’m sure you have received many congratulations since. So, how are you feeling now?

Mashrafe Mortaza (MM): To me, of course, it’s a great feeling. To be honest, I never really had any dreams of being the Bangladesh captain. Just playing the game gives me much pleasure. My friend Razu rang me up the evening of the announcement. After the chat, it did start to feel good now that I am the captain of the national team.  Once upon a time, at Narail, our dressing room was beneath the shades of a mango tree. Right about when I started playing for the Narail cricket club. We would all go down to watch if a player from Dhaka came down to play a second division match. It's huge that someone from that situation is not only playing for the national team but is the captain. I believe this is a great achievement for Narail.

TM: As captain, do you have a few words for your teammates?

MM: I want to see each and every player working hard.  If they cannot do something that's one thing but it is dismaying to see if they don’t even try. I want everyone to try hard and work hard. My goal is to see that each player is very self-confident and puts in his best effort in all situations – even during the last ball of a losing match; or the last ball of a winning match. Say the team is in dire states and wickets are falling – we still must not lose our self-confidence. I will always want this attitude from the team.

TM: You said that you never had any dreams of being a captain.  What were your goals when you started playing cricket?

MM: Honestly, how well did I really know cricket when I was young? I used to hear that perhaps McGrath was the world’s best bowler. On ESPN, I would see that so and so was number three. I used to think then that it would be a great achievement if I could break into the top ten bowler’s list.

TM: You have tons of friends and you are like a leader to them. Then why did you have this lack of desire to being captain?  Is it not the fact that Mashrafe should naturally have this leadership capability?

MM: Frankly, I never mixed my personal life with my cricketing life.  But if that comes over, it will be a plus point for me. I have about 60-70 boys who listen to me. They listen not because I play for the national team; they listen because I’ve had a great rapport with them since we were young.  But that doesn’t mean that they now have to listen to everything I say. I want that the players understand. If they can’t, I am confident that I can make then understand. I am the national captain, not the captain of something else. What I want is for any player, whether a five-year old or a thirty-five year old, to be able to come to me and be able to speak openly and be able to say "I have a problem and I need help".

TM: How important is captaincy off the field?

MM:  Extremely important.  If a player does poorly, he becomes mentally weak. He will sulk and mope in his room all day.  It's very important to give him courage and mental strength.  Now, I may not be able to stay over at his house, but I can at least talk to him and help reduce his mental anguish. A captain can’t bring back a player’s self-confidence to full-strength, but a big part of the confidence can come from the captain.

TM: Ian Chappell recently said that Bangladesh is a spineless team. It really doesn't matter who their captain is.  What’s your response to that?

 MM: They are all big players. It is easy for them to make comments like these. If people can take this [Chappell’s comments] easily, fine…  We are really not performing well. But, still, it’s easy to talk. Did they never play poorly? When they don’t like someone, they will go ahead and judge. That’s because they are no longer playing. With all due respect to Chappell, all teams were like this at the beginning. Perhaps it is taking us a little bit longer.  We won’t just turn into a great team on the basis of his comments.  It's easy to say but it's hard to do.

TM: You have played under many different captains in the national team. You recently played under Brendon McCullum in the IPL. Who do you like best as captain?

MM: (Laughs) it’s a little bit difficult for me to answer this question. I bowl at a specific spot on the pitch and I have always been targeting this same spot. Consequently, I personally have no problems.   Yeah, I have had off times too.  But that’s all because of me.  One can’t ever say that this captain’s time has passed or that captain’s time has passed.

TM: Who is your favorite captain in international cricket?

MM:  Sourav Ganguly. But he had Sachin Tendulkar; he had Laxman, Dravid, and Harbhajan. Along with this experienced batch he also had some talented youngsters. And they performed. On top of this, Sourav is an aggressive and positive captain. In a way, Dhoni is a tad bit lucky but to be a good captain you have to ride your luck. In international cricket, I have to say that Vettori has to be the best captain.

TM: What skills must a good captain have?

MM: The best captain is the one who can manage his players well. One who can ensure that the players are happy with their captain. No player, big or small, must feel that the captain dislikes him. He must be friendly with the players so that they can open up to his captain. This is very important. The captain must also ensure that each and every player is physically and mentally fit. And most important of all, the captain himself must perform. If you don’t fix yourself you can’t fix anyone else. This holds true for one’s character too….

TM: We’ve heard a little bit about your “wild” side. In your personal life, you tend to be very boisterous – that’s what we’ve heard. I’m sure you have changed yourself a lot over time; and now you are captain. How have you managed the change?

MM: Actually, I don’t ever want to change this part of me. I like it just as it is. Everyone does say that I will have to change. I don’t believe it. These changes did not bring me success. I have noticed that every time I get more disciplined, I get injured. I don’t want to have to be super cautious. They scold me at home, “…Why are you still playing soccer?  Why do you do all these things when you return to Narail?” But, I know one thing for sure. If I don’t do all this I do, I will surely get injured on the field. But yes, there has been one change. When I first started going to the gym, I used to wonder why should I? I was young, didn’t know much. I now know the importance of going to the gym. Maybe it is too late now, but it is because of what I do (at the gym) that I can still play. My many injuries brought about this change. After 4 operations, I now know what the game is. I now know what I need to do to keep playing the game.

TM: But don’t you think other changes should occur? The team will be looking up to you, wanting to follow you…

MM:  I believe a captain must stay away from what is bad - those things that have a negative influence on your game. If you misbehave with someone, that someone will be hurt. As a human being, it’s not right and our cricketers too don't act like this. I will say this again, it’s not right to act in a hurtful way to other players and I hope I will refrain from it. Another thing – it’s also not right to be disparaging.  One should be constructive in criticism; to get something good, but there is no reason to put anyone down. If I have a tendency towards being disparaging, I will try my utmost to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

TM: Your current assignment is to lead the West Indies and Zimbabwe tours. But there have been much talk about the team and the captain ahead of this tour. There has been only limited time towards bringing the team together and bringing back the focus to cricket. The challenge seems enormous…

MM: I will sit down with everyone and try to settle the issues. I will try to motivate everyone. Given the attitude of our boys, I believe this won’t be too difficult. What may be difficult is to fix our performance. If we start fixing some of the smaller problems, we can start to expect better results.

TM: I assume you expect more support from your predecessor Mohammad Ashraful?

MM: Of course. I have said this in the past and I will say it again, Ashraful is a major force in Bangladesh cricket.  I don’t know how others feel about it, but If he is in the team we feel strengthened. Yes, every one is saying he is not scoring runs anymore. What would really happen if he did? Well if he scores, we win. Ashraful’s presence energizes the team. His role is very influential.

TM: The captain has to perform. But it can also happen that the pressure of captaincy can negtively affect your performance. How worried are you about this?

MM: Yes, even a captain can lose his form. But even if he loses his form, he must still have command of his players.  I have said this earlier, being a captain was not one of my dreams. If I begin to realize that the pressure is getting to me, that I can’t seem to keep command of the team or that I can’t perform then there is no reason to hold on to this. I will not do so. If I can’t command, I will surely stand down.

TM: What is your target for this first assignment?

MM: Of course, we all want to return victorious. However, given the current state of the team, it is extremely important for us to get our self-confidence back - all sorts of self confidence.  We have actually not been playing badly as a team. We played well during the Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka series just before the T20 World Cup. Even the World Cup tour started well. But the loss to Ireland – this one really got us down. If we can get back the team’s self-confidence, I am sure we will do well. By doing well I mean competing well. I am not saying that we will be winning a series overnight, but I do believe that if we play well, good results will surely follow.

TM: How about a few words for the fans. How confident are you of meeting the fans’ expectations?

MM: People don’t ride rickshaw out there (outside Bangladesh). They ride taxis. They come home in the comfort of a taxi and listen to the commentary over food. Our rickshawallas and vanwallas will slog all day just to earn 10 takas. They spend this hard-earned money on cricket. The young kids too have hopes and desires. Their dream – they will be great cricketers one day. But in the end, when we lose, they all are all agonized. 160 million Bangladeshis feel the pain. The players feel the pain too. We lost because of us. Everyone experiences the anguish. But we can’t blame anyone else. We have to do what we have to do.

Only we can play well, only we can win and only we can make the fans happy. This responsibility is ours. I think the players need to understand that whether we play a 5 over game or a 20 over game, all eyes are upon us. Cricket has come a long way in our country. We can still find a large number of fans in the gallery the day after a horrible outing. They might curse us, but they still do come out to watch.


About the author(s): Tariq Mahmud is a reporter for the Bangla daily Prathom Alo


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