At 250 wickets, Mashrafe already greater than the stats | The Daily Star
02:44 PM, September 26, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:46 PM, September 26, 2018

At 250 wickets, Mashrafe already greater than the stats

Bangladesh ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza became the first bowler from the country to take 250 ODI wickets when he bowled Hashmatullah Shahidi in the dying stages of Sunday's Asia Cup match against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi.

Fittingly, his monumental achievement became secondary to what eventually was a desperately needed win for Bangladesh. Over the last four years during which he has missed just two ODIs for his country as a punishment for slow over rates – none through injury, a remarkable achievement for one who has undergone seven knee operations – his career has been the exemplar for putting country before self.

He has rarely made headlines as a bowler since taking over the captaincy from Mushfiqur Rahim in November 2014. He has moulded his bowling style to serve his team the best he could, sacrificing the pace he once had for accuracy and subtle variations that have bested the world's best batsmen. He has taken 76 wickets in 55 ODIs in that period, remaining wicketless in just 11 of those matches.

But those are secondary stats as some of his contributions cannot be reflected in numbers. In the 2015 World Cup and beyond he was instrumental in blooding and backing a new generation of pacers – some of them, like Taskin Ahmed, have faded away and some, like Mustafizur Rahman, have become indispensable members of the new Bangladesh.

When taking over the captaincy in November 2014, he was tasked with rescuing a team that had not won a single match against top 10 opposition in the whole year, and within eight months Mashrafe had led them to a World Cup quarterfinal and home ODI series victories over Pakistan, India and South Africa. Those are not stats that will show up on his personal profile.

"To tell you the truth, those feelings died a long time ago," Bangladesh's most successful captain and ODI bowler said on Tuesday when asked whether he thought that he would make it to 250 while undergoing any one of those seven knee operations. "Of course it feels good to make it to this mark but I don't have those feelings anymore."

It was hard to tell if there was sadness or regret when he said that. But it was also hard to believe that a man who held such high ambitions for his team did not harbour the same for himself. He once openly cried in front of the media after he was not picked for the 2011 World Cup jointly hosted by Bangladesh because of injury.

"I stopped thinking about that when I started getting injured," said Mashrafe with a faraway look. "I had many ambitions at first, mostly surrounding my Test career."

He played the last of his 36 Tests in 2009 in the West Indies when, just having gotten the captaincy, he collapsed with another injury during the first Test, never to bowl with the red ball in an international match again.

Now, it is not as much about him as it is what he can do for the country and that contribution is not limited to being a bowler – his captaincy on the field and off it matter much more. Examples abound. He went to the West Indies in July after Bangladesh suffered a humiliating Test series defeat and immediately turned the tour around by inspiring his team to a 2-1 series win in the ODIs. In the first match, he took four wickets to speed West Indies' demise.

In the Asia Cup opener against Sri Lanka on September 15, he inspired opener Tamim Iqbal to go out to bat at number 11 with a fractured left hand. "At first I thought he was joking, but the way he kept talking about it with me really pumped me up," Tamim said the next day. He played out one ball one-handed, allowing Mushfiqur to plunder 32 runs from the next 15 balls and thoroughly demoralise the opposition. After the match, Tamim was feted as a hero as he should have been. Mashrafe insisted that it was Tamim's decision, but only later did it emerge that Mashrafe was the driving force.

He has thus been operating away from the spotlight all along – taking the two wickets in an opening spell to open up the opposition middle order to early danger, then tightening things up in the death overs with his mixture of slower cutters.

At the end of the day a bowling analysis of 10 overs, 40 runs and two wickets will not make headlines. Becoming only the 25th bowler to take 250 ODI wickets should make headlines but the fact that his 250th was in service to a win was of course more important. The bigger stories were Mustafizur's sensational last over, and Imrul Kayes and Mahmudullah Riyad's match-turning 128-run sixth-wicket stand.

When this epic cricketer waves goodbye to his beloved team and service for country, however, the biggest story will be that he is a player who found the reserves of will and commitment to overcome crushing personal disappointments and, without a trace of bitterness, focused his considerable talent and personality on bettering his team's collective fortunes.

That, too, will not be in the record books.

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