'Bangladesh is bigger than Mashrafe'
Most other players would have thought that speaking on their retirement once in the day was enough. It is a retirement after all, and regardless of whether the player likes the format he is calling time from, it is an emotional period during which he might want to have his own space.
But Mashrafe Bin Mortaza is not most players. He has made a career and a life out of facing challenges head on and never shying away from responsibility. He never much liked the T20 format which is reflected in his record, but he played it because that is what the team needed; for him to captain a growing team, and that was a responsibility he would not avoid.
Since he had announced the decision at the toss for the first T20I between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, he would have known that it was a very short announcement for a moment of this magnitude, the retirement of inarguably Bangladesh's most beloved cricketer.
That he is not like others could be seen as he hobbled from the post-match presentation across the grass of the R Premadasa International Stadium towards the media conference room on knees that underwent six operations. Mashrafe greeted the press men who flocked to him warmly and with a typical joke that belied the turmoil that must have been raging within.
“I took the decision at 2:00am this morning and let my family know at 2:00pm this afternoon,” Mashrafe said on his way to the press conference. But the pain seemed to be greater that the match was lost, as he bemoaned the middle-order batting collapse and Taskin Ahmed dropping Perera at a crucial time.
His first utterance further cemented his reputation as an ultimate team man, something which he has shown time and again in word and deed.
“The decision I took is because if you look at our fast bowlers like Rubel Hossain, he is not in the side. But he took seven wickets in the last two T20 matches. It hurts me to see that he is not playing.
“When you are playing for Bangladesh, whatever the format, and you decide to put away your jersey, it is always a difficult decision. But when I look back, I see Rubel is not in the T20 squad, but I believe he should have been in the first 11. Maybe if I wasn't captain he could have played today. As his performance is better than mine, I think he should play.”
If there was some anger behind the decision to exclude Rubel, it did not show and neither was it the time to pull at that thread. But there can be no doubting the genuineness of that sentiment; Mashrafe is and has always been a player's captain -- the pains he took to make Mahmudullah Riyad feel welcome after the batsman was dropped from the Test side and earlier, the emotion he displayed when Taskin was banned for a suspect action a year ago, bear witness to that fact.
For perhaps the most unselfish cricketer to don the Bangladesh jersey, it was time to let him have his say.
“Yes, it was a sudden decision. It involved a lot of discussions but let's not get into that now.I played five World Cups but I never enjoyed it [T20s]. Maybe because of my injuries; this format is quick and sharp so you don't get enough chances to warm up your body, especially my legs which hurt a lot. I kept going because cricket board was respecting me as a captain. I was trying really hard to build this team. It was a real pleasure to captain in T20s.”
He would not entertain questions on whether there was any pressure on him to retire from the powers that be. “Look, Bangladesh are playing good cricket; we are improving bit by bit in all formats. I think at this time let's not create controversies."
The good news for Bangladesh is that there will still be a Mashrafe in the red and green, albeit in one format only after the second T20I on Thursday.
“I am not thinking about [quitting ODIs] at this moment. I don't plan many things, but this was a tough decision. It was the same -- taking it today or two days later.”
When asked the inevitable question about whether losing yesterday was the start of a bad ending for him, Mashrafe said: “When I decided last night, I knew that people would say that my ending is good if I win, or my ending is bad if I lose. But I am still playing for Bangladesh, so if I win, Bangladesh wins. Bangladesh is bigger than Mashrafe.”