FIZZ the man of mystery
It will be fair to say that Bangladesh cricket has not seen the likes of Mustafizur Rahman in its short history. It will be a little more contentious to say that the world has not seen a bowler like him in recent times.
Contentious but by no means unreasonable, because it is not the Bangladeshi media alone that has been going Fizz-crazy. The amount of buzz the 20-year-old from a small village in Satkhira has created around the cricketing world belies the fact that he has been playing international cricket for slightly more than a year.
The Mustafizur fever should not make us forget that Bangladesh has been lucky enough in its 16-year history at the highest echelon of cricket to boast a cricketer of the calibre of Shakib Al Hasan, who has been at or near the top of the Test, ODI and T20I all-rounder charts for the last five years.
Shakib, and to a lesser extent Tamim Iqbal, has been upholding Bangladesh's name not only in international cricket but also in various T20 leagues around the world.
The most lucrative and popular league of all, the Indian Premier League, has been where Shakib has been plying his trade as a regular member of the Kolkata Knight Riders. So, Mustafizur playing in the IPL is nothing new for Bangladeshis.
But while with Shakib, the question before each Kolkata game often was whether he would be picked in a team where only four foreign players were allowed, with the Fizz there was the odd certainty even before this IPL season started that Sunrisers Hyderabad would pick him in every game from the start to the end, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Such was the impression he made in his debut year. His success -- he is now in fourth place in the wicket-takers' charts in the IPL with the best economy rate among bowlers who have bowled more than 10 overs -- was also foreseen with a degree of certainty simultaneously exhilarating and jarring for Bangladeshi cricket fans.
Enough of the what, now for the how. There is a reason why most of the cricketing world has been predicting greatness for Mustafizur. It is the nature of his bowling. Well-known sports writer Barney Ronay, for whom Mustafizur is 'undoubtedly my favourite international cricketer right now', offered his analysis of the Fizz factor in an article for UK newspaper The Guardian's blog in March.
“Mustafizur isn't quick. He doesn't swing the ball much or have a snorting bouncer. He is, on the face of it, a deeply everyday statistically freaky medium-pace tyro. He does, though, have his own superpower in the shape of a subtle and apparently devastating mystery variation.
“Blessed with a freakishly supple wrist that can snap through 90 degrees at the point of release, Mustafizur has found he can make the white ball jump and stop alarmingly without any change of action once the shine has scuffed and there's a bit of grip about. It is a homemade skill, a cutter he learned in the nets while also weaning himself out of hopping off the wrong foot. It works too. His highlights reel is already stuffed with batsmen spooning drive-length balls to cover before trudging off swinging their bat helplessly through the line of some imaginary half-volley.
Forget the customary Bangladeshi self-congratulation when a foreigner of note notices anything positive about the country. Instead imagine the effect a bowler, then less than a year old in cricket, would have had to have to make an English writer wax lyrical.
He had, after all, not even gone to England to show his wares, nor had he played much Test cricket, a format that the British greatly value when forming judgment on cricketers.
As welcome as Ronay's praise was, he was a little inaccurate when he said 'Mustafizur isn't quick'. This was before the IPL, in fact before the World Twenty20, where he registered edition-best figures of five for 22 against New Zealand.
But the man whose slower balls are yet to be fully figured out despite surely exhaustive video scrutiny has recently shown the ability to crank the pace up beyond the 140 kmph mark, which is by any standards 'quick'. This extreme change in pace – his slower balls range around 120-125kmph – makes him doubly dangerous.
But Ronay should be given early-bird plaudits; he noticed the Fizz before he made a splash on the global stage. Now that he has become the most talked about cricketer in the hallowed IPL, it is open season and dare it be said, no rookie cricketer in recent memory has attracted so much attention just for his exploits on the field.
Various Indian news outlets, as well as some Australian ones, have been singing his praises. If nothing else, this has temporarily put a stop to the 'Indian conspiracy' theories that abound in the more vicious and troll-filled sections of Bangladesh's social media.
He has become a commodity in high demand in the international cricket market. Sussex County Cricket Club followed Sunrisers in signing him up for the English counterpart of the IPL: the Natwest T20 Blast. They are now at pains to convince the world and their supporters that Mustafizur will indeed make the trip to England to turn up in their colours.
But there is more to Mustafizur than meets the eye. He seems to be a fiercely individualistic young man and one who is self-contained -- his Hyderabad captain, Australian firebrand David Warner, has had to learn bits of Bangla from Google Translate to communicate with his trump card, and not the other way around.
He also sets his own fields and, necessitated by the scant communication with his captain and team management, forms his own tactics and strategies -- a rarity among young bowlers these days.
Mustafizur is also, like most Bangladeshi boys, prone to bouts of homesickness when away for prolonged periods, so his Sussex stint is by no means a foregone conclusion, but Sussex were having none of it, with coach Mark Davis insisting that they are excited about having “probably the best bowler in the world at the moment” in their side this summer.
When news of his homesickness and possible fatigue at the end of a long IPL season were doing the rounds, Sussex captain Luke Wright responded by saying he can have some days off after the IPL, but that they do want him to turn up.
So who else is left? The Australian Big Bash League? Speculative articles already abound about which Big Bash side will vie for Mustafizur's services. According to an NDTV article, his Hyderabad coach Tom Moody is also a director of Melbourne Renegades, so the Fizz could be heading that way.
The article also says that his Hyderabad teammate Moises Henriques called him a 'little genius', and as Henriques is the skipper of Sydney Sixers Mustafizur could be Sydney-bound.
While no one is sure what he will do, he has certainly set international tongues wagging in a manner which is completely unfamiliar for any Bangladeshi cricketer before him, or for that matter most international cricketers today.
Last, but certainly not least -- there can be few better indicators that you have made it big than when a news agency does an in-depth feature story on you. That is what Agence France-Presse (AFP) did when they wrote an article titled “Baby-faced Bangladeshi assassin takes tournament by storm” about his IPL exploits.
It was an in-depth article that revealed, among other things, that his father went to the post-office in Tetulia to stop female fan mail from coming in because it was time that Mustafizur focus just on cricket.
There is a long way to go for Mustafizur to achieve anything close to lasting cricketing greatness, and he will doubtless have to prove his worth in the longer version by making \waves in Test cricket.
But like his father, his fans will hope that he keeps at it, and with his awesome talent, keen cricketing intellect and willingness to improve, that hope is not a foolish one.