As Bangladesh's World Twenty20 campaign lurched from the heartbreak against India on Wednesday to the meek surrender against New Zealand at the Eden Gardens yesterday, there was one player who not only met expectations but exceeded them in the three matches he got to play. Mustafizur Rahman's arrival on the global stage took on the feel of the unveiling of a flagship product, and he has not disappointed in the slightest. He saved the best for last yesterday when he recorded the best bowling figures of this edition of the global event -- five for 22 -- even as his teammates imploded to a Bangladesh-record low score.
Such was the Mustafizur legend ahead of this tournament that it moved well-known sports journalist Barney Ronay of British newspaper The Guardian to write a gushing piece about the 20-year-old left-arm pacer from Satkhira in which he proclaimed Mustafizur to be his 'favourite international cricketer right now'. Apart from Ronay, he has received widespread praise from foreign correspondents who have witnessed his performances in the World T20 so far.
Perhaps the slightly jarring thing about the Mustafizur phenomenon so far is that it has all been expected. Ever since he burst onto the scene with a two-wicket haul against Pakistan in a T20I last year, Mustafizur has aced every challenge put in front of him. The Indians arrived, and he nearly single-handedly -- by dint of his nigh unreadable mix of cutters and slower balls -- delivered Bangladesh's first series win against their mighty foes. The South Africans came and went, and the story was much the same, except against the Proteas he extended his mystery to the Test format, picking up four for 37 on debut.
In sharp contrast to his teammates, Mustafizur has arguably been the find of the tournament so far. His five for 22 yesterday formed part of the nine wickets he took in three matches and among them are some of the best batsmen in the world. He outfoxed Australia captain and one of the most feared willow-wielders of modern times, Steven Smith, with a slower cutter that slipped through the legs of an over-balancing, clueless Smith. India's feared opener Rohit Sharma wanted to hit Mustafizur out of the ground but could only spoon a catch off a slower delivery.
Yesterday he made arguably the best batsman across all formats , New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, look like a novice as he beat him twice in succession before ending his misery with another cutter that bowled a shuffling Williamson round his legs.
“He is one of the most intelligent cricketers, although he hasn't played much cricket,” Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha said after the loss to New Zealand yesterday. “If you notice he has got some variations which other people don't have but he is using them very cleverly.
“He has bowled to [India captain Mahendra Singh] Dhoni some four-five times in the last six months, but still he managed to keep him down. He mixes up his yorkers, quicker balls and cutters. That's all credit to his cricket intelligence and skill.”
It is the inevitability of his strikes that makes him such an attractive prospect -- one particularly suited to T20 cricket where batsmen are compelled to attack. He cashed in to the hilt yesterday, when four of his victims were bowled, and three came in his last two overs when the batsmen were on the attack. New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor doffed his hat to the youngster after the match.
“You've got to give it to him, he bowled very well. He gave us a tough time inside the first six, got the key wicket of Kane Williamson, and then the way he bowled at the end, he's very disciplined,” Taylor said.
As a chastised national team comes home, they and their fans will know that in Mustafizur they have a rare talent who, perhaps for the first time in the country's cricket, is not just the toast of the fans at home but one that is being celebrated worldwide. There is some consolation in that.