During team practice in Taunton on Saturday, Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was his usual cheerful self after coming to the Cooper Associates County Ground as part of the second lot of players in the morning. He was seen joking with teammates, media personnel and team officials near the dugout. There was nothing in his demeanour to reflect that the generally beloved player had recently become a target of criticism for not bowling well in the three World Cup matches so far, but Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal’s words indicated that Mashrafe’s teammates were not happy about the reactions from some quarters.
“Who are the people who are talking? That is very important,” Tamim said during a press conference when asked how the team saw the criticism, of which Tamim has also been a target. “I will not talk about myself; let me just talk about Mashrafe bhai. Those writing about this or talking about this, they should just think for two minutes before doing so who they are talking about and what he has done for Bangladesh cricket for the past 15-16 years.”
Bowling coach Courtney Walsh had also defended the captain on the previous day, saying that Mashrafe had some niggles as well. As far as figures go, Mashrafe has taken just one wicket in the three matches so far, but has also been the least expensive among pace bowlers, all of whom have conceded runs at more than seven an over.
“[They say] ‘he’s unfit’,” Tamim continued. “If he is unfit now, then he has been unfit for the last 10 years -- his knees were never okay, but then we saw it emotionally. Now, maybe we are looking at it as a big deal because things are not perfect. We are talking about a person, holding whose hand we have come here. I think it is very unfortunate because [considering] his contribution behind the Bangladesh team and bringing the team to this stage, to make comments like these is very unfair. I think he deserves much more respect than he is getting.”
One of the more straight-talking members of the team, Tamim seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to speak on the issue and did not need an invitation to take aim at some foreign commentators who had criticised Mashrafe.
“I don’t care what other people are saying. There are some foreign cricketers who said some things, I’ve heard. What have they done in their lives? That is the big question. What have they done that they can talk about a person like this,” Tamim said calmly. “To tell the truth, it is not important to me what people outside the country are saying -- everyone has their opinion and they can express it -- but people of the country should understand that when I am going to speak about Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, I have to remember what he has given to the country.
“You go through that circle, you play well and you don’t play well. It shouldn’t be that you will be with the player only when he is playing well; you should also be by his side when he is not. In a mega event like this not every player plays well. I don’t know all of what is being said or written, but I know a bit. I hope that people don’t talk much about this. We should remember what he has done for Bangladesh cricket before writing these things.”
He seemed to know enough and his words also seemed carefully chosen, almost as if this had been discussed within the team before. If so, it looks like they are ready to rally behind the leader who outwardly looked least bothered by the target on his back.