TO RISE from THE ASHES
All good things in this world must come to an end, especially if they're not that good anymore. And what better way to start the spring cleaning than with Mohammad Ashraful? Fully understanding the risk of a gonodholai, I would say that the Tigers' former hero no longer deserves a place in the upcoming World Cup.
Yes, there are the usual arguments for keeping him in the team- 'giving him another chance', and of course, the 'he is such a great talent' argument. While his ability goes without asking, how he manages to not use it is another matter altogether. This World Cup means something special to us, and the risk of Ashraful messing it up just cannot be part of the plan.
After ten years of experience, and even a stint at captainship, Ash has pitifully little to show. While we haven't forgotten his match-winning performances, we remember his match-losing ones all the more; because, simply, there have been too many of them. He was given enough time, enough encouragement and enough patience. But he hasn't given us enough runs. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters out there.
At 25, Ashraful is still young. But as a player, he goes beyond his age. Especially when you consider that he made his international debut at the age of 16, you'd expect a lot more from him than he delivers right now. But with an ODI average of 22.9 after 162 matches, there's still a lot left to ask for. He has no dearth of experience to complain of. Playing and captaining domestic sides, English county cricket, and even being picked for the IPL. Sadly, all that exposure hasn't translated into a more mature Ashraful for us.
He has played under different coaches including the brilliant tactician Dav Whatmore. He has been shuffled up and down along the batting lineup. Most of all, he has talent. But his performances have left the entire team, if not the country, scratching its head about what to do to make him click. It seems all the more unfair when he fails to contribute in the sure-to-win matches where the bowlers have already done the job.
His selection for something as important as the World Cup comes as controversial at best and madness at worst.
What guarantee is there that he will not disappoint again? He has pointed to his recent performances in the Dhaka League, but games against top-level opponents are a totally different story. Too many of his better performance have come against weaker opponents, including his best ODI figure of 109 versus UAE in June 2008. Fighting for Ashraful, critics will draw attention to his experience. But experience at the cost of consistency is possibly the worst thing to have in the team right now.
Believe it or not, the team can do without him. Jamie Siddons has been trying to help him by developing the others and keeping the pressure off his shoulders. And it has worked for the rest of the team. The Tigers have won several matches where Ashraful has backfired. They have even won the entire series against New Zealand without him. The pressure has eased, but Ashraful still hasn't stepped up. In that case, there's nothing to do but to leave him out.
To be fair to the guy, the team had been over-dependant on him for a long time, especially during his formative years. His time as captain also affected his performance as a batsman. He has a few talents besides batting which make him more useful than some. And of course, he has a huge fan following. But he has to realise that with the likes of Shakib, Tamim and Mushfiq, he is no longer an automatic choice. He has to fight for his place in the team, and above all, in our hearts. Till then, he is best left cheering from the bleachers.
Dreamer-less Dream Team
By Padya Paramita
Every follower of Bangladesh cricket knows how our bowling begins. Opponent batsman takes stance, and a certain number 2 runs in to begin the innings. Usually, while our man is in form, he dismisses the batsman in the very first over, brings us hope and dares us to dream. Bangladeshis everywhere scream his name.
This February, when the World Cup arrives in Bangladesh, we will see the team, but we will not see the man in the number 2 shirt. Mashrafe Mortaza shall be sorely missed.
Ever since mid 2009, Lady Luck has been strongly against Mashrafe. He went to West Indies as captain of a reformed Bangladeshi side, ready for redemption after the arguably misled reign of Mohammad Ashraful. On the third day of the first test, Mashrafe injured his knee, causing him to miss the rest of the victorious series. Even after undergoing operation, the injury persisted and he missed out playing against Zimbabwe in October. Ever since, he has missed the flight to New Zealand due to fever in February 2010 and had to miss four out of five games of the home series versus the same opponents due to an ankle injury in the very first game.
Fans of the Narail Express saw hope when he came back to form during the home series against Zimbabwe in November, taking three wickets at an average of 32.66, that sent positive messages of recovery. People began to dream of the perfect World Cup team once more.
In December, the world crashed around the fans building castles in the sky. Mashrafe had torn a knee ligament while batting for Abahani. Smiles faded, worried expressions took over. People who had dubbed Mashrafe a "hypochondriac" began to pray for his speedy recovery.
January 19th was the last day for submitting the final 15-man squad for the World Cup. After being named in the preliminary squad, people were relieved, and somewhat sure that Mashrafe would be in the final squad. However the selectors did not take the risk. They dropped Mashrafe.
With a month left to the World Cup, almost everyone has questioned the selectors' decision. Mashrafe's home Narail has broken into strikes and Bangladeshi blogs are flooded by protests. The man himself broke into tears upon being asked his feelings, calling the 19th of January "the most painful day" of his life.
Not many of us would have imagined a World Cup squad without Mashrafe.
Australia has risked the injured Mike Hussey. Why? He brings experience. In fact, if he was fit, Mashrafe would probably have been captain and the ideal leader. He brings aggression and pace to the game and usually provides the Tigers with the ideal bowling start.
Mashrafe himself has not given up. He has flown to Sri Lanka to visit an expert physio who can help him regain fitness
Even as a batsman, Mashrafe is the ideal tail-ender. In times of crisis, he can hit sixes all over the place and has rescued the team from deplorable plights multiple times.
Everyone, including Mashrafe himself was sure of him regaining fitness. We will now see the young Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain taking charge of pace and Bangladesh will probably have to remain dependent on spin. Shakib Al Hasan will lack the experience of Mashrafe for advice and people can hope and pray some miracle causes Mashrafe to be a replacement during the tournament.
The team isn't, wasn't and never will be the complete dream team without Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. We can't dream without Mashrafe. Who is to take the wickets when a low target is set once Ashraful fails to shine? Bangladesh needs Mashrafe. And Mashrafe needs Bangladesh.