Bangladesh ODI captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was asked whether he was happy with the squad he was given for the Asia Cup starting in UAE in September, with the undertone of the question perhaps being the absence of ODI regular Sabbir Rahman who was banned for six months due to disciplinary issues.
"There is no sense in creating a controversy ahead of a tournament," the captain said in the pre-tournament press briefing at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium yesterday.
That may have been wishful thinking on part of the captain, because it was not the disciplinary nightmare that is Sabbir who has created ripples but Test and T20I captain Shakib Al Hasan when he controversially said in an interview with The Daily Star on Tuesday that he was unhappy with his fitness ahead of the Asia Cup.
"When Shakib played in West Indies, if you see his overall performance it was very useful to the team winning. I think if he is on that level of fitness it is more than enough," Mashrafe said. "Obviously the decision is Shakib's; no one else had a hand in it. Once he makes his decision, there is no scope for excuses. So when he plays, he has to make sure he gives his 100 per cent."
These words from Mashrafe, who keeps things as close to his chest as anyone in press conferences, indicated that he was none too happy with Shakib saying he was 20-30 per cent fit after giving the okay to be included in the squad. Shakib had sustained an injury to his left little finger during a match against Sri Lanka in January, and it had apparently not healed fully -- to the extent that he had to be administered injections throughout the West Indies tour.
He said after returning from the Caribbean in August that he will have to undergo surgery, but Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) president Nazmul Hassan expressed a desire that he postpone the operation till after the Asia Cup. It seemed that his inclusion in the squad that was announced on August 30 meant that he had agreed to play. The BCB chief physician Debashish Chowdhury had also said on Wednesday that Shakib will decide on whether to play after consulting a doctor in New York, where the all-rounder is currently vacationing.
However, Mashrafe's use of 'when he plays' instead of 'if' suggests that the rest of the team feel that Shakib is in a state to play and the recent controversy is a needless one. New coach Steve Rhodes's take on the issue added to that impression.
"I don't believe he is 20-30 per cent fit -- I think he is a lot fitter than that," the coach said when asked of Shakib's assessment of his own fitness. "That sort of statement has hit the headline. He is in no real different state to the one he was in West Indies where he played fantastic cricket with bat, ball and in the field.
“Everybody knows that he does need the operation. He has made that decision after speaking to the [BCB] president. Asia Cup is very important to Bangladesh. If he plays anything like he played in the Caribbean, then that will be a massive asset. Even if Shakib was 60-70 per cent fit, you'd get a lot of cricket out of Shakib Al Hasan."
Rhodes did not think that Shakib being in New York while the rest of the squad are training in Mirpur is a big issue.
"The time-off with family -- I think it is important that everybody does realise that Shakib plays a lot of cricket. In making sure he is playing at his best and freshest, we can give him opportunities to be with his family. It will make him a better player. He has done all the practice when he was younger -- it is not too necessary that he practises all the time."