“I think that goes without saying… the whole of Bangladesh and the rest of the cricket world knows that not having a batsman like Mushfiqur [Rahim] Bhai in your team is a big thing, and everyone will miss [him]. It is a big loss for a captain, and there is no question about whether he will play or not against Zimbabwe. As the match is in Bangladesh, of course he will play.”
Those were the words of Bangladesh Test captain Mominul Haque yesterday, when out of the blue the place of arguably Bangladesh’s best batsman over the last two years had been called into question.
Because of security fears and his family’s concern about conditions in Pakistan, Mushfiqur had withdrawn from the three-stage tour of the country on January 17. After much uncertainty and diplomatic back-and-forth, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) agreed on January 14 to tour the country in three phases. The Tigers departed for Pakistan on January 22.
Questions had arisen about Mushfiqur after chief selector Minhajul Abedin said that the squad picked for the first Test against Pakistan would also play the one-off home Test against Zimbabwe from February 22 and the second Test against Pakistan from April 5. Mushfiqur is the only player not part of the squad for the Pakistan Tests who would slot in for the home Test against Zimbabwe. Head coach Russell Domingo also seemed to be leaning towards Mushfiqur not playing the Test in between.
“I am under the impression that this is the squad for this one Test match. We will re-evaluate once we get back. You have to remember that Mushfiqur got runs in the last Test, but we also need to consider the fact that it is hard to pick a batting line-up, change it for one Test, and then change it again for the third Test. I want to give guys a run, but we also need to consider that Mushfiq was our best player in India,” Domingo said in a press conference today.
Continuity has been a buzz word for Domingo, but Bangladesh making changes to their Test lineup from one match to the next is not new. Moreover, after a tough assignment in the first Test in Rawalpindi, one would think that the Tigers would want their best on the field for a home Test they are expected to win and then go into the second Test in Pakistan with a confidence boost.
If it does not make sense, BCB President Nazmul Hassan’s words in this regard may shed some light, however murky. Before the tour was confirmed, Hassan had said that it will be up to individual players to decide whether or not to go. After the first phase where Bangladesh were thrashed in the two completed T20Is, Hassan seemed to be a little indignant about Mushfiqur’s choice.
“When Tamim came back, we had to change the opening pair [Imrul Kayes and Shadman Islam] that we used in previous series [in India]. Now Mushfiqur didn’t go [to Pakistan]. So, we have a problem with number four. If we had known some things from before, we could plan forward,” Hassan said on January 29.
There is a ring of disingenuity when Hassan talks about knowing things from before when the uncertainty about the tour, never mind the length or nature, prevailed till the BCB decided to go ahead around eight days before the team’s eventual departure.
“If you tell me to take a rest from any Bangladesh series, it is like a sin for me,” Mushfiqur had said on January 17. “As my family did not give me permission to go there, I can’t go against that.”
It was learned that Hassan, who has publicly said that he ‘cannot abide losing’, was annoyed by Mushfiqur’s absence. There are also rumours that not picking him for the Zimbabwe Test would be a form of punishment.
If indeed true, it raises serious questions about the board’s relationship with players and also suggests that players should not take the president’s words seriously. As Mushfiqur -- possibly the hardest-working cricketer in Bangladesh -- said, not touring felt like a sin. Whether or not Mushfiqur plays against Zimbabwe will reveal much about the priorities of the board -- for which players’ safety and security should be paramount – as it will actually prove whether it thinks that it is a sin for a player to choose security over cricket.