Mashrafe Mortaza has been to enough World Cups now to weed out the unnecessary hype before the tournament. His Bangladesh team, which had been flying a little under the radar in the build up, sprung to life by winning the tri-nation ODI series in Ireland, also featuring West Indies. That means, there is genuine optimism in the ranks about the efficacy of processes set in stone post the run to the Champions Trophy semifinal in 2017.
The 35-year-old, however, is tempering his expectation, and remains hopeful of navigating a tricky league phase to make the semis. "There onwards, it is anybody’s game," he believes.
In an exclusive interview with Cricbuzz, Mortaza talks about his methods, his expectations of the World Cup and more...
Since the 2017 Champions Trophy you said backing a core group of players was the best way forward. Does this backing implicitly get more effort from the players?
The truth is that we don’t have better options. The ones who are here are currently the best available options. You can always debate about two or three players who are not in the team but still I feel we have gone into the World Cup with our best available options. We needed to back them and as they were performing and it is certainly pleasing as they have repaid our faith.
How do you rate Bangladesh’s chances in the World Cup?
The World Cup is a completely different challenge. There will be many high scoring matches in the World Cup. Every match will be played in a different intensity. Every team will try to get their best out of themselves. And the hype of the tournament is bigger as well. There are a lot more challenges waiting there (for us).
Do you think you’ve got a settled middle order for what you say will be high-scoring matches in the World Cup?
Yes, I think that it is completely okay. And even if it was not, I wouldn’t have the chance to say. Specially only 10-12 days before the World Cup. But I’m sure that there are no better options in the middle order. There might be 1-2 players among those who are left out. But there are no better options.
Even with Shakib Al Hasan not playing the tri-series final, there were not many changes to the middle order. Is there a conscious plan to bed certain players out of their regular slots: like Mushfiqur played at four Mithun at five and Mahmudullah at six?
That was the case and the middle order batsmen will also feel that way. Every player thinks of his situation, whether his position is strong or not. When the match position is strong, it is easier to perform, it is easier to deliver. I’m sure with Shakib not playing, a lot of things in the team change, but this didn’t happen this time. Though the bowling was a little weak. But still we didn’t shuffle the middle order. As their positions are settled, they will feel better.
In the past, if a fringe player did well, he would continue to be picked even when a regular player returns. But this time even with Abu Jayed Rahi, Liton Das doing well, they were dropped for the next game. Is this a message?
Hundred percent. This is a good feeling for the [returning] player. It is also a good feeling for the player who didn’t get selected even after scoring runs. He will remember, the next person to get the chance is me. Like Liton, Soumya [Sarkar] scored runs in the first two matches, we went back to him. If he (Soumya) wasn’t injured, he might have played the third match as well. But we had to test players. We had to give Liton a chance. God forbid, but someone can have problems 2-3 matches into the World Cup, then Liton will be needed to play. What has happened with him scoring is that, he knows, ’the next man is me’. Rahialso knows, ’the next man is me.’
Just like that, even when everyone was fit we went back to our process. We kept Rubel among the 13-men in the last match. We went back to Saifuddin. For me it is a regular process. This is what should happen. All other teams do that. We lacked in this area. We have been able to do this in this tournament. They performed and it has made easy for us, that is also true. But this message is important.
So you mean you’ll stick with a player even when he doesn’t perform if he is an integral part of the team planning?
Of course we have to stick with him. Because you had to set a plan for the World Cup, your eleven needs to be fixed. If you have reached the [tri-series] final, you should play those players in the final that might be in the lineup for the first match of the World Cup. Unless someone carries something [bad form, injury] consistently, he should have the chance.
Rubel Hossain’s non-inclusion in the eleven during the tri-series did raise a few eyebrows...
We cannot play four seamers. Saifuddin has bowled brilliantly in the death (overs). Saifuddin has been picked considering that, and also he can bat. The biggest reason is, he is brilliant at death bowling, even better than Mustafiz in the death overs. Specially in these conditions, this is a reason.
And the second reason is, there is no chance of comparison to Rubel. Rubel is a performer, and he is injured. Rubel is carrying an injury since the Dhaka Premier League (DPL).Those who don’t follow DPL, suddenly sitting to watch Bangladesh play and say, ’Rubel isn’t picked’. They don’t know the actual reason. They don’t know that Rubel has been carrying an injury for the past 15-20 days. A lot of people speak without knowing. Actually, you guys know that Rubel has been carrying a side strain for more than a month. And it is cold there (in Ireland), the risk of side strain is even more in cold conditions. You have to give him time to get used to it. And the physio is working with him knowing how he is feeling. You can’t play an injured player and then put him on the bench for the whole World Cup.
You’ve spoken earlier about Bangladesh needing to cross the mental barrier in finals. Do you feel the team has unlocked a new level post that series?
That [mental barrier] was about the final. We have played six finals and lost. We couldn’t turn around from that position. After winning it from a difficult situation this time, we have an advantage as the boys will not be puzzled in such situations in the finals.
Are increased expectations post the tri-series now an added burden?
Whether we have raised the expectations hardly matters any more. Even if we had lost in the tournament badly people would still be watching us with some kind of an expectation. At least that is what my experience says after playing cricket for 18 to 20 years. There was a time when people used to watch whether we can play well or some individual performs in the middle but that is not the case now. During the five to seven years people come and watch us with the expectation of us coming out victorious. So they will not change the expectations.
And what you’ve said, I’d lower the hype. I can say this, it will be a different ball game in the World Cup. If you watch the matches in English conditions, plenty of runs are being scored. The game will be different. The style will be different. It will be very difficult for us. Specially with the first three teams we got [South Africa, New Zealand and England]. The matches are with those who are used to playing in such conditions. I feel like it the matches were shuffled a bit, we would have had a slight advantage. Anyway, coming out from this fighting is a different kind of fun. If we can come out of this, the feeling will be very different. That’s why we are excited about it. And about people’s feelings, it doesn’t matter how much I talk, it won’t change.
It is being said that it will be more of a challenge for the bowlers at the World Cup...
I am a bowler too. And I can understand personally that it is going to be a big challenge for every bowler. Like in Ireland we set a standard that every bowler will not concede more than 50 runs. I think it will increase in England, like around 60. If every bowler can finish with an economy of six that means the opposition will score 300. And 300 will easily be chased here (in England). And it is possible by us. We have to set up our minds like this.
A lot of batsmen have lamented that because Bangladesh don’t score 300 too often, so the 300 would be tough to chase. After the victory in the final, can we say you’ve reached a position to chase down 330-340?
When in Rome, do as Romans do. We have to calculate like that. Just because we don’t, if we think we cannot, then we’ll not be able to do anything in the tournament. We could not and did not is one thing; and we have to is another. We have to be with that mind setup that, 300 or 330, 350 might be a far shot, that would be an outstanding performance. But we have to keep 300, 320-330 in our mind setup. We have to score them if we bat first, we have to score them if we chase.
There were question marks over your own performances before the tri-series. Some even because of political activities. Do these negative discussions encourage you to prove people wrong?
(Smiles) I actually don’t look for chances to prove people wrong. We are always negative. Think, we’ve won this tournament, some will say they have won it against a ’B team’ or ’C team’. We always like to undermine ourselves. It’s okay, it’s fine. To be honest, I don’t have any personal battles with anyone, nothing. I played for joy, I play for joy. I do what is my job. Nobody did my job for 18 years, nobody will do it now. And I don’t have to change myself mentally for people’s comments. My personal cricketing experience is tougher than that. After fighting those battles, these are nothing compared to them.