Sports desk: History will remember Mushfiqur Rahim as one of the architects of Bangladesh cricket’s rise in the international game, and a player who provided a solid example for future generations of Bangladeshi cricketers to prepare themselves for the international stage.
In the last five years, how have you managed to average 50 in Tests abroad?
I don’t think anyone intends to score more runs only at home or only on foreign soil. I want to contribute in every series to the most of my ability. But it is true that I have taken it as a challenge to score abroad. There’s a perception that Bangladeshi players only do well at home. I have tried to improve this in my game, anticipate the difficulty of the conditions and bowling attacks.
Tamim [Iqbal], Shakib [Al Hasan], Riyad [Mahmudullah] and myself have often discussed that as a batting group, we should take the lead. I didn’t do well in the West Indies Tests, but in the next opportunity, I hope I do better. In New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka, I have tried hard to play to my ability.
Which among your three recent hundreds – in Kingstown in 2014, and Wellington and Hyderabad in 2017 – abroad is your favourite?
The Wellington hundred was quite special. I was out with an injury after the first ODI and neither the team nor I had a great record in New Zealand. By Allah’s grace, I played a good innings. Tamim and Mominul should get a lot of the credit because of how they tackled the new ball and got us past the difficult part in those conditions. It became slightly easier for Shakib and I for the rest of the innings.
The Hyderabad century is not too far behind. India is one of the best sides in the world, and they have a superb bowling attack. It was a dream to score a hundred against them, and I was leading in Bangladesh’s first Test on Indian soil. These two, for me, are very special hundreds.
There was a big jump in your performance in ODIs in 2014 and 2015, compared to the first seven-odd years of your international career. How did you bring about that shift in your run-scoring and strike rate?
These days even 300 is not safe, particularly on a good wicket. I have realised that under the existing fielding restrictions, it is not impossible to bring more shots into your game. From the 11th to the 40th over, against spin or pace, you have mid-on and mid-off inside the circle. There are boundary options against offspinners and left-arm spinners.
I have tried to improve my shots during this period. If you maintain a healthy strike rate, you can score fluently and the bowler is under pressure. The team also benefits if you have a 100-plus strike rate. Other batsmen, who take a bit of time to get settled, get that extra time and can cash in later on.
I have tried to develop this aspect [of my game]. It took me a long time to hone. I needed to know my game, particularly in knowing where I can be attacking.
I should give some credit to Chandika Hathurusingha, our last coach. I spoke to him freely about this and he backed me. He said that I should play this way with confidence. There used to be a time when I held myself back after we lost early wickets. I would play slowly and then cash in later. But he told me not to think about the scoreboard and back my ability if I thought the wicket was good for strokeplay.
I was able to do it in the 2015 World Cup, by Allah’s grace. It gave me a lot of confidence playing in such a big tournament against such bowling attacks. Even matches against Afghanistan and Scotland weren’t easy.
You made a really quick 30 that completely changed the game against West Indies in the first ODI in July this year. Against Sri Lanka last year, you batted out the last hour to ensure Bangladesh’s first Test win there. These are two vastly different situations but you responded perfectly. How much does batting differently under pressure depend on mentality and skills?
It is a combination of both. As a strokeplayer you have to shift according to the situation. It is a mental strength. You itch to play down the wicket, or play a shot against the spin, but you have to curb yourself. It is also a matter of practice. It has a lot to do with batting and mental skills.
Fitness also helps me in these situations. If you can finish a lap in 50 seconds instead of 60, that extra motivation in my fitness level translates into similar confidence in the skills part. I always try to prepare well ahead of time, and imagine what I may be facing.
Which is harder – playing a quick-fire innings or holding off big shots for a considerable period?
Both are difficult situations, especially for Bangladeshi cricketers. We don’t face these things frequently. Indian players are equipped to win from these situations at least nine out of ten times. We might face these moments once in six months, or even up to a year. It becomes tricky, as a result. When you get over these situations, you get confidence in your ability.
What is the source of your motivation to train at the same level, having now played for Bangladesh for 12 years?
I don’t think I have still maximised my ability to provide for Bangladesh. It is the only motivation. It is a luxury to represent your country for 12-13 years. At the end of my career, I want to feel that I have been able to justify the opportunity given to me. This is what keeps me eager. I set small goals, series by series. I try heart and soul. I have tried to maintain my fitness.
How important is pride for you, playing for Bangladesh?
It should be the first and final word to represent a country. We make a lot of sacrifices by staying away from our families for months. There’s no greater pride than doing something for your country. When you know that 18-20 crore [180-200 million] people pray for you – a rickshaw-puller may have given up on his day’s earning just watching our match; so it drives me. You don’t need any more motivation. There’s no bigger privilege. A lot of talented cricketers started off with me but Allah gave me the opportunity [to keep going].
Your captaincy ended last year. What were the best and worst moments?
I am the sort of person who likes to stay in the background and do my job properly. Doing it well is the most important part. Any player goes through ups and downs, and my captaincy had those too. Last year’s South Africa tour was hard for me as a player and captain. We didn’t do well as a team. We should have done better.
But there were good days. We beat Australia and England, we beat Sri Lanka in their backyard. We also won ODI series against New Zealand and West Indies. These make me proud. The captain isn’t the only one with the credit; it takes a team to win anything, so I thank them.
How has it been playing with Shakib, Tamim, Mahmudullah and Mashrafe Mortaza, for more than ten years now?
A large credit for my consistency in the last four or five years is due to these four players. Life becomes easier when you are batting with Shakib, Riyad bhai or Tamim. Cricket is not an individual sport. Partnerships are vital, and all of us have had match-winning contributions through big stands. The five of us have tried extremely hard in the last four or five years, and we have found ways to perform at the highest level. It is a privilege to play with such a generation of cricketers. Mashrafe bhai is incomparable; Shakib, Tamim and Riyad bhai are all world-class players.
Tamim has said that one of his motivations is to be among the top ten batsmen in the world. What is your motivation for the next five years?
I definitely have similar goals, but my thoughts are always at improving myself from my last series to the next one. My childhood dream was to be a match-winner for Bangladesh, and I still cherish it. I may have failed in some matches but there have been good days. I hope to have more such good days, at least eight or nine times out of ten games.
How important is the period leading up to the 2019 World Cup?
A team needs momentum to do well in a big tournament. It cannot just turn up and win it. If we can do well in the Asia Cup and against West Indies and New Zealand, we will have confidence as a team, which is particularly important for a team like ours.
Champions Trophy is in the past, and we have a bigger challenge coming up. I think if the entire team can build this momentum leading up to the World Cup, we could have a memorable tournament with great performances.ESPN Cricinfo.