Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN)-On the map of Bangladesh, Satkhira looks, as it were, none too different from one of its most famous natives. Like the tall and wiry Mustafizur Rahman, his home district is a long and narrow strip squeezed between Khulna and North 24 Parganas of West Bengal.
Looking at it, this thought is difficult to escape that had Cyril Radcliffe’s pencil wavered even a bit while demarcating the border in 1947, who knows Rahman might have ended up on the Indian side of the line, reports The Indian Express.
But that’s alternate history. In reality on Thursday, the 19-year-old left-arm pacer, making his debut in the 50-over format, tormented the famed Indian batting line-up with his deceptive off-cutters.
His figures of 9.2-0-50-5 took Bangladesh to a memorable 79-run win in the first ODI, putting them in pole position for a historic series victory.
In the team huddle ahead of the match, Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza handed the green cap two youngsters: Rahman and Litton Das.
The Indians knew Das. The batsman had made his Test debut against them at Fatullah last week.
But who was this lanky guy Rahman, they would have wondered. The Bangladesh captain Mortaza further befuddled the visitors as they began their chase by not taking the new ball himself, which is de rigueur, but throwing it at Rahman instead.
Not Taskin Ahmed, nor Rubel Hossain, but Rahman. It could be that the 308-run target gave Mortaza the confidence, but it’s more likely that he knew what the youngster was capable of.
Even so as Rohit Sharma, who had made a century in the last ODI against Bangladesh, took his guard with a languid swagger, and the tattooed and mustachioed Shikhar Dhawan, who had struck a daddy hundred in the Fatullah Test, stood nonchalantly at the non-striker’s end, it appeared from the outside that Mortaza had thrown Rahman not at the deep end but in a bear pit.
A good first ball was, therefore, a must for Bangladesh. Rahman ran in full steam and bowled a fuller one to Rohit.
It swung back in, took a faint inside edge and hit the batsman’s pads. The loud leg-before appeal was ignored, but it gave a message to the batsmen that Rahman was a rookie alright, but he wasn’t going to be a pushover. (Though, MS Dhoni did physically push him later.)
Though as spectacular as the first ball was, it wasn’t the incoming delivery that would reap him rich rewards later in the day. It would be the off-cutter.
This Rahman weapon is deadly on two counts. One, the change of pace is marginal — it drops from 130kph to 125.
Two, he doesn’t use only his fingers but puts in a lot of wrist as well while delivering the ball, imparting more revs. As a result, the ball cuts more than your usual off-cutter.
It appears like left-arm orthodox bowling at fast pace. After Thursday’s match, Mortaza also agreed that Rahman was a left-arm spinner in the garb of a pacer.
“Arafat Sunny (left-arm spinner) had been bowling very well. It was difficult to leave him out but we thought it is important to play Mustafizur. It was difficult to ignore him after seeing him in practice. We brought him in and got the result. It is true that fortune favours the brave,” Mortaza said, adding that Rahman wasn’t too different from Sunny bowling with a longer run-up and at faster speeds.
“We’ve been playing with three pacers since I became captain because I believe it is the bowlers who win matches. I felt it would be tough playing against Mustafizur on this wicket. I am delighted that he did well.” Since the wicket was on the slower side, Rahman’s off-cutter would reach the batsmen a fraction of a second late after pitching.
They would often end up playing the shot early, offering a leading edge or an outside edge.
Or, in Suresh Raina’s case, inside-edge onto the stumps. After the match, Rahman revealed that it was late in his fledgling career that he learned how to bowl the cutter.
“When I bowled in the under-19 level I could swing the ball. Then one day Anamul Haque asked me if I could cut the ball. I tried doing that and surprisingly, got him out with that delivery,” he said, with a shy smile.
The theory that Rahman is actually a fast left-arm spinner seems all the more credible when you consider the fact that he took all his wickets in the second and third spell when the ball was old.
Moreover, in the Under-19 World Cup last year, and the handful of First Class and List A matches that he played subsequently, he was more effective when the cherry had lost its shine. A way to tackle Rahman’s off-cutter could be to play him late.
But then he is not a one-trick pony, and showed with his very first ball to Rohit that he is a pretty decent swing bowler, too. It will be interesting to see how India play this mystery pacer in the next two ODIs.
They might not have known who Mustafizur Rahman was before the match, but rest assured, the Men in Blue and their support staff would be poring over the video footage from the match obsessively to learn everything about him.