I gave my opinion, selectors decided: Mashrafe on Sabbir’s surprise inclusion

"It was the captain’s choice" -  Chief Selector Minhazul Abedin’s reponse was as blunt as they come when pressed on the eyebrow-raising inclusion of Sabbir Rahman in the 15-strong ODI touring party for New Zealand.

Ariful Islam Roneybdnews24.com
Published : 24 Jan 2019, 04:44 PM
Updated : 23 May 2019, 05:37 PM

Sabbir after all had been serving a six-month suspension from international cricket due to off-field misdemeanours which was set to run until the end of February. But in an unexpected twist, the BCB announced that the ban would be lifted at the end of this month, making him eligible to play in the ODI series.

Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s ‘insistence’ as captain was cited as the driving factor behind the move. But what does the captain have to say about the whole situation? What about the precedent set by the suspension being reduced?

Bangladesh ODI captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza sat down with bdnews24.com and gave his side of the story.

The chief selector said that it was your insistence that led to Sabbir’s inclusion in the ODI squad. What is your take on the issue?

Mashrafe Bin Mortaza: I don’t have the authority to make selection demands nor am I part of the selection panel. It is the selectors who decide which players to pick for the team.

They had asked for my opinion as captain and I gave them my opinion based on cricketing logic. Perhaps, they agreed with my rationale or else they wouldn’t have included Sabbir in the squad.

As captain, I give my opinion on selections when I am asked. I try to back it up with sound justification. Sometimes the selectors accept my opinion, sometimes they don’t. I never said that Sabbir ‘has’ to be selected. I simply gave my opinion about why it would be logical to include him.

Could you please share your reasoning for backing Sabbir’s selection?

Mashrafe: The coach and selectors were already decided on 14 of the 15 members in the squad.They had asked for my opinion on the 15th member.

I was given a few options to choose from and they included Imrul, Mosaddek, Rony, Apu and Sabbir. We already had options in Liton Das and Soumya Sarker to open batting with Tamim. We also have spinners like Shakib and Mehidy with Nayeem to boot, so we don’t need another spinner (Apu) in New Zealand. In the pace bowling department, we have Mustafizur, Rubel and Sayeef along with myself. Perhaps, we could have had an extra seamer if we’d had a 16-man squad.

Our middle-order is secure with Shakib and Mushfiqur. But we needed a player who can bat at number six or seven. Based on the list of options that was given to me, I had to pick between Sabbir and Mosaddek.

Until yesterday’s match, Mosaddek had been out of form with the bat throughout the BPL. Besides, there have been doubts about his suitability to bat at number seven which have some merit. So the only logical option in this situation was to pick Sabbir.

I simply stated my reasoning as to why Sabbir should be picked. I never imposed my views on the matter. Also, I don’t have the final say on selection matters. I made it clear to the selectors that this was just my opinion and that the ultimate decision was theirs.

The coach even took one full day to mull over the decision after I gave my opinion. Team selection involves a process. It’s easy to question the selection of certain players but most don’t consider the alternatives.

Why do you feel that Sabbir is suited to batting at number seven?

Mashrafe: Because of his ability. I have made decisions with the World Cup in mind. I have to aim big. We have to enter the tournament with the aim of becoming champions. Whether we can do it or not is irrelevant. We have to have that mindset.

I want someone who can score quick runs at number seven. I don’t expect him to score fifties in every innings nor would I want him to build the innings except in case of a batting collapse.

I would ideally like the number seven batsman to make 25 runs off 15 balls or 30-35 off 20 balls. Think about the bowlers who will bowl to number seven batsmen at the death. For Australia, it’s likely to be Starc and Cummins, Bumrah-Shami-Bhuvaneshwar for India, Rabada-Steyn for South Africa, Woakes-Stokes for England, Boult-Southee for New Zealand, Hasan Ali-Aamer for Pakistan. Batsmen will have to play their shots against these bowlers. They won’t bowl too many bad deliveries. Batsmen will have to find ways to pick them off. They will have to improvise, play big shots. Who can perform in that role regularly? Give me one name?

A lot of names have been mentioned of late for the number seven position. Some have even played in that position. We’ve all seen how they’ve fared. Just look at the BPL. Which Bangladeshi batsman has thrived in that position? At least Sabbir has the ability to perform there.

What about players like Mithun and Mahmudullah? Mithun was touted to take the number seven slot on his return to the side while Mahmudullah has developed into a fantastic finisher.

Mashrafe: Yes, it was said when Mithun was picked that he would fill the number seven slot in the batting order. But things don’t always work out as you’d want them to. He is more suited to batting at number five-six or even higher up the order. The demands are different at number seven.

Of course Mahmudullah is very capable of doing the job. But is it wise to regularly play him at number seven? He might have to do it when the situation demands but it would be doing injustice to his talents if he were asked to play there on a regular basis.

Mahmudullah never complains about where he bats. But as captain, I also have to understand my players. At four and five, we have Mushfiqur and Shakib so we have to make a place for Mahmudullah at six at least.

Even then, let’s say Mithun bats at six and Mahmudullah at seven or we have to switch their positions around depending on the situation. We need at least one alternative in the squad for these situations. Who provides that alternative?

I don’t believe in picking players just to make up the numbers. I want 15 of the country’s finest players to be in the squad. There has to be a reason and strong rationale for picking each player. Each of the 15 should be capable of playing in the first eleven.

But Sabbir has underwhelmed in that position. He has only averaged 27.76 runs at number six and 21.75 at seven.

Mashrafe: His strike rate is nearly a run a ball (98.90) at number six and more than a run a ball at seven (103.57)! The one time he batted at eight, he scored a fifty at the World Cup.

I’m not saying that Sabbir has performed well in that position. But his batting style and strike rate indicate that he has the ability to play there.

I had said that there had to be alternatives. Who is the alternative? Sabbir has only showed glimpses of his full potential but the others haven’t even come close to that. Practically, no one has succeeded in that position, so we are left to go by what works in theory.

Picking Ariful in that position would also raise questions. The same goes for Mosaddek. But the captain and selectors can’t be bogged down by these questions. We have to be clear about what we want. As captain, I have offered my reasons and the selectors have accepted it.

A lot of the talk surrounding Sabbir’s inclusion comes from the fact that he is still suspended and the suspicion seems to be that the only reason for ending his suspension early was to get him into the playing side.

Mashrafe: It’s not my prerogative to reduce the suspension. It’s a matter for the selectors, the cricket board and the disciplinary committee to decide. Sabbir wouldn’t be considered by the selectors unless they got clearance to do so. The selectors must have considered him after knowing that he was available for selection.

But as the team’s captain and a senior cricketer, do you personally feel that reducing the suspension sets the right precedent?

Mashrafe: It was completely the BCB’s decision. But I believe that an example was set when he was suspended. He wasn’t let off lightly. If he can’t mend his ways after this, then he’ll have to deal with greater repercussions. Papon Bhai (Bangladesh Cricket Board President Nazmul Hasan) had said a life-time ban would be imposed in case of any further indiscretions on his part.

Look, even our best player in Shakib had to serve a suspension. Is there a bigger example than that? But even then Sabbir erred in his ways and got suspended. If cricketers can’t learn from their mistakes, then there’s not a lot we can do.

Let me be clear about one thing: only the cricketing aspect was discussed when considering selections. The board must have taken his off-field behaviour into account when they cleared him to play.

And I want to say, not just as the team’s captain but as a Bangladeshi, that the players must clearly understand their social responsibilities. We don’t live in a western society where you can lead an open lifestyle. He needs to understand that. He needs to build his life and career accordingly.

He has been given another chance but that doesn’t mean that he can rest on his laurels. If he can sort his life out then he’ll have a bright future ahead; otherwise it will be difficult.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher