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The Fizz and Mustafiz: The IPL is a new frontier
After a super performance at the IPL 2016, the Fizz has returned home and become Mustafiz again. It’s a very significant addition to his name and also shows how the cricket world shapes perceptions and sensibilities and expands beyond boundaries and borders. Just as Indian and cricket media all over were thrilled with his performance, the Indian fans danced as Mustafiz /Fizz struck everyone with his bowling skills. He was in many ways the most talked about player in the IPL after Virat Kohli. That is a major achievement. It’s not an accident that the PM of Bangladesh herself discussed his future, advised caution and discussed his problems and prospects. It’s a very changed world indeed when the PM of Bangladesh, who is known to be a cricket fan, decides that Mustafiz is worth her serious attention. He is an indicator of a world that needs to be understood. He is not only a great cricket player but also an indicator of transition.
When Bangladesh participated in the World Cup, he was noticed –which is why he is in the IPL anyway- but he was not considered outstanding. However, he was good enough to join Sun Risers Hyderabad (SRH) which is not one of the top IPL teams. In fact this is their first title and it’s usually in the bottom half of the IPL table. But this year they took the championship and credit goes to the team as a whole. They also had two great ex-players as coaches including VVS Laxman and Muralidharan and Tom Moody as the Head Coach. In the post-match chat with TV, Laxman said something very significant. “We don’t have big stars in our team, but all our players are important.” This was what that pushed the team. It was a gritty fight to the end and every player at one time or other made himself valuable. Someone came through when it mattered.
Two players however, stand out for their consistency. One was David Warner the captain who played more valuable innings than anyone. He literally carried a moderate batting side and made it through some tough opponents that star wise were always bigger than SRH. His innings with Gujarat Lions when he scored 93 not out is considered by many as one of the finest T20 ever. His batting in the finals was what made victory possible and that is why he is a front line leader. He contributed with the bat and with his courage and wisdom. He was the true star.
The other player who made a big difference was Bhuvaneswar Kumar, the final over specialist. He was ignored a bit by media and fans when the initial Fizz glare was on but as the IPL progressed, it became clear , he was one of the finest, had improved many miles since the last IPL and as the last over player was capable of both dots and wickets. His profile rose at the play-offs stages and this hugely gifted player was recognized for his worth. As Cricinfo says, with 23 wickets at the economy rate of 7.42, he was a top 11 IPL player.
“Swings the new ball. Jams the old one into the batsmen’s toes. Trusted himself to execute yorkers – a ball which, if misplaced by an inch, could go a mile – at a time when bowlers prefer other options. Was Mr Dependable for Sunrisers – all the more impressive considering he bowled an over that cost 28 runs in his first game of the season”
But other players particularly bowlers made high contributions. Sran, Ben Cutting, Bipul Sharma and Yuvraj Singh made the chase to the glory possible.
In the early days, when Mustafiz became Fizz he was simply inscrutable and players struggled with his deliveries and often failed to read him. Indians fans and media suddenly woke up to find a bowler who was barely playable. He was not a great player, he was the mysterious one like the mythical ones. In fact, the cricket player called Mustafiz changed into the magician called the “Fizz”. Cricinfo sums him up with the following words, “17 wickets, 6.90 economy rate. He kind of already makes time stop still with his cutters. Just ask any batsmen he has dismissed. He pitches the ball outside leg to tempt the slog and gets it to break off the deck towards the outside edge. And he has a mean yorker. The one that left Russel on the ground with his stumps askew provided one of the images of the IPL.”
One Indian fan had asked an interesting question. “How come the Fizz is so good but no other Bangladeshi player is?” Very good question. There is no player so talked about at the moment like Mustafiz but how many Fizz are there in India either? It’s here that the switch can be explained. When he plays in the IPL , he is no longer Mustafiz, the Bangladeshi but Fizz the IPL star. He ceases to be part of a national team and becomes the bowler of SR Hyderabad and Indian IPL. His identity is not limited by Bangladesh citizenship anymore. In a way, he has become an IPL citizen.
It’s this changing phenomenon of multiple loyalties that has begun to emerge. But when the PM said that he has to be careful, should not over expose himself and stay injury free to have a long career, it’s the voice of the motherland where Mustafiz lives. She wants him to play long, achieve much and remember that the pitfalls of success is that failure often comes with it unless one is careful. The “overexposure” issue is a real one. As the IPL grew older, the Fizz was less mysterious hence less effective and went for runs. Cricket media took notice of that. The part of him that is mysterious won’t last for long but the part that can be consistent through his cutters, Yorkers, slower ones and ability to outfox the batsman will be long around. He needs to nurse that along with taking care of his body and make sure he can play effectively on and on. The IPL may want his candles to burn at both ends to give a lovely light but he lasts only for a 16+ matches a season which is fine. But for Bangladesh, he is here for a lifetime. At the end of the day, the Fizz becomes Mustafiz.
Mustafiz is clearly the most internationally successful cricket player of Bangladesh ever. He is also not yet 21 years old. The journey for international recognition for cricket began long back and goes back to the day when Khaled Masud Pilot hit the last ball and won the ICC finals to qualify for the World Cup. Many players have come since then and made the sports stronger. In that long line of contributors Mustafiz is the latest addition.