Will retire at my discretion, says Mashrafe, but speculation rolls on

The Mashrafe Mortaza Retirement Speculation Circus™ has rolled into its 13th month. The end of his side Dhaka Platoon’s BPL campaign on Monday became the latest occasion on which to pitch the uncomfortably large tent. The press conference, which at times veered into terse and tense exchanges, ended with Mashrafe clearly stating that he has “no interest” in receiving a prepared send-off from Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). A response, no doubt, to board president Nazmul Hassan saying that they had offered Mashrafe a massive send-off party, “the likes of which has never happened and never will”.

In the Circus™, this is seen at a level higher than his proclamation on Friday, where he questioned his own selection in the ODI side based on his 2019 World Cup performance. But Monday’s statements were edgier, as he shot back at every question that either contained the word “retirement” or hinted at it.

His appearance in the BPL’s eliminator match itself had piqued speculation. Mashrafe played with 14 stitches on his left hand. He batted and bowled without showing any discomfort, and then took a one-handed catch to dismiss Chris Gayle. His wife and kids were seen in the Shere Bangla National Stadium’s grandstand too. Surely that was it?

In the face of several questions, Mashrafe was firm in his stance to keep playing as long as he is enjoying the game, and not retiring just because the BCB president has said that they would throw a big party as a send-off.

“Till yesterday, I was a centrally contracted cricketer with the cricket board but not anymore,” Mashrafe said. “I always believe the BCB is the cricketers’ guardian. I never took pride in going against them. I thank the BCB for considering me to give me a proper send-off, but I don’t have much interest in it.

“I have always said that a cricketer’s entire career isn’t only about playing for the national team. I think I have the freedom to play as long as I want. I think we have had bigger cricketers who couldn’t retire from the field. Habibul Bashar, who always made runs in crisis situation, didn’t get to retire while still playing. I think only Sujon bhai [Khaled Mahmud] did it, but otherwise it is a rare case. I even have thought of it at times, but it is not really necessary.”

The difficulty in avoiding this speculation is the absence of ODIs in Bangladesh’s schedule since last July. If there had been a regular staple of ODI series during the home season, even Mashrafe may have had some clarity. Instead, the speculation has raged on.

On Friday after Dhaka’s defeat to Khulna Tigers, Mashrafe had said that he wouldn’t expect to be picked in the ODI squad based on his World Cup performance.

“As far as I am concerned, I shouldn’t be selected based on my one wicket in eight games at the World Cup. If I am selected, I will give my best. But how can I say I will play for the national team after taking one wicket in eight games? Someone else in my place would have been axed much earlier,” he said.

Mashrafe said that he got a lifeline when the selectors picked him for the ODI series against Sri Lanka last July, but since then he is unaware of the selectors’ thinking process as they have not been in contact.

“I was picked for the Sri Lanka series, which would have been an opportunity for me to get back in form. But there hasn’t been any playing opportunities. I don’t know what the selectors are thinking. I haven’t spoken to them. But if they decide to give me a chance, I will certainly welcome it. The board shall decide whether I should be the captain too,” he said.

In an ideal world, Mashrafe should have been left alone long ago, at least after the last match in the World Cup, where he didn’t announce his retirement even though he was largely expected to. He made himself available for the Sri Lanka series that followed, but missed it due to injury. It is now January 2020, and he has gone through a full season of the BPL, just like he has over the last seven seasons. Clearly there is fire in the belly.

The Circus™, however, rolls on. Next, perhaps, the large tent will be pitched at the selection panel’s meeting for the three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe in February or March. Nobody is paying attention to his repeated assertions that he wants to retire at his own discretion, not that of anyone else – whether he is questioned long and hard, or tempted with a big party.