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Mustafizur Rahman’s IPL club vs country debate ahead of T20 World Cup

T20 cricket rarely brings good news in Bangladesh. So, when a Bangladesh bowler, considered to be past his prime, lights up the biggest T20 league in the world with his variations, it’s great news, especially with the T20 World Cup around the corner.

Mustafizur Rahman is currently the joint-highest wicket-taker among seamers in the IPL – level with Jasprit Bumrah on 10 strikes. Half of his wickets have come in the death (overs 17-20) and his overall strike rate of 12 is the best among bowlers who have bowled at least 20 overs this season.

That’s how good Mustafizur has been in an IPL where bat has dominated ball like never before. After 32 games, the scoring rate is 9.42 runs per over, the first time it has topped nine across all seasons.

Mustafizur’s whippy offcutter, though, has often been unhittable this IPL. And he even pulled off what is arguably the catch of the season to dismiss Suryakumar Yadav for a duck in Mumbai.

Mustafizur hasn’t done anything different with the ball this IPL – he has always had the T20 skills. It’s his form that has improved over the past few weeks.

Mustafizur has been granted an NOC to play in the IPL till May 1. Two days later, he will be available for Bangladesh’s home T20I series against Zimbabwe. Bangladesh will then face USA, also in a T20I series, in Texas later this month, in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup.

“How is it good for Mustafiz to play in the IPL? He has nothing to learn from the IPL. In fact, the IPL players can learn from Mustafiz. It won’t benefit Bangladesh.”

Jalal Yunus, BCB’s cricket operations chair

Mustafizur’s situation has sparked an interesting debate in Bangladesh. One school of thought is that he is better off playing in the IPL, while there are others who feel Mustafizur should play for Bangladesh to prepare for the T20 World Cup.

Akram Khan, the former Bangladesh captain and current BCB director, is for Mustafizur having a longer stint with Chennai Super Kings while Jalal Yunus, the BCB’s cricket operations chair, is against it and strongly believes that the fast bowler is better off playing for Bangladesh.

Akram was impressed with how Mustafizur shut down Kolkata Knight Riders’ batting line-up with his variations in Chepauk. Even Andre Russell couldn’t get Mustafizur away. Akram felt that Mustafizur playing in the IPL against top T20 batters, rather than playing against Zimbabwe, would have served as better prep for the T20 World Cup.

“Mustafiz is the type of bowler who will give the team benefit, if he is utilised properly,” Akram told reporters at the Shere Bangla National Stadium. “Dhoni’s team is certainly doing that at the moment. The way Mustafizur bowled according to a plan against Kolkata, I think he is benefitting greatly playing for Chennai. It obviously means that Bangladesh, too, will benefit from him. I think he will learn more from playing in the IPL than playing against Zimbabwe. He is spending time with big players in the [CSK] dressing room. He is playing with different types of players.

“I think Mustafiz should be given this opportunity [to play more for CSK]. Not too long ago we were worried about his performance. He has struggled in the last 12 months. His performance is improving in the IPL. I won’t say he has totally transformed as a bowler since he is not playing longer version cricket, but from what we saw in the IPL, he has certainly improved a little. If he continues playing in the IPL, it will only help Bangladesh in the World Cup.”

Yunus, though, disagreed with Akram, saying BCB wants to manage Mustafizur carefully before the T20 World Cup.

“How is it good for Mustafiz to play in the IPL? He has nothing to learn from the IPL,” Yunus said. “His learning process is over. In fact, the IPL players can learn from Mustafiz. It won’t benefit Bangladesh. You know the IPL is a game of four overs but there’s a lot of stress. They sometimes have to take a late flight after the match, which is difficult. We are worried about Mustafiz’s health and fitness. They [CSK] will want to get 100% out of him, without thinking about his fitness.”

Yunus also cited the example of 2021, when a couple of Bangladesh’s key players turned up to a T20 World Cup fatigued after having played the IPL that year. While Shakib linked up with the squad just a day after featuring in the IPL final, Mustafizur had joined the national team ten days after his IPL stint.

“Two of our players joined the 2021 World Cup from the IPL,” Yunus said. “They said that they were exhausted. We don’t want a repeat of that. Mustafiz’s return from IPL doesn’t mean he will play against Zimbabwe. We will manage his workload. He will travel with the team, which will help his understanding with the players.

“He also has to adjust to conditions in the US, when we play three T20Is there in May. He has to be fit before the World Cup. He won’t be able to deliver if he is exhausted. We need a fresh Mustafiz. We don’t want an exhausted Mustafiz.”

The BCB’s decision to cap Mustafizur’s IPL stint highlights their tendency to be conservative in the build-up to major tournaments. Many felt that they experimented too much and rested important players ahead of the 2023 ODI World Cup. The BCB also chose to play T20Is against Australia and New Zealand on raging turners in Mirpur before the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, where the pitches weren’t as spin-friendly. Both approaches backfired.

“I think he is benefitting greatly playing for Chennai. It obviously means that Bangladesh, too, will benefit from him. I think he will learn more from playing in the IPL than playing against Zimbabwe.”

Akram Khan, BCB director

Mustafizur is the only Bangladesh player in action at the IPL. A competitive tournament brings out the best in a player, which is true for Mustafizur as well. One of the indicators for Mustafizur’s confidence is his offcutter pitching and gripping. Mustafizur has got it to grip both at home and away in the IPL. According to ESPNcricinfo logs, the slower ball has been responsible for seven of his ten wickets this season. And he has conceded only 69 runs off 52 of those deliveries.

Mustafizur’s IPL heroics come on the back of an ordinary showing against Sri Lanka last month. He took just two wickets in three T20Is at an average of 65.50. It led to the team management dropping him in the ODI series. Mustafizur is no longer a first-choice bowler for Bangladesh in ODIs. He also has to fight for his place in the T20I side, so the remaining matches for CSK in the IPL will help him strengthen his case.

Mustafizur isn’t quite that bowler who burst onto the international scene in 2015. He made a fresh start after the pandemic, taking 59 wickets at 20.83 in T20s in 2021. He was the second-highest wicket-taker, behind Rashid Khan (75), that year. He then blew cold in the two next years, but he is now blowing hot in the IPL. It’s the best way to prepare for another big tournament. The BCB, however, doesn’t seem to agree with this and wants him back soon.

Stats updated until the GT vs DC game on April 17

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent, Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo.

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