The Fizz: A cricket unicorn trying to be normal
Mustafizur Rahman tried to be a spin bowler at high pace, for a while it worked.
My first memories of Mustafizur Rahman were the wickets, and weird memes, that followed his carnage versus India.
Bangaldesh cricket had been growing for ages, but I felt every time I invested my time in them, they slipped back again. But around the 2015 World Cup - where they were better than their preparation suggested they should be - I checked back in.
But as someone who covers all the teams, you can’t be on call all the time. And so this is a series I generally wouldn’t pay any attention to. But Twitter was making noise about this new bowler, and so I poked my head about.
Mostly, because I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had talked about a Bangaldesh seamer. In 2009, then coach Jamie Siddons, made a public call to any English born players of Bangladesh origin who could bowl fast to come down to the nets. Mashrafe Mortaza is one of my favourite players, but mostly because he continues to play with shattered glass knees. So here was a bowler destroying a strong Indian team, and you had to be interested.
It’s more than just a Bangladesh thing for me though. From the moment I saw a super-slow replay it was clear Rahman was doing things that no one had done in a very long time. Bowling fast spin.
I don’t mean Derek Underwood, Shahid Afridi, Colin Miller or Rashid Khan quicker spin. I mean he was trying to get revs on the ball like a spinner, but at fast medium pace. The last cricketer to do that was Bob Appleyard, who’s shoulder gave way in 1958, after the most remarkable eight year career.
And if you haven’t heard of him, it’s more to do with the circumstances he played in, rather than a lack of talent on his behalf. Appleyard’s mother left home when he was young, his father remarried, then one day when Appleyard was returning from his grandmothers, he found the bodies of his father, step-mother, and two half sisters. His father had gassed them all. Appleyard was 15 when the WWII broke out, probably the worst time to be a promising cricketer. Not old enough to show how good he was, and not young enough on the other side of the war.
But after the war he got Tuberculosis, spent a year in hospital, and had the upper half of his lung removed. TB was not even his only main illness. Even after the war he played club cricket and never got a break. At 25 he played a few games for Yorkshire, and the following season he was in their first XI. That year - at the age of 26 - was his first real professional year as a cricketer, and and he took 200 wickets at 14.14.
The next two years he was ill again, and barely played in 1952, and missed all of 1953. In 1954 he took 154 wickets at 14.42. He was picked for England, played nine Tests over two years, took 31 wickets at 17. But by 1956 his shoulder was completely wrecked, and in 1957 he was being occasionally left out of their team. 1958 was his last year at Yorkshire.
Appleyard at first bowled swing, and then because he wanted to bowl longer spells, moved to spin. That is fairly normal, Sobers is probably the most famous version of this. But then he combined them in the same spell. He bowled outswing, inswing, leg cutters, offcutters and genuine offspin from ball to ball. And he’s not a one off. Sydney Barnes did a similar thing, and also had a weird, yet fantastic career.
So from those first few shots of the Fizz, I couldn’t help thinking that we could have our next Appleyard or Barnes. And for about a year, that is what we had, until a tear in his shoulder changed it all.
I don’t think I have ever really covered Mustafizur before, despite being obsessed with him for a long time. So if you want to know more about cricket’s modern version of Barnes and Appleyard, I have written a feature at ESPNcricinfo about him.
I’ll be doing a bit more writing over there for them, so I’ll link the pieces up here when I remember. But I will still be writing regularly over here as well.