Mushfiqur Rahim. COURTESY
Mushfiqur Rahim's decision to give up the wicketkeeper's gloves in T20I cricket is the correct one in every sense, and should leave no room for speculation on emotional moorings.
If anything, a case could be made that he should have probably done it earlier, as other wicketkeeper-batsmen have done, in order to allow themselves to fulfil their potential as batsmen.
Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka and Andy Flower of Zimbabwe, two of the modern greats of batting, are the recent examples that spring to mind. Both made the move much earlier in their careers.
Although Mushy, as he is lovingly known to fans and teammates, has in fact tried this in some Test matches in the past, he has never been firm on seeing himself as a specialist batsman, and eventually gone back to keeping as well.
That perhaps is the difference this time. He has communicated the decision to coach Russell Domingo, and it was from the South African that we learned of his decision to leave the wicketkeeping job in T20Is.
Of course, having someone like Nurul Hasan Sohan ready and by now almost established to take over the job in the shortest format would have made a decision like this easier for everyone involved.
The decision to declare his intention to the coach may also have been prompted by the needless speculation arising in the media from Sohan donning the keeping gloves while both were in the playing XI during the first three games of the current T20I series versus New Zealand.
The speculation was needlessly spread as it should have been quite obvious that when both of them are playing, only Mushfiqur merits his place as a specialist batsman. While Sohan is indeed the slickest Bangladeshi behind the stumps right now (there is even a third option in Liton Das).
Mushfiq's decision can also help in grooming the 27-year-old Sohan as the country's number one wicketkeeper across all three formats eventually. Regular appearances in the T20I format can eventually help him to make the step up and establish himself in ODIs and Tests as well.
If that happens, Mushfiq, who is 34, might even manage to squeeze an extra couple of years into his career, before the time comes for him to retire.
The only justification for the surprise, almost shock, that has greeted the news of Mushy's decision, is that although this has been suggested before to allow him to blossom as a top-notch batsman in the No.4 position for Bangladesh (in whichever format), Mushfiq himself has been reluctant.
The first few times that he did it in Tests, the results were not as rewarding as had been hoped, and soon enough Mushfiq was back to keeping as well, determined to contribute as much as he can in as many ways as he can.
That has been the hallmark of his 16-year international career, during which Mushfiqur has kept wickets in 350 of his 391 international appearances across all three formats.
While playing as a specialist batsman didn't quite yield the desired results for Mushfiqur in Test cricket, it is a very different story in both the limited-overs formats, i.e. both 20/50 overs.
In both, Mushfiq’s batting average in the games where he has not kept wickets is already higher than his career average.
In 14 such ODIs, when he was not a keeper, Mushfiq's batting average of 49.18 comfortably outstrips a career average of 37.18.
On the other hand, in seven T20Is that he played as a specialist batsman, Mushy has an average of 23.50— against a career batting average of 20.27 in T20Is.
Based on these indicators, Bangladesh cricket followers should be encouraged that the ndecision may indeed turn out to be a wise one.
The move has also possibly spared coach Domingo's blushes. As already stated, no Bangladeshi is as good and efficient (and even vocal, as the chatter picked up by the stump mic at the Sher-e- Bangla has shown) in the thankless wicketkeeper's job as Nurul Hasan Sohan right now.
Yet the shared wicketkeeping duties between him and Mushfiqur that Domingo suggested to the press before the New Zealand series, would potentially mean there would be a couple of games where Sohan would be picked as a specialist batsman.
It's difficult to see how that would've happened though, as Sohan simply doesn't merit selection in the playing XI unless he is keeping wickets. He has never yet shown the promise of a specialist batsman at international level.
"Initially, after speaking to Mushy, he was going to keep after the second game. But he told me he probably doesn’t want to keep the wickets in T20s anymore, so we have to move on,” Domingo said after the third match of the series against the visiting Kiwis.
So it had all worked out neatly for the team that selects the playing XI for each game, of which the coach is a part. Mushfiq's decision helped them avoid the potential selection debacle of Sohan playing as a specialist bat.
Former Bangladesh captain Khaled Mashud Pilot, the man from whom Mushy inherited the Tigers' wicketkeeping job, rightfully dismissed all the talk about Mushy's dexcision being driven by emotion.
“You have to make some crucial decisions for the sake of the team,” Mashud said in a video message posted on his social media profile.
“Many are saying that it’s an emotional decision by Mushfiq. I don't think so. For the bigger interest of the team, the coaches, and the captain, players often make such decisions. Everyone should welcome the change,” Mashud further said.
He did add the caveat that if in fact it was an emotional decision on Mushfiqur's part, everything changes and the board must step in to remedy the situation.
Former captain Mohammad Ashraful in his reaction hit the nail on the head, saying the decision by Mushfiq to leave the wicketkeeping role is likely to improve his batting performance exponentially.
“We will now expect more from Mushfiq as a batsman,” Ashraful said on his social media channel. “He was a specialist batsman when he got his maiden Test cap. Mushfiq left wicketkeeping in Tests for a while now. I think he will now be able to focus on his batting more and do well as a batsman.”
Ashraful also welcomed the decision to give the glovework to Sohan, who he too considers Bangladesh’s best wicketkeeper.