It was not very long ago when Australia's Moises Henriques and Ashton Agar were all praises for Mustafizur Rahman, who was almost unplayable in the five-match T20I series last year between Bangladesh and Australia.
You will hardly find opponent players speaking so highly of a Bangladeshi pacer but Mustafizur's mystery kept the Aussies guessing all series. Everyone knows there is something about him. Everyone immediately saw something magical in him when he made his debut seven years ago.
It's hard to believe it's the same Mustafizur who conceded 17 while defending 42 off four overs against Afghanistan on Tuesday and allowed the match to slip out of Bangladesh's hands. It's a known fact that the left-arm seamer is not as lethal as he was during his early days but he's still one of the best T20 bowlers going around, especially at the death. He has won matches from these situations many times in his career but has it started to become risky to trust his skills in these situations?
He sure has the skills. There is no doubt about that. But the problem is that he often looks like someone without a proper plan. Batters now more or less know about his cutters and how to negate them. When he was a newbie, it was almost impossible for the batters to differentiate between the cutter at a slower pace (110s) and at a faster pace (130s). But to survive in a highly competitive world, he had to add new weapons to his armoury.
Mustafizur seemed to have understood that and developed a back-of-the-hand slower delivery and an inswinger to the right-hander from over the wicket. But is he not a reliable bowler outside slow, low Mirpur wickets?
Outside Mirpur's Sher-E-Bangla National Stadium, Mustafizur's performances in T20Is don't look promising. In 41 innings, he has taken 53 wickets but the economy rate is on the higher side - 8.82. In Mirpur, the economy rate comes down to 6.17. In Mirpur, the cutters grip and are almost unplayable but on sporting pitches and batting-friendly wickets, they aren't so.
Mustafizur is Bangladesh's designated death specialist but he hasn't been at his best of late. His economy rate in the slog overs since 2021 in T20Is has been 9.82 away from home but it is under eight-an-over in Mirpur.
How many times, under pressure, has he tried the yorker? The yorker is still the go-to delivery when the batters look to go after everything. But he hardly hits that very length or tries to hit it. It's not that he can't deliver yorkers. But why he doesn't try that remains a mystery. Remember that terrific yorker that floored Andre Russell in the IPL? Where are those now?
In the Caribbean tour earlier this year, Mustafizur was hit for 37 in four overs in Windsor Park and 27 in two overs in Providence and went wicketless in both the games. And he haemorrhaged 50 in four overs against Zimbabwe in the first T20I. He did okay in the next two matches but against Afghanistan, he was off-colour again. His overseas form has become a massive worry for Bangladesh and with the next World Cup being in Australia, they need their premier fast bowler to be at his best.
The likes of Kagiso Rabada, Jasprit Bumrah and Shaheen Shah Afridi started out in the same year as Mustafizur Rahman. All of them are among the world's finest but Mustafizur Rahman is nowhere near them despite having a better start to his career. He has been exclusively playing white-ball cricket unlike those players but the improvement graph is not going up as swiftly as he and Bangladesh would have liked. The 'left-handed Muralitharan' needs to find a way to survive in conditions challenging for him and he needs to do it very quickly.