Saifuddin said that criticism was part of life as a sportsperson and their only way to respond was on the field.
Bangladesh had longed for a fast-bowling all-rounder for quite some time. And after a long wait, Bangladesh found Mohammad Saifuddin. Capable with both the bat and bowl, Saifuddin has managed to make himself an important part of the national setup with his recent performances. He was one of Bangladesh's best performers in the 2019 World Cup, where he picked up 14 wickets.
His career was thwarted by a back injury but he has managed to survive that and has returned to the national side. During this lockdown, The Business Standard's Shams Rahman spoke with Saifuddin about his time at home and different aspects of his career.
TBS: How are you spending your time at home?
I had seasonal fever some days back, for 10-12 days. I was afraid a little about whether it was Covid-19. But I did not have any symptoms. Except for those 10-12 days, I worked on my fitness, practised and was also doing net practice in the school field here. If cricket resumes, I cannot just practise for a day and go back, especially when I am a seamer. So for whenever cricket returns, I am staying prepared.
TBS: You recently posted on your Facebook page that you had lost 4 kgs in weight. What was your fitness regime?
I did what I do normally. I followed my regular schedule and controlled my food intake. I am trying to maintain a routine. I have my dinner by 8pm and try to keep it light. I eat protein-based foods mostly and avoid fat-based ones.
TBS: How tough is it for you to live without cricket for more than three months?
It is very tough. It has taken away a year from my life. I may aim to play for Bangladesh for 8-10 years, but a year is gone from my life. But we have to accept the reality. Nobody can do anything about it. We have already lost thousands of people to coronavirus. Life comes first and then cricket. I feel bad when I have to stay off the field for a long time but nothing can be done and I am waiting for the situation to improve.
TBS: Do you have any personal plans for the World T20?
Yes, I do. I am preparing for the World T20 from now as it is still on schedule. If the World T20 happens on time, there is not much time left. I am hopeful the main preparation will be the DPL once normal services resume. So, I am preparing for the DPL and World T20.
TBS: Will Bangladesh have any advantages if the World T20 is postponed and Shakib al Hasan returns?
Definitely. There will be a lot of benefits. I don't think there is much to say. Everyone knows how important Shakib bhai is to the team. We will be stronger in every department. But everything is dependent on what will happen next.
TBS: You recently invited Shakib Al Hasan to a challenge. How did this idea cross your mind?
It came to me suddenly. I always think of my net batting or bowling as a game scenario and try out this two-over game with players at Feni. The position I bat in for the national side, I often face situations where I have to score 20-22 runs off the last two overs. But the players here are not as skilled as international bowlers. If I play this game with them, I win eight times out of ten.
When you take up a challenge, you have to take it against world-class players. I think like that. And as I talk with Shakib bhai often, I challenged him to take 22 runs off my bowling in two overs. If I can win this challenge, it will boost my confidence. So, I asked him to play with me in the nets once he returns home. Maybe I will change my plan and play it on the centre wicket at Mirpur in a match situation. So, when Shakib bhai will bat I will take 10 of the best Bangladeshi fielders and bowl to him. Even if I lose, it will be a very good learning curve for me. But as it is a challenge, I want to win it and I will try my best to do so.
TBS: There were some controversial reports about you during the World Cup (Some media reported at the time that he was reluctant to face bigger teams). How did you feel after reading those?
What is gone is gone, I don't want to talk about it. Whatever I say now doesn't matter. I am focusing on doing something good in the future. Our only way to reply is on the field. We will be appreciated if we play well and a lot of things will be said if we don't. There will be criticism of a sportsperson, it is a part of life. It has been a year and I don't like talking about the past.
TBS: You almost took Bangladesh to victory against India in the World Cup but Bumrah dismissed Rubel and Mustafiz to win the match. How difficult was it to see that from the other end?
It was very difficult. It becomes even more difficult when you are in pain but cannot cry. I felt like crying but I managed to put my emotions on hold. I controlled myself 10 minutes after going into the washroom, in the dressing room. If I had won that match, it would have been one of the best achievements of my life. I was blaming myself for giving them the strike. But there is no point in dwelling in the past. Now I think of how I can handle these situations better.
TBS: You were out with an injury for quite some time after the World Cup. What kept you going at that time?
I missed the BPL very much. Everyone was playing, posting stuff on social media. I was feeling very distraught seeing those because I could not play. When you are going through a rough patch for a couple of matches, you have the opportunity to come back to form. But injury takes that chance away. So, it is very tough to stay out because of an injury. I was feeling very distraught and my pain only subdued after I went on a tour to Bandarban with my friends. Then slowly, I adjusted myself to the situation.
TBS: You have been considered a death over specialist since your Under-19 days. What kind of work do you do on your death bowling?
It is difficult to bowl in the death with one or two skills because the batsman will pick you easily. To bowl in death overs, you must have a vast armoury to play mind games with the batsman. The more options you have, the easier it is to fool the batsman. As the wickets are getting more and more batting-friendly, the more skilled I am, the better.
I communicate with Shrinivas (Chandrashekaran), our national team analyst regularly. I watch the videos of good death bowlers. As I have a lot of time now, I am working on that. I don't want to say what ball I am working on, but I am working on one.
TBS: New ball or the old ball - which one do you enjoy more?
It is difficult to choose because I enjoy both. You can never be successful if you don't enjoy it. If you ask me to choose, I would say that I am comfortable with both and enjoy them.
TBS: Are you working on increasing your speed?
I hit 138 kph in the previous BPL. I believe I can bowl at 140 kph but my injury is a barrier there. So, I have adjusted myself to bowling with control at low 130s.
TBS: How has working with Courtney Walsh helped you?
I worked with him in the World Cup and the tri-series before that. We did not do anything special together as we did not have any skill camps. He told us about his experiences, gave us some tips, I tried to follow them. Now Ottis Gibson is the coach but I haven't really worked with him individually. I didn't have the opportunity of working individually with anyone. I try to work on the lessons they give us, the ones I feel good about.
TBS: How soon do you want to get into the Test side?
Every player dreams of playing Tests. I also have that dream but my injury is a thorn in my path. I am very worried about my injury. If I rush too much trying to play Tests, I will miss the two formats I am currently playing. Which will be a loss for both me and Bangladesh.
TBS: Do you want to bat a bit up the order?
Everyone has that wish but the batting order is set by the team management, based on the situation. If I can bat well in my current position then I might get opportunities in the future.
TBS: How eager are you to play under Tamim's captaincy?
I am the happiest among the bowlers to have him as skipper. He understands me the most and trusts me a lot. I am also very happy as a senior player from my division has become the captain.
TBS: Your favourite performance for Bangladesh?
My first ODI fifty against Zimbabwe. I was out of the team for almost a year. Bangladesh were in a tight spot that day and me and Imrul (Kayes) bhai put up a stand together. That match was very important for me. If I didn't play that knock, I wouldn't have become a permanent figure in the national side. That fifty was a turning point in my life. First international fifty is very special for any player and it was for me as well.
TBS: Who is your bowling idol?
There are a few. I like Waqar Younis very much. There is also Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee. But if I had to choose, I would choose Waqar.
TBS: Your favourite wicket so far?
Virat Kohli's wicket in the World Cup practice match.