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     Volume 6 Issue 15 | April 20, 2007 |

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Reaching for the Stars

Srabonti Narmeen Ali in Barbados, the West Indies
Wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim takes to the air for a catch as Shahriar Nafees Ahmed (R) looks on
Photo: Tigercricket.com

It has been a strange World Cup season. In the crowded Kensington Oval stadium in Barbados there are still remnants of diehard Indian fans. They carry their flag around the streets chanting 'India,' still not willing to accept, believe even, that their beloved team was defeated by Bangladesh. Their defeat to the Tigers cost them their place in the Super Eights, leaving their coveted spot among the best eight cricket teams in the world open to Bangladesh, a first for the young team during their third World Cup.

And the Tigers are not looking back. They made this crystal clear with their spectacular victory over South Africa, proving to the world that their earlier triumph against India was not 'just a fluke.'

“We knew that we were capable of getting into the second round,” says opening batsman Shahriar Nafees Ahmed. “We worked really hard to get where we are. In my opinion, we played a better game with India than we played with South Africa because the conditions that we played in during the South Africa game were similar to our home conditions. We have created a standard now for Bangladeshi cricket, and no one will be able to refer to us as the minnows again.”

Nafees, an ex Josephite, is in his third year at Dhaka University, doing his BBA in Marketing. He grew up in Dhaka from 1992 onwards, previously travelling with his family due to the fact that his father was in the army. In November of last year, he got married to Eshita Tasmi, a law student in a private institution.

“She is much smarter than me,” Nafees confesses with a grin. “She has a GPA of 3.9.”

However, with or without a high grade point average, Shahriar Nafees is an integral part of one of the most talked about teams in the World Cup this year. All over the country, West Indians are showing their support for the Bangladeshi team, especially since their home team has not performed up to standards. No longer is Bangladesh considered an easy win by anyone. It is apparent that in this World Cup, the more experienced teams make sure that they take the young team seriously.

“In the last three to four years, the Bangladeshi team has gotten much better,” says eighteen-year-old wicket-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim, “ Teams such as New Zealand and Australia play seriously with us and consider us a strong team.”

Mushfiq, the youngest of four brothers, is originally from Bogura. His first teammates ever were his older brothers (he also has a sister) during neighbourhood games. He began playing seriously in Class VII before he joined the under 19 team. Being one of the youngestmembers of the team, he feels that it is important to be completely involved in the game.

“There is a lot of mental preparation involved in being on the team,” says Mushfiq. “For example, our success in the World Cup this year stems from the belief that we can beat any team and we have to remain confident. This was the case during our win with India. I don't think they took us seriously. To them, playing with us was like batting practice. But you can't think like that in cricket because cricket is an uncertain game.”

Shahriar Nafees, however, says that he did not think the Indian team was over confident or arrogant. “If you are not positive about winning then it becomes much harder to win. I think there was also a change in the way we acted with the other teams. Of course we gave them the due respect that you would give any other player, but the mentality now is that the final results will show on the field. Big names and history do not mean a thing when you are actually playing the game.

“Our team is now playing world class cricket,” says Nafees. “We are a new cricketing nation so we have a lot to learn, but we are much more confident and professional than we were before.”

Shahriar Nafees Ahmed at the Hilton Hotel in Bridgetown, Barbados Mushfiqur Rahim talking about the Bangladeshi team and its achievements
Photos: Adnan Karim

However, despite their improvements and the fact that this year's team has made cricket history in Bangladesh, Mohammad Salahuddin, Assistant Coach of the Bangladeshi cricket team for the last year and a half, is careful never to be too enthusiastic when the Tigers do well.

“I am still not satisfied,” says Salahuddin. “I just feel like we can always do better. Even after we win a game I always keep thinking about how we could have done better. Our team has so much potential and I feel like if the players start thinking that there are no obstacles and they are fine the way they are, they will not want to improve.”

Salahuddin, an ex student and ex teacher at BKSP, specialises in the fielding aspect of the coaching. He feels that it is the players' hard work that got them where they are today.

“Even if there were ten good coaches, it would not help unless the players were talented,” says Salahuddin. “It's all about the boys. The coach cannot do anything if the players are not motivated. In my opinion the coach's job is to recognise talent and hone it in -- perfect it. These boys just make my job easier by being hard working.”

Hard work is not only physical but also mental. According to Mushfiq, it is important to mentally prepare yourself to not become too comfortable with success.

“People get relaxed after winning a game and it affects the performance of the players,” says Mushfiq. “ Even if we don't want to think this way it comes into our minds and we automatically get too comfortable and start making mistakes. It is really important to make an effort to be vigilant at all times.”

“You have to love the game, love the country and be hard working and honest,” says Nafees. “You have to give the game and the team 100% at all times. I believe that we will be one of the top teams in the world. We are in the process of a build up. We will get better with time. If we set up a proper base for the next generation of players then I am sure that they will be an even better team.”

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