Cricketers Politicians and Vanishing Expense Accounts
A Gentlemen's Game...
As reported by countless other newspapers last week a highly secretive meeting was held in London between two bigwigs from Bangladesh. It was regular cloak and dagger stuff as they departed from Dhaka on different planes a day apart, citing the flimsiest of excuses. One just wanted to get away from the pressure of the top job in Bangladesh, while strangely enough the other cited exactly the same reason. This is when suspicions were first aroused, and newspapers realised they were in a juicy story. With a keen sense of adventure and my newspaper's expense account (yea right!) I made my way out to old blighty to see if I could crack the story of the secret meeting between Ashrafool and Prince Trek (profiled earlier in this week's magazine).
On the 10th of September, two days after coming back from a horrific tour of Australia, Ashrafool left for England, claiming he needed to be away from the pressure and the media spotlight that would inevitably follow him around. It was widely seen a sign of resignation, editorials around the country mused that he had left the country to assess his cricketing future and even Jamie Siddons was far from pleased with him. His adoring public had turned their back on him and he slipped away silently.
Not so silent was a certain Prince Trek, after triumphantly being released the man with his finger in every pie decided to keep up the charade of his faltering health by very publicly requesting a British visa. Within a few days it was granted and on the stunningly significant day of 11 September, exactly one day after Ashrafool left, the former prince of Dhaka left his country for the uncertainty of England. This is when people started to catch on to the story of their meeting and while speculation ranged from the bizarre to the ridiculous, I was the only journalist from the country who made it out there to see what was really going on.
London was abuzz with activity and the tabloids were as usual doing their best to stay at the forefront of genuine journalism. They plastered pictures of red-eyed Trek unsteadily walking hand in hand with Amy Winehouse as they left a facility for his treatment at 3 AM from Soho. The following day he checked himself into Harrods for a session of what is better known as retail therapy, and on his way back home stopped by a stop at a small pharmacy called Claridges. His public life was well documented but surprisingly Ashrafool managed to keep a low profile. I did some searching around and found out Ash (as he is known in England) was busy in the nets at East London, the last bastion of the British Bangladeshi. It was appalling to see him bat as pimple faced teenagers were getting him out left and right, his confidence was shot.
A lead told me the meeting between the two would take place at 'Zee Cafe' a fancy French Indian fusion restaurant set up by onetime rice trader and media baron Subash Chandra. Now to the uninformed one may ask exactly what do Trek and Ash have in common for them to be meeting like this? The answer is simple, almost everything. They were both young turks, with one being the youngest ever test centurion and the other being a middle aged billionaire. They both led from the front with patchy performances which defined their political and sporting careers. Millions of people blindly supported both of them and seemingly it was that adulation that brought them down. Before they left Dhaka they both faced the same problem of leadership, as Ash clung on to his job for dear life, Trek realised discretion is often the better part of valour and resigned from all his party posts. They were both at their lowest ebb, this was a far cry from the heydays of 2004 when they played cricket on the streets of Dhaka together.
On 21 April 2004 the Awami League decided a standoff was necessary at the alternate power centre of the Bangladesh government commonly known as Air House. With nothing short of a siege headed towards his playboy mansion, Trek ever the entertainer decided to brush off the opposition's threats by playing a game of cricket. It was to be younger brother Cocoa against older brother Trek and as was common of those times the winner got 10% of the next government deal. The game was more than about family pride, but a substantial amount of money as well. Trek was never quite good at the game and called for some reinforcements as his good friend and spiritual doppelganger Ash stepped in for the match. There are still constant rumours of match fixing associated with that game (and many which Trek played), as people have pointed out both the umpires, the scorer and the match officials were selected by the older brother Trek. With a brilliant display from Ash (he is at his best against weak opposition) the older brother proved victorious and memories of his W.G. Grace styled stance still flood to mind when I think of that match. Those days were a part of the distant past as they entered the restaurant separately.
They sat a table for three and having placed a microphone near the table I could hear everything. It was the usual stuff, hi, how are you, how is your health. But interestingly they both seemed hesitant, Ash kept looking at his watch and Trek said everything was going according to schedule. It seemed to settle the Captain as he sat back in his car for the first time and ordered some starters. Fifteen minutes later the restaurant was abuzz as the billionaire owner Subash Chandra walked in and joined the terrible twosome at their table. Maybe he was just being hospitable to high profile guests, but the microphone told a different story. He sat down and was all business, he asked Trek, “have you brought the right man for the job?” To which he replied, “yes, he can be trusted. I have known him for a long time.” Chandra looked at Ash and asked him to make 'the call'. A minute later I overheard him say, “Shumon bhai, there is someone I would like you to talk to,” and handed the phone to Chandra. With the phone in his hand he got up and stepped away from the table, the last sentence I heard him say was, “how would you like to earn a little money and be captain of a team from Bangladesh, I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse.” Chandra brought out an envelope from his pocket and while still on the phone handed it to Trek, Mr. 10% had struck again.
A few days later the story broke that the Indian Cricket League had signed 13 Bangladeshi cricketers with Habibul Bash'em leading the exodus, and half a million dollars was debited into Trek's Swiss bank account. In East London with the pressure to keep his place in the team now gone, Ash was treating the same pimple faced bowlers who had tormented him a few days ago with scant respect as he bludgeoned them around what must have seemed like familiar surroundings. And this reporter could not break any of the stories as his offices' expense account was mysteriously frozen, leaving him high and dry without a penny to his name. What can I say, there is just not enough money in this game.
Disclaimer: All characters, places, organisations and names mentioned in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to any real persons or places is purely coincidental. The Star magazine does not take any responsibility for any such resemblance.
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