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     Volume 8 Issue 73 | June 12, 2009 |

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Let Them Eat Cake

Faruq Hasan

Cricketers are like any other professionals and they have every right to join an alternative more lucrative source of income..

In high school, Mary Antoinette, was one of my history teacher's favourite characters. Whenever we would be up to some mischief, she would invoke one of Madame Antoinette's favourite lines during the French Revolution: when brought to her attention that the "rebels" were dying of hunger, the Queen was shocked and was said to have replied "Why can't they just eat cake?"

The fair lady and her subjects obviously lived in alternate realities and sometimes I think the same could be said of our cricketers, particularly our own rebels who had joined the moribund International Cricket League (ICL). Recently, a spate of reports has suggested that they have abandoned a sinking ship and are traversing realities again. Following the exodus, forgive and forget has been the mantra for most of the international cricket boards lately, as ICL cricketers are reneging on their contracts and wanting to play for the national team instead. Boards have been suggesting "cooling off" periods where former ICLers are gradually re-inducted back into the national team; some, like Yousuf Youhana the former Pakistani Vice Captain , are even touted as coming back into the team directly. Intuitively, this seems as if the natural course of action that our own cricket board should be taking as well; after, the ICL ban has hit us more with our small pool of national players who have enough talent and international experience, especially since our premature exit from the twenty 20 World Cup. However, precisely because the ICL has had such a strong impact on our cricket, I would like to argue that there should be no pardon for those who have left.

Let's start off with the argument that cricketers are like any other professionals and they have every right to join an alternative more lucrative source of income, especially in the context of a poor country like Bangladesh. This argument sounds tempting till you pull the rug and realise that cricketers (and most other sportsmen) are not like everyday salary men.

Ever since age cricket has been strongly introduced into our cricket structure a decade ago, BCB has been playing a direct and active role in developing cricketers. The likes of Aftab, Shariar Nafees et al., can trace their career back into different age groups and their rise to an international career (and hence into the ICL) have come precisely because of their cumulative successes in these groups. In fact, some of the ICLers never played international cricket and were picked precisely because of their performances with domestic league, age cricket and A tours. Thus, at every stage of their career and development, BCB has directly been involved. This is not akin to an engineer who went to a

private university, then joined government service, and then left for a more lucrative overseas job. The old cliché of our cricketers firmly being products of the country could not hold truer.

Cutting off the ICLers completely is the only way we can make a strong statement about the fact that BCB believes in consistency and priorities.

Another (lame) argument is that ICLers were treated shabbily by BCB and have every right to jump ship. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me illustrate by comparing Ganguly and our former captain Habibur Rahman. Both were going through a lean patch, both were former captains and one of the best batsmen on the team and both were slowly being sidelined by their respective boards.

That's pretty much where the similarities end. Ganguly goes back to his game, posts prolific hundreds in the domestic league, gets back into the national team, scores big hundreds and retires right when he is on top of his game. Plus he gets into the rival Indian Premier League (IPL) and is busy boosting his bank balance. And what does our Shumon Bhai do? Wastes every single chance that he gets in the test matches, accuses selectors of "disrespecting" him for not giving him a guaranteed spot even though he hasn't scored a 50 in 14 test innings, laments how unprofessional the state of cricket is in Bangladesh and takes the back door and sulks out of the country. Our erstwhile skipper even has the temerity to complain that BCB doesn't send him free test match tickets anymore! One cricketer realised that performance is the ultimate yardstick while the other has an inflated sense of self-entitlement.

My final point is simple; whether justified or not, every single BD cricketer knew that ICL was not a kosher entity; BCB made it completely clear that whether you agreed with them or not, joining ICL would be saying goodbye to your international career. And our cricketers made a perfectly conscious decision of their own. The point is, there were plenty of cricketers like Mashrafee, Ashraful and Tamim Iqbal who faced even more tempting offers and declined. If you pardon the ICLers, you are basically penalising people like Tamim for putting their country first. You are setting an extremely bad precedence by saying that even if you disobey BCB, you can still have your job; in fact, if you listen to us, you're actually going to cut yourself off from other najayez lucrative offers. This precedence can never be set in place. Cutting off the ICLers completely is the only way we can make a strong statement about the fact that BCB believes in consistency and priorities.

Even after all this, I still hear people saying ok, this is all good, but BD as a talent poor country cannot simply lose such "resources". I say we can and we should. ICLers were never our resources: they were players who, no matter how well they played (and let's face it, aside from a few, they really weren't that great), categorically had a different set of priorities from players who play for their country. BD players, unlike their Indian or Aussie counterparts, don't play for meagre (relatively speaking) sums of money they get by playing international cricket for BD. They play because they love the challenge of pitting their skills against the best in the world, and representing a country like BD which has so little to be cheerful about in the first place.

I say we boot this lot completely and make a strong statement: if you don't have pride, integrity or mental maturity playing for an organisation that put you on the map and made you who you are, please leave. Like our French commoners nearly three centuries ago, we deserve better.

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