Cricket Then And Now

Friends along the way

K Z Islam

Robin Marlar, Cricket Correspondent of the Sunday Time of London started Bangladesh's quest for recognition in the international community of cricket by advocating the nation's case to the International Cricket Council (ICC). It was he who first wrote in the Sunday Time the article about the cricketing prospects of Bangladesh in the mid 70s, highlighting Dhaka Stadium as a Test centre that could host matches as good as any other Test venue in the world. His endeavours to put Bangladesh in the cricketing map did not stop with an article as he used his influence over several members of the ICC to give Bangladesh a chance to prove themselves in the world of cricket. The first visit by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1976-77 was a result of Marlar's efforts. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that had it not been for him and his positive projection of our cricketing future, the ICC membership would have been delayed. Alas! No recognition has been given to the pioneer of Bangladesh cricket.

As a matter of fact, Bangladesh XI played "an unofficial Test match" in Dhaka against the MCC XI that launched Bangladesh's cricket in the international arena. The 30 gritty runs by skipper Shamim Kabir, 35 scored by ASM Faruque and the hurricane innings of 78 by Yusuf Babu coming in at No. 8 may be considered to be the first milestone of Bangladesh cricket. This was a time when Bangladesh had really a fine cricket team. The attached photograph is a testimony to this.

I would like to recall the names of some people who rendered invaluable services for the development of cricket in Bangladesh. Bob Evans comes to my mind first. Bob was a prominent personality in the cricketing circles in the Midlands in England. When he was the chairman of the ICC Trophy Midland Committee in 1979 and 1982 he came close to Bangladeshi cricketers. For about ten years he hosted five or six cricketers who stayed in England for at least four months playing club cricket. Bob would arrange a council house for their accommodation and his wife even cooked for the boys. As an extension of Nirman School Cricket we used to send some outstanding cricketers to England at my personal expense. After being exposed to the pure English food and clean environment every year they all returned looking really healthy and their cricketing techniques much improved. In my tenure as president of the then Bangladesh Cricket Control Board (BCCB) I remember having invited Bob twice to visit Dhaka. Alas! He is not remembered anymore.

ANOTHER HISTORY IS BEING WRITTEN: Mohammad Rafique sweeps one on way to scoring his maiden Test century in the West Indies on May 29, 2004 at St. Lucia. He became the 12th number nine cricketer in history to score a hundred

And how about Omar Kureshi? It is generally not known what a good friend Omar was of Bangladesh cricket. It was due to his personal intervention that he brought the Omar Kureshi XI to Dhaka in 1986. The team was led by Imran Khan and was practically the Pakistani Test team and included stars like Wasim Akram, Rameez Raja, Salim Malik, Abdul Kader, Sarfraz Nawaz, etc. The Dhaka Stadium was packed and to the best of my knowledge that was the only occasion when Imran was seen playing in Bangladesh.

The 1980s was a period when hardly any sponsor was looking at Bangladesh cricket. When the Bangladesh team had to travel to England to play the ICC Associate Members' Championship we had neither the plane fares nor the money for its expenses. In one of my visits to London in 1985 I called on our High Commissioner and requested him to raise some money from the Bangladeshi expatriate businessmen. He told me to forget it as no one was likely to come forward. Finally, I went to BCCI and called on its president Agha Hasan Abdi and asked for help. He promptly donated 10,000 dollars which was a God-send at that time.

Many sports organisers seem to have a notion that Bangladesh's sports is centred around the Dhaka Stadium. The cricket board's objective was to take cricket out of Dhaka. To achieve this objective we arranged for the school tournaments to be played in the district towns. This was dramatically successful and the tournament has grown from strength to strength since then. Unfortunately, the idea of decentralisation of league cricket has not really caught on. I have always felt that league cricket should be played in all the divisional headquarters of the country. This would give boost to local talents as it did in the case of schools cricket.

In the 1980s and before there was absolutely no influence of national politics in the sport. Any politics in any institution destroys it. In the 1991 Foreign Minister Mustafizur Rahman was the president of the cricket board and since I interacted with him closely I found him a fairly neutral and objective person as a president of BCCB and there was no politicisation of the game. Politics crept in with the advent of the Awami League government in 1996 and has taken a very acute shape now. This is most damaging for the game.

For the subcontinent 1997 was a big year; it marked the 50 years of independence from British rule and brought back memories of the titanic struggle for freedom. For Bangladesh it had much of the same significance but it did not mark 50 years of independence, it marked the real birth of Bangladeshi cricket. Much like India and Pakistan fought hard for their independence; Bangladesh toiled endlessly for twenty years before they were to be truly born in the international cricket world. The similarities do not end there, for all three the fight for freedom and birth might have been tough, but the years that followed were full of trial and tribulation, they still seek to be fully accepted wherever they go.

Bangladesh XI vs MCC XI, January 1977. Skipper Shamim Kabir introducing President Ziaur Rahman to A.S.M. Faruque and the Bangladesh Cricket Team. General Ershad is behind President Zia

One leg-bye did it all for this country. That victory in the final of the ICC Trophy in Malaysia was the catalyst behind Bangladesh's cricket and should rightly be called the birth of out cricketing nation. It ensured that we qualify for the following World Cup and a few months later the ICC showed faith in us and made us a full one-day international member. Cricket mushroomed in this country and no empty space was left unused for a small game of cricket. In 1998, Bangladesh staged a three-nation tournament with India and Pakistan in which our performances might have been left wanting, but the final of that tournament will forever live on in the memory of anyone who saw it. That match in Dhaka and the atmosphere in the stadium that evening brought us and the larger cricketing world together. Since its birth, Bangladesh, like many newborns, has had its ups and downs and the 1999 World Cup gave us a dose of both. It took our entire team to beat Gavin Hamilton and with that we beat the Scots. But Just before our last game against an awesome Pakistani side our team and coach parted ways, and by the time the game was over no one really cared about what had happened. On May 31st 1999 Bangladesh beat Pakistan and sent a nation into wild celebrations. Since then that game has been under intense scrutiny, many claiming the match was fixed, but all of that was unfounded.

If 1997 was our birth, the year 2000 was our baptism. On the 26th of June Bangladesh was awarded full ICC Membership and thus granted Test status. We might not be the best of rest, but we were now one of the elite. Our maiden Test match against India was a sign of things to come. In our very first innings we scored 420 but by the end of the game, we fell away. We promised so much but delivered too little, that has been our story so far. But there have been highs as Mohammad Ashraful became Test cricket's youngest centurion, we won our first Test match, beat India in a one day international and came back from 2-0 down to win a ODI series 3-2 and all these in the very recent past. And most recently we stunned the world in the greatest upset of all time, by beating world champions Australia in an ODI. If one were to measure us only by our successes then they would not have much to talk about, ours has been cricket of passion and hope. I think the greatest example of what Bangladeshi cricket is, is one knock by Mohammad Rafique, his century against the West Indies batting at number 9 sums up everything you need to know about our cricket. Flawed it may be but never willing to give up.

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