Cricket Then And Now

Missing only that love affair

Gazi Ashraf Hossain Lipu

We were playing cricket since the middle ages. In our time opportunities to play international cricket was few and far between. The Dhaka league, was our main concern. There was also a national championship and other tournaments but the serious cricket was actually Dhaka-based.

What we enjoyed was the huge crowds and tremendous atmosphere in the domestic competitions. Because we were passionate about the game in our country that's what inspired us and in fact for some it was a means to make a living.

In my playing days the Dhaka University team was considered the equivalent of the national team. As any cricketer of my generation knows the priority then was to attain an education and everything else including playing cricket was secondary.

But today average players need to only concentrate on honing their cricketing skills and then look forward to getting a national call-up.

The difference between playing cricket now and then is also noticeable in the conditions, infrastructure and wickets.

I think I would have enjoyed playing on today's wickets because there is more bounce and they are more sporting. Sadly, it was not the case in those early days. The present day cricketers are better equipped to deal with any sort of delivery. I can still remember that even a thigh pad was not available and we had to play on wickets where the ball hardly rose above the knee most of the time. So, in that respect I can say the present cricketers are quite fortunate compared to us considering the facilities they have been enjoying.

Furthermore, wickets were not maintained properly and we had to practice on matting wickets and sometimes there was no grass in the outfield.

Hard to believe but to see any player wearing a helmet in the early days of our cricket was a rarity. Unlike today everybody in the team has one.

The only aspect of cricket that has remained the same till this day is that club players still practice on cement wickets.

On the other hand, gone are the days when players felt proud to belong to a certain club for a period of time.

I can still recall when a player was tagged with a club because for him the representing that team was more important than being driven by self-interest.

Besides, inter-club transfer was not as appealing as it is today. Perhaps the transfer fees were not the main factor that determined whether a player stayed with one club or left.

Another reason was that staying loyal to your respective club was considered an important part of our cricket culture. It is fair to say that interaction was on a different level.

My playing days was divided between with the Dhaka University team and Barisal team. But I like my fellow players didn't enjoy taking part in the national competition as the wickets were not maintained and overall condition was also so poor. I think it was because lack of funding. Most of the times divisional authorities so improving the ground conditions was out of the question. Also there was no yearly calendar for cricket activities and competitions.

An example of why playing in the national championship was not top of list was that whenever it rained it invariably meant the match had to be called off simply because there no proper covers available and only manual rollers could be used. But it was time consuming.

Despite all the negatives playing in front of packed houses gave us immense joy. Walking out to middle with thousands cheering you on was something special.

The night before one of those games I was unusually anxious because all I prayed for was to win the toss the next morning. Our domestic cricket got a major boost when stars like Arjuna Ranatunga, Samarasekara, Ashoka de Silva and Wasim Akram arrived to entertain the crowds.

With their arrival our local game finally got a different dimension because for the first time we could understand what international cricket was all about. We had a taste of playing on the international stage as foreign teams like the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) or Hyderabad Blues regularly visited Bangladesh.

Gradually through such visits these world stars helped us to understand the intricacies of Test and one-day cricket. And I think it was a very important part of our learning process. When Zimbabwean bowler Heath Streak came his first question was where was the gym? And how good was it?

Then we got Mudassar Nazar and he helped to prepare the groundwork to play at the highest level. Mudassar was my last coach when I retired from international cricket in 1990 before the Australasia Cup.

Mudassar was the first person who suggested that we had to bat in the nets. He also had pointed out that there was no application in the field which we had during net practice and still it is a big problem.

I still believe that if Mudassar had continued his stint with Bangladesh cricket, then we have learned how to play a shot according to the merit of the ball.

After our ICC Trophy victory our focus on the international arena grew immensely and the success acted as a big U-turn. From 1986-97 we had played only 12 one-day internationals but now we have played about 15 ODIs and a number of Test matches in a single year. It is fair to say now players are given more opportunity to play international cricket than us.

We should address the problems affecting our domestic cricket. If we can provide better wickets and better facilities then it will help the new generation to develop faster than we did.

To believe in the saying 'practice makes perfect' is not entirely right because players must be able to prove their ability in the field of battle too. These days it is quite noticeable to see a huge gap between the performance of a national player and a player who hardly has had any international exposure.

Another important fact is that despite our ICC Trophy victory, participation in the 1999 World Cup and gaining Test status practice facilities have not increased as expected. It is a shame that we are yet to make practice facilities available for the players although we are financially better off after becoming a Test-playing country.

It is unfortunate we have only one indoor practice facility. Why? I think the people who now run the game should accept responsibility for their failure in this regard.

Also we talk about the high performance unit and the foreign coaches but you cannot achieve anything until our domestic standard is raised.

At least a new competition (Corporate Cricket League) was included in our domestic calendar. But I must say there is no scope to devalue our most coveted competition -- Dhaka Premier Division League. It sounded funny when I learnt that the organisers were thinking to arrange the Dhaka league matches outside the capital.

I endorse the present board policy about the high performance unit involvement of former players various activities. It is good for our cricket that former players like Minhajul Abedin are encouraged to take up coaching.

We have learnt about the regional cricket association from Saber Bhai (Saber Hossain Chowdhury) but it remains elusive. I think we should form such associations in the greater interest of the game.

Umpiring standards is another issue we have to focus on. I don't want to say that in our time the umpiring was so bad but I think it is time we concentrate to raising it to international standard.

I want to finish my writing with an interesting experience. It was not easy for us to get an expert opinion to rectify mistakes. That's why I gave a list to Jalal Bhai (Jalal Ahmed Chowdhury) when he was going to Patiala to attend a coaching course.

Interestingly, Jala Bhai had shown the list during the practice session of the national team at the BUET ground, sometime in 1997, where Gordon Greenidge had conducted the training for the ICC Trophy and he told a player that I think you don't need to do the same thing because you have a coach like Gordon. I think that was the difference between cricket then and now.

The author is a former national captain.

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