Cricket Then And Now

Five times higher

Faruque Ahmed

I have witnessed two decades of our cricket gone by both in a playing and non-playing capacity. Now I just want to tell a story of how I started my career and I believe it will give a small picture of what 'cricket now and then' is like.

My elder brother Sabbir Ahmed Babu played cricket and basically he was my coach and mentor. But I came to the playing arena in a dramatic fashion. The day before a second division match one of my friends told me that I had to play for an old-town side so the following day with some of my friends and with a bat, which was precious thing in those days, we went to the old city ground to play the match. But interestingly another team showed up to play the match and instantly I had decided that if I wished to continue cricket I could only start from first division cricket, the then top-flight competition in the country.

I had only experienced playing in friendly matches in our locality but I soon started practising indoors in Dhanmondi after my SSC examination. Each day I would spend almost a whole day to prepare myself to fulfill my dream.

It didn't take too long before I started playing first division cricket with Udity Club and in my first match I made 93.

I had a practice net on the roof of my house where I had pictured the stumps on the wall.

Compare that to today's situation where you will see guardians very interested in the game and sending their children to coaching academies. Everything is systematic these days.

After my playing career was over I got involved with the game as a selector. It gave me the chance to work closely with the development of the game in the country. And I must say nothing we did in the past was wasted because the game is surely improving in the country.

During my playing career we had only an idyllic dream -- to represent the country and just enjoy the game. We also derived immense pleasure participating in any type of match no matter how big or small.

I still can remember that feeling when I started my career way back in 1983. I think it was the asset of our generation because even these days I felt it when I played in WECA League, a competition involving former cricketers.

The most significant difference with the cricket now is crowd behaviour. Previously, large crowds who were very knowledgeable about club cricket, which was really entertaining in our days, would attend every match.

When I was captain of Abahani in a Damal Summer match against Mohammedan some 30 to 35 thousand fans watched it at the then Dhaka Stadium. It is just unthinkable these days. I think there is a genuine reason behind declining crowds especially in local cricket. Because almost everyday we can watch an international match on television.

It was not possible in our time to watch a great player like Vivian Richards or others but now it is not a big deal to watch mega stars like Brian Lara, and Sachin Tendulkar on the small screen.

Still that said we are lucky that fans still turn out in numbers to watch local matches. If you compare that situation with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, then cricket definitely here enjoys large crowds. This year's Corporate League matches at the Dhanmondi Cricket Stadium saw on average more than two thousand spectators attend.

But I am really jealous at the condition of pitches these days. The present generation is lucky enough to play on sporting wickets but in our time we had confidence to win a match even if we had to defend a total of just 60 runs.

In our time the crowds motivated us but these days there are a lot of factors that help to increase a player's appetite for the game. On the other hand we had little financial support and only played because we loved to play. However, now there is international fame besides huge financial packages awaiting cricketers who make the grade.

I can still remember that we received a $5 daily allowance in an international meet, which is a far cry from the huge sums nowadays. By playing cricket one can now build his career unlike us who viewed it as simply the 'eagerness to play the game'.

But I want to thank our clubs for their great financial contributions to carry on the game as well as the support of my family. Without them I couldn't take the game seriously. I still remember my father driving all the way to Mymensingh just to watch me play.

Sometimes I feel our interest towards the game is declining because nowadays a cricketer lacks the passion we had in our time? I think international commitments and local matches give them little time to enjoy it wholeheartedly.

Look at Sachin Tendulkar who has been around the international scene for than 16 years but still he has the eagerness to play the game and I think we have some problems on that point.

Now I want to focus on my present job. If we consider our selection process now it is more demanding because we have to work almost round the year.

The most significant change is that selectors are getting monthly remuneration for the job and that's why their responsibility and accountability is greater than previously when it was just an honour to hold the post of selector.

Our cricket is passing through a transition period we might have overcome it much earlier had we not failed in the 1994 ICC Trophy. Because of this failure we have been facing a generation gap to represent the country from ICC level to the Test level.

And it was also a personal setback because I captained a team, which I still believe was the best that the country has ever produced in its history. People might not agree with my opinion.

There was whispering that we got Test status too early but if we been successful in 1994 then nobody would have raised the question because we would have got enough time to prepare ourselves.

We should now concentrate on how we can improve our cricket to justify our status. I think we have to seriously focus on one particular point and it is the necessity of education.

People say cricket is a thinking game. Cricket is not like soccer because a footballer can improve only by practice, practice and more practice. But a cricketer cannot improve his game through training alone he needs to think about his game.

And that will only increase if our cricketers concentrate on their education. So, I request our young cricketers that they take cricket seriously at least on completion of their SSC examinations.

The standard of our present day cricket is five times higher than in our period. That's why we have to work harder to reach the standard otherwise our critics will show their impatience to our status.

About the author: Faruque Ahmed is a former Bangladesh cricket captain and is now chief selector of the BCB.

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