Cricket Then And Now

World Cup: The next frontier

Akram Khan

Bangladesh cricketers celebrate the fall of yet another Pakistani wicket during their famous victory in the 1999 World Cup in England. The writer is on the extreme right

Whenever you ask anybody to recall his going by days it would be a nostalgic journey for him. Everybody loves to see his past romantically and as a human being, I am also not an exception at all.

But I think it is a privilege that I am now in a position to see the Bangladesh cricket from an unemotional point of view. Why I tell this? Because I am still in touch with the game, although only in domestic affairs and as one of the most senior guys I have witnessed the turning points of the game in the country.

First of all I want to clear one thing that I do not belong to the very common sentiments that say, "Oh, what a day we have had… everything is rubbish now."

When I look back to my career a scene of mass gathering at the then popular venue of Manik Miah Avenue still makes me emotional. The illustration is well framed in my mind.

And it was the grand reception of Bangladesh cricket team after the ICC Trophy triumph which had paved the way for Bangladesh's World Cup participation in England in 1999 and so on everything.

Lot of people talked about what had happened in Kuala Lumpur during the competition but to me the reception was altogether an exceptional one. Why, because when I started my career I even couldn't dare to think about such kind of honour from countrymen for playing cricket.

As a cricketer and a captain of the victorious side it was a lifetime experience for me to see people united in the country with the success and I think it had happened once earlier, during our nine-month long War of Liberation in 1971.

I have sometimes asked myself whether it is possible for present-day cricketers to experience such an event? Honestly speaking it could only happen again if Bangladesh win the World Cup.

And I think there lies the difference between the cricket 'Now and Then in the country'.

ICC Trophy means nothing to the present generation but it was a priceless gem for our time and now a want-to-be-a-cricketer can only have a dream to receive a Test cap and part of a World Cup winning team.

Many thought that the ICC Trophy victory was a turning point in our cricket, no doubt about it. But there was a start of the beginning and I think 1994 SAARC Cricket Tournament was the one for us which first indicated that the game was all set to buzz in the country.

I still can remember the match we had played against India in the competition where 40,000-plus fans turned out at the now Bangabandhu National Stadium and I think it just changed the whole scenario.

When I was starting to go to the playing field in my early days in Chittagong, football was the number one sports in the country and everybody loves to play the game including my sports-loving family and people's interest only centred on the game.

But somehow I have had the passion for cricket and almost everyday I went to the Chittagong Stadium to play cricket and suddenly I saw that people, though a small number, were showing their interest about it.

I was really surprised when people came to watch my game when I was playing for Chittagong Friends Club and then my association with the Chittagong Railway team paved the way to move to Dhaka and still I am going on.

One could ask why we played cricket? I think the answer is very simple. It is so because of passion. But this is not only the case in these days as now one can take it seriously as a profession.

I started to get some money only when I started my career in Dhaka and in our prime time we fully depended on the Dhaka clubs.

Now there is a very handsome financial package for national cricketers as they are under the pay-structure of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and there are a lot of international commitments round the year.

Besides local and international exposure, cricketers get immense popularity.

There are some people who have repeatedly told that standard of cricket has been falling down compared to past despite our gaining the Test status.

But I don't think so because I have the opportunity to watch the young cricketers closely on the field.

When I ask myself whether I was as good as a nowadays cricketer at the age of 19, the fair answer is no. At the age of 19, we had not enough technical ideas what the present day cricketers have. The young players are now technically very sound and they are very much aware about what fitness means in the modern day game because they have the advantage to get it.

There are a lot of local and foreign staffs in the country to look after the upcoming cricketers. But in our grooming days we had to learn everything on our own and we had only been knowledgeable about the seriousness of the game after Pakistani coach Mudassar Nazar's brief involvement as national coach in 1990.

I have little doubt that Bangladesh cricket is improving but what the present cricketer missing is the crazy crowd in domestic competitions. They also lack experience of how to play under pressure.

I am fortunate enough to play the domestic matches under such an electric environment when defeat meant you have to face boos from the wild club supporters and you win the hearts all the way if by winning a match.

Everybody know that I had almost a 16-year stint with Abahani -- one of the most popular clubs in the country -- which had given me the opportunity to play plenty of nerve-wrecking matches against Mohammedan. Who doesn't know that an Abahani-Mohammedan match is like a war even in these days?

One of two archrivals' match back in 1994 is still fresh in my mind. I couldn't sleep the night before because only a win was not enough in the final league game against Mohammedan to clinch the coveted title but also we needed to better our run-rate.

We had two English cricketers -- Neil Fairbrother and Richard Illingworth -- while Mohammedan were boosted by two popular Sri Lankan internationals Ashoka de Silva and Samarasekera.

Fairbrother hit 88 and I was not out on 52 in front of thirty to thirty five thousand spectators at the big bowl, which is not so common in these days even in international matches.

What I wish to see now is that our domestic cricket matches with the past, otherwise we would not get match-winners like Nannu Bhai (Minhajul Abedin Nannu) and Bulbul (Aminul Islam).

Akram Khan is a former Bangladesh cricket captain.

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