Abu Musa Hasan
I was fortunate to be a student of the Government Laboratory High School, the best school of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. We were privileged. While most schools of the country did not then have sports facilities, our school was richly endowed with multi-sporting facilities, both indoors and outdoors. My favourite game was cricket.
The roars of The Tigers, the Bangladesh National Cricket Team, captivate today the cricketing world. This is like a fairy tale to us. During our young days in the early 1960s, when Bangladesh was under the domination of Pakistan, we could not even dream that a Bangali would find a place in the playing squad of the Pakistan National Cricket Team.
Nevertheless, I have always been a cricket buff. I still remember the names of the West Pakistani star cricketers, such as Fazal Mahmud, Hanif Mohammed, Kardar, Intikhab Alam, Imtiaz Ahmed, Ijaz Butt, Asif Iqbal and so on. However, on the eve of the War of Liberation of Bangladesh, our batch-mate Raqibul Hasan came to the limelight. Raqibul was included in the Pakistan National team in 1971, and he displayed a ‘Joy Bangla’ sticker on his bat. The Joy Bangla was the rallying slogan of the freedom-loving Bangalis; it was the battle cry of the freedom-fighters during the 1971 War of Liberation.
As Bangladesh became an Independent country, cricket also developed gradually and the Tigers ultimately could beat the Pakistan team in 1999. During the last encounter, the Tigers white-washed the Pakistan team in a 3-match ODI series when the latter visited Bangladesh in 2015.
Impact of Winning ICC Trophy
Since the Tigers clinched the ICC Trophy in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in 1977, cricket has become a craze with the sports-loving people of Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a champion of sports, received the golden boys at the tarmac of the plane at the Shah Jalal International Airport. Later the national heroes were accorded a massive reception at Manik Mia Avenue where Sheikh Hasina proudly announced, “Our cricket will go ahead and none will be able to suppress as none could suppress the Bangali nation”. She promised that her government would build an exclusive cricket stadium for the development of the sports. The Sher-e-Bangla International Cricket Stadium in Dhaka was eventually established.
Historic win against Pakistan in World Cup
Cricket in Bangladesh got another boost as the Tigers roared again and defeated Pakistan in 1999 during the World Cup held in the UK. Many expatriate Bangalis still remember the sweet memory of defeating Pakistan in Northampton. Hundreds of expatriate Bangalees from all over the UK, particularly from London, thronged to Northampton to support Bangladesh team against Pakistan. They chanted the favourite ‘Joy Bangla’ slogan all day to keep the morale of the Tigers high and many enthusiastic supporters entered the ground ignoring the strict restrictions as Bangladesh sealed the historic win against Pakistan.
I was then in Bangladesh, but did not miss the charming moment. I remember that at that time I was a special correspondent of The Independent newspaper and went to Khagrachari, one of the towns of Chittagong Hill Tracts, along with senior photo journalist Bulbul Ahmed, to cover the ceremonial surrender of arms by the Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Shanghatti Samiti (PCJSS). The insurgent group, led by Shantu Larma, ceremonially surrendered arms to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina following the signing of a peace treaty between the Government of Bangladesh and the PCJSS. On the day of the World Cup match between Bangladesh and Pakistan we were in Chittagong city and watched the final moment of the match on the TV at the residence of a journalist friend. We burst into joy as we watched the helpless surrender of the Pakistan team.
10th Test Playing Nation
Bangladesh became the 10th Test-playing nation of the world in June 2000. It is the most important landmark of Bangladesh cricket. At that time, I was Minister (Press) at the Bangladesh High Commission in London and went to the Lords, the seat of the ICC, with my children to celebrate the historic moment. Many fans of the Tigers and community leaders were eagerly waiting in front of the Lords to hear the desired decision. I got a hint from the Channel 4 soon after I Joined office in early June, that Bangladesh would be accorded Test status at the upcoming meeting of the ICC. I remember a Channel 4 producer telling me: We are more or less confirmed that Bangladesh is getting Test status in the upcoming meeting of the ICC. We want to prepare a documentary to celebrate this occasion. Can you please give us the contacts of Bangladesh cricketers so that we can produce an interesting documentary? He requested me to provide him the contact details of the Bangali cricketers in the UK. I did not know any cricketers here and therefore, I sought help from Janomot Editor Nobab Uddin, an old acquaintance. Nobab Uddin gave me the contact number of Naimuddin Riaz. Namiuddin provided me the contact number of a cricketer of the than Abahani Club based in Surrey. But most importantly, he gave me the contact number of former Bangladesh captain Aminul Islam Bulbul, who was playing for a club at Portsmouth. I instantly passed the contact details to the Channel 4 producer and the documentary on Bangladesh Test Status was made to celebrate the occasion. It was a historic event, indeed. No other county could enter the elite Test club of cricketing nations during the previous 17 years. Ireland and Afghanistan are now in the queue to become the 11th Test-playing nation.
Finding our way in Test Cricket and ODIs
Bangladesh cricket also experienced ups and down, good days and bad days as it happened in other sectors. But over the time, our cricket has reached maturity as our economy is also becoming robust day by day. Bangladesh cricket team is no longer at the bottom of the Test ladder. Bangladesh has achieved remarkable development in the 50-over One Day International format and by this time earned the capability to beat any country. And over the last 18 years, Bangladesh succeeded in beating all other nine Test-playing countries in this popular shorter format of ODI cricket. And of late, showing steady progress in Test cricket, Bangladesh defeated England in home ground and even clinched a Test win against Sri Lanka in their own courtyard.
We are proud of the Tigers as they have won three ODI series against Pakistan, India and South Africa and elevated Bangladesh national Cricket team to the 7th position of the ICC ODI ranking to qualify to play in the ICC Champions Trophy. Only eight top ranking countries, including the host, get the opportunity to play in this prestigious tournament. Interestingly, Bangladesh was top of Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe, but climbed to number six position by superseding Sri Lanka.
Bangladesh performed brilliantly in the last World Cup. The Tigers qualified for the quarter-final and it is believed that they could not get to the next stage due to a controversial umpiring decision.
Historic ODI victory in Cardiff versus Australia
However, to me the most memorable victory of the Tigers is its victory against Australia in Cardiff, capital of Wales in 2005. I was amazed by the all-round excellent performance of the Tigers and particularly, the way our little master Mohammed Ashraful dominated the world class bowlers of the then World Champion Australia and hit a century at the Sofia Gardens Cricket ground. I was watching the match along with the then High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Mofazzal Karim and former journalist of Janomot, Muktadir. It was such an exciting match for us to watch that we were on our feet during the last 20 overs shouting slogans as Bangladesh was chasing a target of 250. From the gallery, we gradually came down near to the ground. And at one stage I realised that I was running inside the ground along with Mofazzal Karim and Muktadir, although we knew it well that it was prohibited to enter the ground.
Tamim’s tremendous Test century at Lord’s
Our most talented and aggressive opener Tamim Iqbal’s century at Lords was another memorable day for me. Bangladesh was playing a Test against England at the Home of Cricket in 2010. Tamim took on the English bowlers and hit his maiden Test century at Lords. We were only three- me, my wife Nilu and Weekly Nutan Din Director Abdul Matin- sitting amidst England supporters and noticed that they also appreciated the batting skill of Tamim. The spectators of the entire ground, 99 per cent of whom were England supporters, did not hesitate to accord a standing ovation to Tamim.
Tamim is the only cricketer of Bangladesh, whose name is placed on the Batting Honours Board of Lord’s along with the world-famous cricketers who hit century at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
On the other hand, Shahadat Hossain is the lone bowler of Bangladesh whose name is included on the Lord’s Bowling Honours Board for a five-wicket haul. Shahadat claimed five wickets for 98 runs in the 1st innings of the Test between Bangladesh and England in May 2010. While Tamim hit his century in the second innings of the same test.
Bangladesh tour of England, Ireland and Scotland in 2010 was also a memorable tour for the visiting tigers as they could defeat England in the second ODI played Bristol on 10th July. I remember at that time English supporters started a hue and cry by terming their Bangladesh’s victory as “surprised defeat”. Seeing those kinds of comments on Sky sports, I responded: it’s not a surprise at all. Bangladesh has already won against most of the test playing nations including Australia and have attained the capability to win against any country.
Let me take the opportunity to say few more words regarding our young promising bowler Mustafizur Rahman, who has appeared as a ‘terror’ for the world-class batsmen since his debut in 2015. The talented bowler was recruited by Sussex County Cricket Club to play in NatWest T20 Blast and Royal London One Day Cup tournament during the English summer of 2016. I was lucky as I travelled to Chelmsford to witness his first T 20 match against Essex Eagles in NatWest T20 Blast. Within 24 hours of arriving in the UK, the magician bowler baffled the cricketers of Essex Eagles and claimed four wickets conceding only 23 runs. Sussex Sharks won by 24 runs at the home ground of Essex Eagles and largely due to excellent bowling of Mustafiz.
Expatriate Bangalis and cricket
Finally, the expatriate Bengalis in the UK love the Tigers and love cricket. The expatriates formed a cricket club in the UK back in 1983. The first cricket club of Bangalis outside Bangladesh was established by Bangladesh Youth League and Sayed Ashraful Islam, MP, Minister of Public Administration of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was its captain. Later Naimuddin Riaz led the team. According to Naimuddin, from the beginning they supported Bangladesh national cricket team and extended all-out support to the players of Bangladesh who used to come over to the UK to play cricket for different clubs and to attend training courses in Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
Fantastic Success at ICC Champions Trophy
Bangladesh team left country long ago to acclimatise themselves with the English condition- the players were in a conditioning camp in Sussex and then participated in the Tri-Nation Series in the neighbouring Ireland before starting the Champions Trophy mission in the UK. This exercise gave dividend and the tigers reached to the semi-final of the Champions Trophy as from group stage Australia and New Zealand were eliminated. Tigers victory twice against New Zealand- the first one on 24th May at Dublin and the second one at Cardiff will now work as a tonic to face India in the second semi-final on Thursday 15 June. I am optimistic about the outcome of this semi-final. To me it looks like, India is the defending Champion of the ICC Champions Trophy, while Bangladesh is the emerging Champion. It will not be a surprise at all, if Bangladesh plays final at Oval on Sunday 18 June as the tigers played at the opening match in the same ground against England.
Abu Musa Hasan: Freedom Fighter and Journalist and also an enthusiastic tiger fan who has watched all the four matches of Bangladesh in Tri-Nation series at Dublin and all group-stage matches as well as two warm-up matches of the tigers in Champions Trophy. Advisory Editor, shottobani