Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The untold story of Mohammad Ashraful, the flag bearer of Bangladesh Cricket

On a winter day of 1993 at the Sidhdheswary cricket training ground, one of the breeding grounds of many national cricketers, a couple of net practices were going on. Former Bangladesh skipper Khaled Mahmud Sujon and Imran Hamid Partho were doing serious net practice for Amarjyoti, a club that used to play in the second division cricket league. Mohammad Rafique, ace spinner of Bangladesh, had played for Amarjyoti in the previous season and was also there to share the net practice. Cricket in Bangladesh in those days were easily outclassed by football and Bangladesh were only playing ICC Trophy without any apparent success.

A young boy of about 9-10 was a regular feature at the net practices. He always arrived in time dressed in cricket whites; a bit oversized on his lean body. He was happy to work as a net boy, nothing more. Day after day, month after month he continued to be a regular feature of the practice session of Amarjyoti club. The club completed one season in the second division league, net practice stopped and the boy was not seen anywhere near the Sidhdheswary ground for the rest of the year.

Next year, the net session started and everyone was surprised to see the boy, back again to perform his duty with religious regularity. Almost nothing changed; the same face, the same whites and the same dedication. One day Khaled Mahmud, captain of Amarjyoti club, asked him, “Do you want to be a cricketer”? Yes, the answer was very prompt from him. “I can bowl a bit, leg spin bowling. If you allow me, I can show you some,” said the boy who looked no more than 9-10 years old. Surprisingly enough, Mahmud listened to the boy's appeal.

Imperial Ashraful

Imperial Ashraful

The first batsman in the net was Imran Hamid Partho, a dashing left handed opener who later played for Bangladesh A and Abahani. At that time he was a leading performer for Amarjyouti and was particularly merciless against spinners. With all the concentration in the world, the young boy delivered his first ever ball in the competitive world of cricket. The ball, which could have disappeared from the small field, deceived Imran with turn and bounce and Imran missed it completely. In utter disbelief everyone witnessed the incident, Imran was shaking his head. The same thing happened in the next ball and the boy continued to cause all sorts of trouble for Imran. Batsmen came to the net one after another, and the magic continued. After the net session, they boy with a smiling face said, “See, I can bowl leg spin a bit”. He was very happy to become a part of the net session that he had witnessed for years with a dream to participate.

Suddenly the club officials became very interested in the boy and wanted to make sure that he turns up the very next morning. The next day was a busy day for him; the club officials took him to the BCB office of the Bangabandhu National Stadium to get him registered with the club. After searching all available sportswear shops, they somehow managed to find him proper cricket whites, which after a good amount of tailoring, fitted the lean body of the boy.

In the next seven days he bowled as many balls as he wished, and all the players knew they had a match winner in their team. He got the first opportunity to bat in the net after 8 days; it was the day before the first match. More surprise was waiting for everyone in the field; this time the balls were disappearing everywhere with some sweet sound from the willow of the boy. He was playing every type of shots present in the coaching manual with unbelievable ease. Khaled Mahmud, the captain of Amarjyoti, exclaimed in surprise, “You really bat well, exceptional”. “I am basically a bowler who can bat a bit”, was the modest answer from the boy.

Match day. Everyone in the field was very astonished to see the name a very young boy in the playing XI of Amarjyoti. After first 10 overs, Mahmud turned to the young prodigy. The umpire asked the name of the bowler. "Ashraful….Mohammad Ashraful," was the answer. The leg spinner Ashraful won the match for Amarjyoti.

A talent was born and history was being made. Ashraful got the return of all his dedication and sincerity. A net boy, who passed days after days collecting ball from the net without any return, became the most valuable player of the team at the age of 10.

At that time, former spinner and Mohammedan player, Wahidul Gani was a leading mentor of young cricketers. Mahmud took Ashraful to Wahidul Gani to show the talent he had discovered. On the very first day Gani realized the arrival of a star in his training camp. Ashraful became a very special student of Wahidul Gani, and the mentor used all his expertise to shape up the future of Bangladesh cricket.

Ashraful stayed with Amarjyoti for only one season. In the very next season he moved to Victoria Sporting Club who were playing in the first division cricket league. Time started to pass very quickly for Ashraful. He was called for Bangladesh age group teams starting from U-13 to U-21’s. A leg spin bowler soon turned into the mainstay of batting in every team he played. In 16th January 2000, he made his debut for U-19 world cup at the age of 15 years and made his first class debut for Dhaka Division in 22nd November 2000.

Within one year, he played for Bangladesh U-19’s in ICC U-19 world cup, Bangladesh U-17’s in ICC U-17 Asia Cup, Dhaka Metropolis in National Cricket League and Bangladesh Cricket Board XI against Australian Academy. After showing his brilliance everywhere, Ashraful finally made his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in April 2001 at the age of 16 years. In September 2001, he made his historic Test debut against Sri Lanka in the Asian Test Championship and hammered a brilliant century to become the youngest player to make a Test century.

Now I will take you to May 1, 2003. Bangladesh were playing the 2nd Test against South Africa in Dhaka. After reducing South Africa to 63-4, Bangladesh failed to keep up the pressure . Rudolph and Boucher were repairing the South African innings and formed a 107 run partnership to lift South Africa to 170-4. Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud turned to Mohammad Ashraful and he repaid the faith immediately. He lured Rudolph out of the crease and wicketkeeper Mohammad Selim did the rest. It was like the action replay of something that happened 8 years ago when Amarjyoti captain Khaled Mahmud turned to the unknown 10 year old boy to spin some magic. The characters were the same but the arena was vastly different. Ashraful completed the first cycle of his cricketing career, from a 2nd division club net of Siddheswary ground to the Test match gournds of Bangabandhu National Stadium.

In his roller coaster international career, Ashraful produced some magic with the bat but failed live up to the expectations on numerous occasions. In spite of all of his failures, he was always regarded as the best batsman of Bangladesh cricket, someone who can turn the table around for Bangladesh. Whenever bad days came, he turned to his mentor Wahidul Gani. Gani eagerly waited to see his student and the pair worked hard to see off the hard times. Ashraful's sincerity and dedication always brought him back from the brink of failure.

On June 2, 2007, the Bangladesh Cricket Board appointed Mohammad Ashraful as Bangladesh captain. On the very first day of his glory, he returned to the Sidhdheswary ground, the birth place of the cricketer Ashraful. The lean young boy, who waited for months with sincerity and dedication to get his first chance in the nets, went back to the same field as the flag bearer of Bangladesh cricket.

Friday, 15 June 2007

"Bangladesh will do better in Sri Lanka" - Ashraful

Bangladesh's newly appointed captain Mohammad Ashraful believes Bangladesh will start performing in the test arena from starting with the upcoming Sri Lanka series. According to Ashraful, Bangladesh will perform much better compared to their last outing in Sri Lanka in 2005, which was dubbed as the worst test series played by Bangladesh.

After returning to the test arena after a 13 months break, Bangladesh managed to draw one test and lost the other in the recently concluded two match test series against India.

Bangladesh enter into Ashraful era through Sri Lanka tour

Bangladesh enter into Ashraful era through Sri Lanka tour © Cricinfo

Ashraful, in his first assignment as a captain, wants to work hard to extend each test match to five days with some good batting display.

"My personal team target is to play throughout the five days in all the three tests. We have emphasized on our batting in the practice sessions. All of us have batted for a long time in the nets and the centre wicket. We have been playing good cricket in the ODIs for the last 12-13 months. That is why there is more confidence is the team," said a confident looking Ashraful during the final press briefing before leaving for Colombo.

Despite suffering heavy defeats against the islanders on all previous occasions, the Bangladesh captain is confident of putting up a good fight against Sri Lanka in the away series.

Most teams have struggled there in recent times. We toured Sri Lanka four times but could not play well. But this time I see more self-confidence in every player. Also we have plenty of international experience. That gives me reasons to feel optimistic about this series," said Ashraful.

Ashraful was critical about the form of the top order batsmen in recent times, but remains hopeful that they will learn from their mistakes.

"We did not play well against India in the tests. But after that we practiced a lot in the nets. Our batsmen have a problem with ball selection. We have been working on this for the last seven days. We hope that we will not repeat the same mistakes in the upcoming series."

He was also keen to utilise the three-day warm up match before the test series to acclimatize to Sri Lankan conditions.

"We have a three-day match prior to the test series. We will try to gain more confidence by putting up a good show in that match. We will probably go into that game with the best squad we have."

Most of the Bangladesh?s current crop of players came through age-group cricket and Ashraful, the youngest test captain of Bangladesh, is optimistic that the team spirit of the young Tigers will help each other to lift their game.

"There are a number of players in our team who have been playing together from the under-13, 17, 19 levels. We have also played with the senior players for the last five-six years in the national team. So there is a very good understanding between us. I think it is a plus point for our team".

Bangladesh leave for Sri Lanka on June 17, and the three match test series will kick off on June 25 with first test to be played in Premadasa Stadium, Colombo.