Bangladesh move to the centre-stage
I made my debut as a cricket commentator in 1955 from Dacca, East Pakistan.
Dacca is now Dhaka and East Pakistan is Bangladesh. There was only one hotel
in Dacca that had any pretensions to be a hotel in the modern sense, the
Shahbagh and what I remember most about the hotel was its lobby.
It would be full of autograph-hunters, school boys who had a running battle
with the staff of the hotel who wanted them cleared. But the school boys won
and they sought out the Test stars, to touch their flesh as the expression goes.
They did not recognise the players and asked for help in identifying them from
whoever was around. It was carnival time.
I had always associated that part of the subcontinent with football but cricket
fever was running high. Little did I realise that it was the budding of a
love-affair with the game of cricket.
Thereafter, whenever I went back for the cricket, I became more and more
convinced that the people would not just settle for being devotees of the game,
they would want to wield the willow. It's been a long haul but finally
Bangladesh has arrived on the centre-stage of international cricket. I am
thrilled for them.
Bangladesh has gone wild with celebrations, a little out of proportion but
only the real cricket fan knows what cricket means. How can we in Pakistan
forget the tumultuous reception that was accorded to the cricket team when
it returned from England in 1954 after winning the Oval Test match?
On occasions like these, it sometimes happens that the real pioneers are
overlooked, those who lit a candle in the darkness and I would like to see
that someone like Kamal Z. Islam, a former President of the Bangladesh Cricket
Board is duly honoured. He was at the helm when the very idea of Bangladesh
becoming a Test playing nation would have been far-fetched, beyond the realms
I first met him when I went to Dhaka in the early eighties. He was not at
all amused that countries like Pakistan and India were meting out step-brotherly
treatment to Bangladesh and in the case of Pakistan, our Cricket Board was not
even replying to his letters. That is when I offered to bring a private team
And I did, captained by Imran Khan and several Test players in it. The tour
was a huge success and thousands came to watch and the matches were telecast
live. Most of the expenditure was met by Kamal Islam
But that was not all. He asked me to send a coach and I spoke to Mohammad
Farooq and he went to Dhaka and spent several months there.Kamal Islam holds
no office in the present Bangladesh cricket set-up, I keep in regular touch
with him. There has been no lessening in his love for cricket generally and
Bangladesh cricket particularly.
Nor is there the slightest trace of bitterness in him that he is not on the
main stage. But Bangladesh cricket owe him some recognition and need to honour
him for his contribution. As far as I am concerned, he led Bangladesh cricket
out of the wilderness.
Doubts have been expressed whether Bangladesh should have been given Test
status because the team is considered to be not good enough. The same could
have been said about New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. There is no yard-stick
available to judge the standard of cricket.
At present, it would seem that Bangladesh will have a tough sledding. But does
it matter? What matters is the tremendous popularity of the game, the fanatical
following, more than even Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. The only way that the
standard of the game can be raised is the hard way, by playing Test cricket.
Bangladesh will get a terrible drubbing in the beginning but one fine day,
they will win a Test match and then there will be no looking back. The key is
not to get discouraged.
The obituary of Test cricket has been written several times. But then a Test
match comes along that has us sitting on the edge of our chair. The
Pakistan-West Indies Test match at Antigua was one of those as was the one
at Lord's which England won in as tight a photo-finish as is imaginable.
Nothing in the one-day version of the game could have matched it.
And I have always believed that England can never be written off. England has
been through a barren spell, so much so that one seriously wondered whether
they are good enough to be playing Test cricket any more, an opinion shared
by many in England itself. But cricket's charm lies in its unpredictability.
The win at Lord's will do much to revive interest in Test cricket in England
and has injected a new life in the series. Winning and losing is inherent in
every sport. But what makes the Lord's Test match special is that neither team
gave up until the last ball, literally. This is what keeps someone like me going.
I have had such a long association with the game, too long I have sometimes
felt, but just when I feel like calling it a day, something like this comes
along and I am once again like a little boy at a toy shop.
Bangladesh will go through this, there will be many heartbreaks but there
will also be many great moments. The cricket public must not be fickle. A very
warm welcome to Bangladesh to the club and my congratulations to all those who
made it possible including the ICC who did the right thing for a change. Four
Test playing countries in South Asia. Could the British have ever imagined it
when the natives first took to the game? And that the game of cricket would be
their most enduring colonial legacy? It now remains for Bangladesh to play at
Lord's and win.
[Copyright Dawn, 05 July, 2000.]