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Every protagonist must go through ten stages of transformation in search of Enlightenment from ultimate novice to that of a wandering master or Sage. Mohammad Ashraful has gone through several metamorphoses from that of a wunderkind, to a failed genius and now that of an artist in supreme touch of mastery to make his comeback. Ashraful is on an unbeaten, and so far, the highest, partnership of 261 with Mushfiqur Rahim with the showman himself on the highest individual score by a Bangladesh batsman. His BPL century was the first flash of insight of his potential to return to arena and his 100 stint at practice solidified his intent. Now at the eve of what could be a potential double hundred in test- first Bangladeshi to do so, we trace back at his journey to finding the Source.
Mohammad Ashraful and Ten Stages of Ox Herding
by Zeeshan Mahmud
Published: 10th March, 2013
To watch Ashraful bat at times is akin to a master tai chi performer in motion. Fluid, poetic, effortless, subtle - one can go on describing his innings with various degrees of nuances. But just like any Icarus, he had his downfall after flying too close to the Heavens.
There have been three centurions this BPL and one of them none from fans' beloved Mohammad Ashraful himself. Like a sage, he has led a wandering life from that of a lost soul to one tasting a sip of Enlightenment only to lose it next second.
Tai chi and sports is not thoroughly incompatible. Phil Jackson, coach of Lakers, regards his signature attack as "Five Men Tai Chi". Additionally, meditation has helped star performer like Tiger Woods. Esoteric and ancient Chinese principles, if adapted and cultivated, can serve as testament to personal growth of awareness, whether it be a quest of spirituality, or striving for perfection in one's art. The illustration of the Ten Bulls originally conceived by Chan practioner Kuòān Shīyuǎn will highlight how a pupil when gets lost in the path to success may find his way back to Enlightenment.
Our protagonist in the journey would be Ashraful. I assert that in spite of mockery and deluge of fame and status, Mohammad Ashraful, remains an asset. If he is back in the national squad at top notch form and if the team gels, then Bangladesh may very well come closer ranking to invincibility in one-day format.
Of course, the imagery of bull is no more than the taming of the most deviant demon in universe - Mind. And how often we talked of the temperament has been a crucial role in hindrance to development of many talents? I borrow the poems from Miriam Levering's Zen Inspirations: Essential Meditations and Texts.
I. The Search for the Bull
Vigorously cutting a path through the brambles, you look for the ox;
rivers wide, mountains far, the path gets longer.
Running out of strength, mind exhausted, you cannot find it.
Rustling of maple leaves
singing of evening cicadas.
Harken back to the pre-BPL era when Ashraful was just a lost soul! Potential was there. The only man to have the highest Test century as well as youngest one with him peaking at Cardiff and Trentbridge. But when BPL started he was another "no one" in pool of talents and he had to do something extraoridnary to leave his famous imprint.
The journey thus begins...
II. Discovering the Footprints
By the water, deep within the forest, you find traces.
Leaving fragrant grasses behind, you study the signs.
Following the tracks, you enter endless mountains.
Distant sky- how can the tip of its nose be hidden elsewhere?
He started out in a nonchalant fashion. Recent matches would show like an outlier his highest innings of 103* stands out.
Chirping, a yellow oriole on a branch.
Warm sun, gentle breeze, green willows on the bank.
No place to turn around-
in brambles, its head and horn are not clearly seen
And then one day he would play a blitzkrieg of innings scoring 47-ball 73 in the 4th match versus Rangpur. His pounding helped Dhaka reach a 202. Dhaka Gladiators would go on to win by 35 runs. Clearly the bull has been sighted. Glimmer of hope for the fans. Was Ash back in form?
IV. Catching the Bull
Through tremendous effort you have caught ox.
Still its will is strong, its body vigorous
Sometimes it runs to a high ground,
sometimes it disappears deep in mist.
Ashraful had to wait. Next match he would only go on to score 9. However on the 13th match, Ashraful would be bowled by Mominul Haque missing his fifty to score a so-so 35-ball-38. He would be the highest contributor in that match, but Dhaka would go on to lose [scorecard] .
V. Taming the Bull
You cannot put whip and tether aside
for fear it will wander into a swamp.
Once trained to be gentle,
free of rope the ox follows your way
Looks like Ashraful has yet to balance his yin-and-yang to reinvent himself. But as they say, Eid comes once a year in cricket and that too, when it comes is a sight to behold.
VI. Riding the Bull Home
Taking a winding path you ride the ox home.
The tune of your rustic flute permeates the evening haze.
Each note, each song: feeling unbounded
knowing the sound is beyond lips and mouth.
After a forgettable innings like 14, he would experiment by going on the back gear and score a 48-ball 33. It was a match for Chittagong to win.
VII. The Bull Transcended
You have ridden home on the ox.
At rest, you forget it.
Bright sun high in the sky; you daydream blissfully
leaving whip and tether behind in the grass-roof hut.
Thanks to Ashraful's protege Anamaul's 83 Dhaka Gladiators would pile up score 217 with some extra helping of Shakib onslaught of 42 from 24 (Scorecard). Ian Pont must be one lucky fella' to have the hit the jackpot to have the best thoroughbred horses in cavalier formation. I mean, if cricketers were to be race horses then Ashraful must surely be a Przewalski's horse- a rare breed.
VIII. Both Bull and Self Transcended
Whip and tether, you, the ox all empty.
Vast blue sky cannot be reached ideas.
How can the fire's flame sustain the snowflakes?
Having reached here, you are in accord with the ancient way.
This is the stage of grace. Pure awareness. Ancilliary wheels fall off; now the master glides freely. This is the time to let go off one's accumulated knowledge, techniques, intelligence and advice. This is where the masters like Amla, Yusuf, Tendulkar, Jayasuria, Ponting, Clarke just create an innings with effortless strokeplay and automatic shot selection. In the master's mind, there are only few moves. One dissolves in his role.
Not everyday Mohammad Ashraful's "official" thread gets bumped up in BC. So when I woke up in the morning and saw the heading of his name, then in a brief soliloquoy the following followed: Mohammad Ashraful. Wait. It's BPL. It can't be true? Cann'it? Damn!
And then as I frantically clicked ESPN link of the 35th Match, thunder struck. Eid! Once again. Jesus Christ. Yes! Nafees till then was the only player with a century in BPL (!?) but as I would hurriedly have to wait for my Eastern Thought class to be over to watch the highlights of him crafting a masterpiece, nothing would have salivated my urges further.
But what was even more astonishing was the sub-dued 94* in 54 ball of Birt (!) . But I could care less and as I rented out headphones in college library to watch the video.. Amongst American onlookers, I could care less what caricature others concocted from same perception because I was simply in Heaven (!!).
IX. Reaching the Source
You have returned to the source; effort is over.
The intimate self is blind and deaf.
Inside the hut, nothing outside is seen.
Waters are boundless, flowers red.
It seems Ashraful only knows one gear. Plus ça change....
Ashraful would seemingly forget his epiphany and revert back to his own self with a stark contrast of a single run against a Gayle's herculean ton. But he had made his mark alright. Dhaka Gladiators can now rely on basically just 1-man show -whether it be Dilshan, Ashraful, Gayle (for 1 match), Anamul Haque, or the soon-to-be man of the series, Shakib al Hasan. It's like Jay Leno's garage. Full of superstar brands under tutelage of Ian Pont's passion for the Tigers.
X. In the World
You go into the marketplace barefooted, unadorned,
smeared with mud, covered with dust, smiling.
Using no supernatural power
you bring the withered trees to bloom.
Mohammad Ashraful has his flaws. He is impuslive, he cuts and edges often getting lucky past slip, cannot switch gears and most importantly lets his fans get to him. But this is the same guy who would go at lengths to meditation seminars and treating Sachin with his culinary hospitality just to progress his games unlike others.
He has the zest, the exuberance and the spirit.
While it would do wonders to his game if he could tweak his shot selection, switch gears effortlessly and cope with mental pressure playing a flawless innings with no drops or edges to slip, but that'd be to miss the point. Ashraful exists with all his flaws, and if we must expect the best off him than we must learn to appreciate his flaws.
Excluded from national team due to dissatisfication by Akram Khan dismissing that Ashraful is not playing to his potential, whilst remaining a very good T20 player (banglanews24), perhaps it does more good than damage. Perhaps it'd bring out his Inner Don to take the team to unheard of heights. Perhaps, but as evinced from the exuberance of a fan, yours, I dare make the case that not exposing him to international arena will stunt his growth. Sure, the pipeline is full of fresh blood, and the man's spirit remains high, as the start he gave in the final match of BPL with a 16-ball-24 before Anamul would steal the show and before he'd perish to an rash aerial skier, hed have already instilled a gusto that cannot otherwise be quantified remaining of true champions.
Now at the eve of a potential double hundred by him, the first Bangladeshi to do so ever, would prove a testament to his unbroken spirit or willpower to achieve the mental block, or to tame the Bull, so to speak, and would prove inspiration to many generations to come.
About the author(s): Having graced the forum behind the dramatis personae of Gopal Bhar, Zeeshan now chiefly lurks here for nearby free iftar locations ie when not contemplating about Gödel, Escher and Bach or other meta-mathematical themes. He is also the author of "Collected Writings on Cricket".