Batting Down Under
While the big guns of the test babes are consistently inconsistent, Alok Kapali brings a breath of refreshing air to the national team. Be it his bravado performance of 89 not out of 93 balls against the pace attacks of West Indies or his 85 of 111 balls Man of the Match innings in the second test, that this eighteen year old all-rounder from Baghbari, Sylhet remains the national side's only face saver.
Like other youngsters of the country Kapali's cricket career started with the Nirman School Cricket tournament. In 1997, then only twelve, batting third down Alok scored 83 for the Aided School in the last match of the competition. Basically a leg spinner, Alok discovered his batting talent on that very day. In Kapali's own words -- "It was a defining moment for me. That day changed my career altogether".
It wasn't completely smooth sailing though. At the beginning of the national league he wasn't getting any run at all and on the bowling front too he was wicketless. It was such a frustrating experience for the cricketer that he decided to quit cricketing. " I had told my fellow team-mate Tushar bhai that I would go to Canada to stay there with my elder brother Bikash", Alok reminiscences his days of struggle. However, the Manager of the side decided to give Alok the last chance. The second manager of the side Arman, asked Alok what he would do, as he was getting neither runs nor wickets. Alok's answer was surprising; he wanted to open for the side. Alok explains the reason " I wasn't getting enough balls to play. My plan was to play as many balls possible".
In the next match Alok scored a marvellous 76 and took 5 wickets against Dhaka. Kapali's hunger for runs and wickets in the rest of the matches led him to be the best all rounder of the league. One person was observing this all-rounder's performance with great interest-- coach of the national team Mohsin Kamal. It was the medium pacer Tarik Aziz's injury in Sri Lanka that prompted the selectors to call Kapali. That was out of the blue though -- batsman and spinner Kapali wasn't supposed to replace a medium fast bowler. Again Kamal's insistence made the rather unusual replacement of its kind. The decision to substitute an injured pacer with a leg spinner drew flak from many cricket pandits.
It wasn't the dream start for a débutante. When he was sent to bat Bangladesh was 51 for 5. Being asked how it felt while batting in such an occasion Kapali says, "I was really nervous. Before that I had seen Jayasurya and Upal Chandana only on the television". Alok's resolved reply of 39 against Sri Lanka saved the soul of his team and probably his coach's job. In the next innings of the test Kapali scored another patient 23 run of 86 balls and thus helped his team-mate Ashraful score a brilliant knock of 75.
In the Mini World Cup, Kapali hammered another 45 runs against fancied Australia when Bangladesh's total score was a mere 129. Interestingly, when the rest of his fellow batsmen were struggling, Kapali played exceptionally well against his idol Shane Warne. He explains the secret, "As a leg spinner I used to follow Warne's bowling and he is my favourite player too. That's the reason..."
Kapali believes the national team's current failing spree is a temporary phenomenon -- "We have some very good players. New Zealand needed almost 26 years to win their first test."
According to Kapali, he gets the much-needed inspiration from the members of his family -- "My elder brother Dipak encourages me most. He watches each and every international match I play for the national side". Being the youngest one in a family of ten brothers and sisters always remains an embarrassment for Kapali. "At the beginning my mother wasn't ready to allow me to go to Sri Lanka". Whenever the mother falls sick she becomes well again seeing the youngest son back home.
According to Alok, he is now "too busy with cricket", so no one special from the opposite gender is on sight. But the girl of his choice will be from his hometown, he confirms. His choice of favourite actor is from Sylhet too. "I like Salman Shah's films. He was my immediate elder brother's friend. We cried the day he passed away".
Being asked whether he would be in the national squad for the coming World Cup, Kapali replies -- "I don't know, I am in the first twenty." The selectors may ignore him, but they would do it at their own peril. It's a decision they simply can't afford to make.
By Ahmede Hussain