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Historical Article

Bangladesh move to the centre-stage

Omar Kureishi

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 of possibility.

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 to Bangladesh.

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 personally.

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.]


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