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Historical Article

It is about cricket and much more: A book review

K.Z. Islam

Sentimental Journey: It’s more than just a game by Yousuf Rezaur Rahman

Yousuf Rezaur Rahman and indeed Bangladesh cricket burst into the international scene on 7 January 1977 when Yousuf ‘Babu’ embarked on his scintillating innings of 78 against the touring MCC XI. Yusuf has recorded in his Sentimental Journey, “I still believe that the innings I played on that January day 1977 has been the best in my career.” The match was an unofficial test of sorts played between MCC and the Bangladesh XI. Bangladesh was struggling at 145 for 6 and in came Yousuf at number 8 and the fireworks began. The match ended in a respectable draw and with a giant leap forward for Bangladesh Cricket which not only earned us immediate ICC membership but also eventually the Test status. I may say here that I was an eyewitness to every single ball he played on the 7th and 8th of January, 1977.

Yousuf has had an illustrious cricketing career which came to a premature end. His 78 scored against MCC in 1977 was really the forerunner of Bangladesh cricket. I recall his obsession for physical fitness and undoubtedly he was the fittest of all sportsmen. Yousuf was the role model of his era and whenever he went to the crease he brought with him a breath of fresh air and flair. The high standard of moral and ethical behaviour, the physical fitness and the high targets that he set for himself is fully reflected in the book. Yousuf was involved with cricket for twenty-five years, starting from 1965, and played the game at the highest level from 1977 to 1984.

The book is more than a commentary on cricket. It is more like an outline of the rules of living. Written in a conversational style some of the chapter titles like Intensity, Courage, Discipline, Teamwork, Perseverance and Effort interspersed with cricket, historical anecdotes and literary quotations could apply to many situations in life. Certainly it would be an inspirational guide to any youngster not only in Bangladesh but worldwide. I have a collection of biographical cricket books and the Sentimental Journey is no less readable than the best of them. I do hope that this book gets a wide circulation in Bangladesh and beyond its borders.

As the book has been arranged subject-wise and is not a chronological history of Bangladesh cricket it may be best to review the book chapter-wise. In the chapter on Intensity the bit I liked the most was that at a reception laid out for the Pakistan team (probably in 1955) after skipper Kardar’s speech, Imtiaz Ahmed was asked to speak a few words. He stepped up to the microphone and boisterously expressed his views on cricket in the following two words: “How’s that?” This must be the shortest speech in the annals of oratory.

In the chapter on Courage Yousuf relates his eternal regret about his performance in the semi-finals of the 1982 ICC Trophy competition against Papua New Guinea. “Had I played with more caution during that half hour preceding lunch and stayed unbeaten at lunch I would have had time to regroup and collect my thoughts during the lunch break and would have probably ended the innings scoring a double hundred. Had I stayed on and got more runs we would have scored over 300 runs and there was no way Papua New Guinea would have taken the day. The bronze metal would have come to Bangladesh.”

In the chapter on Discipline he mentions that he used to be in bed by 9:30 PM so that he could go for his morning jog by 6:00 AM. This habit made him skip many a party. I am afraid many cricketers would not agree with Yousuf’s obsession with such discipline. Chetan Chauhan, the longstanding batting partner of the legend Sunil Gavaskar, related his somewhat different habits to me. He told me how he would dress for a party. If it was a formal party he would wear a suit. If it was a dancing party he would wear a coloured shirt. BUT, if it was an all-night party, he would wear his cricketing whites. And what about those incidents of Keith Miller arriving in the hotel in the morning in his evening dress when the team was getting on to the bus to leave for the grounds? Certainly Dennis Compton would have differed with Yousuf.

In the chapter on Teamwork Yousuf mentions about the disastrous tour of Kenya in 1984 when he made up his mind to quit international cricket. In that tour Yousuf is quite harsh on the team manager and the skipper. To quote, “They were not only incompetent in their managerial abilities but were too weak in taking decisions when it mattered and allowed the players to dictate the proceedings of the tour.” It is rather unfortunate that Yousuf deprived Bangladesh cricket of his services as a result of his displeasure of the management of the Bangladesh team in Kenya.

In this chapter Yousuf is even harsher on the Cricket Board. I am sorry I will have to differ with Yousuf’s views as I happened to be the President of BCCB at that time. Those who were my colleagues would bear me out that the Board was run most democratically and every member’s voice was heard and taken note of. Syed Ashraful Huq was my general secretary and Moni the joint secretary. Reza-e-Karim was also a Board member. I found all of them extremely competent. Those who worked with me will agree that there was absolutely no grouping in the Board. Both Ashraful and Moni met Yousuf and pleaded with him to retract his decision to retire. I personally feel that Yousuf’s retirement was premature and was guided more by emotion than by reason. The loss was much more to Bangladesh cricket than to Yousuf.

He further states, “Because of the Cricket Board’s inefficiency, the Ministry of Sports nullified the 1986 Bangladesh team selected by the Board and decided to select its own national team.” This has to be clarified as such was not the case. At that time Lutfur Rahman (Makhan) was the Chairman of the Selection Committee and the team that was submitted to the Ministry remained intact bar the inclusion of a nominee of the then Secretary of the Ministry of Works. Incidentally, the nominee was not included in a single game during the ICC matches. I was personally deeply disappointed with the performance of the team as I had worked very hard to send a good team. There seems to be a tendency to think that when the team succeeds it is because of the players and when it fails it is because of the organisers. This is probably a universal manifestation.

Under the chapter Leadership and Vision Yousuf reflects on Bangladesh’s getting the Test status, “I felt that a wait for another year or two would be the prudent decision, which would better serve the cause of cricket in Bangladesh. The players and the officials were simply not ready technically, mentally, or physically to take the stress of five-day matches at test match level.” As far as my information goes if we had not got ODI and Test status when we got it we would have had to wait for a long time to get it.

The chapter on What the coach won’t tell you should be a source of inspiration to anyone. Yousuf says, “Manage your time, Laughter is the best medicine, Discipline your speech, Listen to Others, Show urgency in the field, Admit your mistakes, Wear the disciplined look, Respect others and have faith in their abilities, Develop and maintain a positive mental attitude, Get the exercise bug into you, Learn to relax and recharge, Control your emotions, Take early preparations and become pro-active, Get up early and be early, Learn something new and try it in practice, Read books and expand your knowledge, Be curious and ask questions, Have a mentor, Say a prayer whenever you can, and Respect the Game.”

Yousuf is to be congratulated for writing such an incisive and detailed account of Bangladesh cricket and also for giving plenty of good advice to the current and up and coming cricketers. I find there is one omission. The readers would have liked the full statistics of Yousuf’s playing career both at the national and international levels. After all, cricket is a game of statistics!

[Copyright: Weekly Holiday, May 3, 2002]


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