Prathom Alo's sports editor Utpal Shuvro spoke recently to Mohammad Ashraful soon after Ashraful was sacked from the national team captaincy. After some initial reticence, he finally agreed to a chat. This interview was taken at the poolside of the Accra Beach Resort on the eve of his first match since losing the captaincy. BanglaCricket thanks Utpal Shuvro in allowing us to present an English translation of the interview in Bangla that was originally published in the Bengali daily Prathom Alo.
Utpal Shuvro, Prathom Alo (PA): How are you?
Mohammad Ashraful (MA): I am fine, thanks to Allah.
PA: People seem to be thinking that you have not been able to take the loss of captaincy too easilyâ€¦
PA: Almost everyone. I think it is based on your recent statement that you were enjoying the captaincy and that you wanted to continue on. It is natural to then feel upset being removed from the captaincy after that.
MA: I am a cricketer above all. I have been playing for the national team for eight years, captain for the last two. I have taken the loss of captaincy quite normally. Thatâ€™s because, I have played under all Bangladeshi Test captains so far and I have seen them all leave too. So I knew that the same will happen to me too.
PA: Then why didn't you give up the captaincy before the Board sacked you?
MA: I didnâ€™t because if they had any criticisms to make, it should have been for my batting. They could say, they were not getting the innings from me like in the past and such â€¦ but as a team, we were not doing so badly. We won two big ODIs and drew one Test. Outside of these, we also did play well in other Test matches. Bangladesh has now played 50 Tests, winning one and they drew one by playing well against the West Indiesâ€¦ the rest of the draws were by virtue of rain. Under Chacha (Khaled Mahmud) Bangladesh played a good Test match at Multan, under Sumon Bhai (Habibul Bashar) we played a good Test match against Australia and under me we played three good Test matches against South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. We didnâ€™t win in the end but the games were close. That is why I believe we were on the right track.
PA: If that's what you believe then I can't believe that you werenâ€™t upset at losing the captaincy.
MA: Believe what you will. I am not upset because I have many years ahead of me. In many countries, don't even beging their international careers at my age. In Bangladesh, we often send 25-26 year old cricketers into retirement. In other countries, cricketers a few years older are just beginning their international career. I have said this many times â€“ I have many years in front of me and the years I have already played are a bonus. But that doesnâ€™t mean that I hadnâ€™t tried my best. I have always worked hard. No coaching staff can criticize my effort and attitude.
PA: No one has said anything about that in the past..
MA: Look, as I said, there has never been a lack of effort on my part. Unfortunately, I have not been able to show results. I will definitely be able to do so in the future. There is still plenty of time. I will be a captain again.
Mohammad Ashraful Â© Cricinfo
That's one reason I did not give up the captaincy even when I wanted to. If I had quit, questions will surely be asked next time I am made captain. Yes, I wanted to quit â€“ when the team loses, all the blame falls on my shoulders. There are ten other players in the team. They too have to play well. Sumon bhai was a good captain because others in the team played well. Almost all the wins under his captaincy were due to my performances. I hope I will play well under Mashrafe. He will be a good captain. And when I am captain again in the future, perhaps then both the team and I will play well.
PA: You were made captain through the West Indies tour. It is unprecedented in Bangladeshâ€™s cricket history that a captain has been sacked before his term ended. I guess you hadnâ€™t thought of this?
MA: No, but I knew everything is possible in Bangladesh. I have known since I was young that nothing is guaranteed. Otherwise, who would have thought that one loss to Ireland would end it all?
PA: So did the board made this decision bowing to public pressure as opposed to being based on cricketing reasons?
MA: I canâ€™t answer this. I have the code of conduct to think of.
PA:Captain or not, your performance is always under microscope. Don't you think it's sometimes unfair?
MA: No, why should it be? I would have done the same in their place. The person who scored a debut century versus Murali should always play wellâ€“ I too had that expectation. No, itâ€™s not criminal but international cricket is not at all easy. It is tough.
PA: And you are saying this even after eight years in international cricket?
MA: The other day I was reading an interview of Ricky Ponting. He said that, even today, he is still learning. If he says this after 34 Test centuries, what should I say? 9 years after getting Test status, we still donâ€™t have good facilities and infrastructure. I know, many will point to Mirpur [SBNS] â€¦
PA: Whatâ€™s so special about Mirpur? In other Test nations, you can find these facilities in every street corner.
MA: Thatâ€™s true. We must improve our infrastructure. If the nationâ€™s cricket improves, the national team will surely improve. We must strengthen domestic cricket. We must provide more opportunities and facilities for the Academy team.
PA: How will you remember your two years as captain?
MA: A mix of good and bad. You have to remember that I was made captain at a very young age. I was the youngest captain in Test cricket. I had always dreamt of being the national captain since I was young. That dream had come true. But it did not end the way I wanted it to. But, I have learned a lot and hope to make use of it in the future.
PA: What is the best part (or worst) of being captain?
MA: It is very tough to captain or to coach the Bangladesh team. We donâ€™t have a McGrath nor a Warne; all they have to do is bowl and the deed is done. Neither do we have a Haydn nor a Gilchrist. What we have to do, we have to do together. We have only been playing Test cricket for 9 years. I am saying â€œonlyâ€ because we have yet to find our best team. From even Bulbul Bhaiâ€™s (Aminul Islam Bulbul) era, we have been hearing that Bangladesh is a young side. We are still young. We have to be given encouragement. But while we find everyone standing besides us when we play well, no one is with us when we do not. When we win, many will say â€˜I did this or I did thatâ€™ but when we lose, only we lose.
PA: Even the Board seems to be joining the public chorus of criticism these days...
MA: Yeah, that hurts. I will just say this, the Board is here because of the players and that the players need the Board. This is a partnership. If the team fares badly, the Board too will have to assume some responsibility.
PA: Does all this that there might be an extra desire in trying to do well during the West Indies tour?
MA: No, nothing like that. I always try to do my best and will do the same this time too.
PA: But arenâ€™t things a bit different this time? So much has been said, it would be eminently normal to have a desire to show what Ashraful is capable of.
MA: People know what Ashraful is capable of. Everyone knows, if Ashraful plays well, Bangladesh will win. Bangladesh has yet to win a big Test match, because I have yet to play well in any of them. In every close Test match that we have lost, I did not do well.
PA: Is that just to prove that Bangladesh can't win if Ashraful doesn't play well?
MA: (Laughs) I donâ€™t know that. Maybe (laughs again).
PA: You are the most experienced of all the players. You are the only one to have experienced a Test in the West Indies. And you just lost your captaincyâ€¦ All eyes will be on you.
MA: I donâ€™t worry about it. There is but just one thing â€“ I have to perform. As captain, at least I didn't fear getting dropped. Now, if I do badly, they will drop me.
PA: Which Ashraful will we get to see on this West Indies tour?
MA: (laughs) Batsman Ashraful of course. I am not going down to toss in this series.