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At a time when there is hardly any cricket of note for Bangladesh, we are all following spinner Enamul Haque Junior who is playing cricket in England in for Guisborough CC in the North Yorkshire and South Durham Premier League. Abu Choudhury spend some time talking to the young spinner.

The Spinner Who Went into the Cold…

Published: 1st June, 2011

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In an era where cricketers ply their trade all over the world, it should come as no surprise that Bangladesh spinner Enamul Haque Junior is playing cricket in England in 2011.  However, any comparison with the glamour of the Indian Premier League ends there; Enamul is in fact playing club cricket for Guisborough CC in the North Yorkshire and South Durham Premier League.

Enamul Haque jnr took 3 for 62
Enamul Haque Jnr took 3 for 62
I start by asking Enamul about his name.  I had read somewhere that he is in fact called “Mohammed Enamul Haque” and the “Junior” was added when he debuted in 2003 to distinguish him from another Bangladeshi spinner playing at the time, Enamul Haque Moni.  Enamul confirms this is correct.  The thought of officialdom callously changing a man’s name at a stroke of a pen reminds me of the Godfather Part II, where the Don is given the name of the town of his birth upon arrival in New York.  My concern is misplaced, however as this is a common occurrence in Bangladesh cricket; the same fate befell young batsman Mehrab Hossain who was given a similar moniker by the nation’s cricket administrators to distinguish him from his namesake Mehrab Hossain Opee.

It is a long way from North East Bangladesh to the North East of England, so I ask Enamul how he comes to find himself in South Durham in the unpredictable May weather.  He explains that he missed a large part of the first class season in Bangladesh as a result of an Achilles injury and is keen to get back to playing cricket to further his chances of a test recall.

“There is no cricket in Bangladesh right now and for the next six months.  Playing in England is a good opportunity for me to test myself after injury and build up some match practice.   I spoke to the selectors before I left Bangladesh and they encouraged me to play as much cricket as I can and were happy for me to come to England.”

Enamul explains why playing for Guisborough is ideal for him:

“It’s 50 over cricket but the rules are a bit different.  A bowler can bowl up to 17 overs and the one-day rule for legside wides is omitted.” 

“Playing in England is a great challenge for me.  The ball moves around a lot more and batsmen must have a good technique to be successful here.  I’m also learning a lot about cricket culture, how to socialize before the game and after.”

Enamul also views his stint in England as an opportunity to develop his batting:

“My captain, Martin Wood, lets me bat at no 4 or 5 for Guisborough, this too will help me in the future”.

It is not the first time that Enamul has played in England, he played here for Huddersfield in 2008 and also visited with Bangladesh Under 19s. 

As we talk, it is clear that Enamul has an insatiable appetite for the game and is not afraid of the hard graft required to succeed.  He tells me he does regular fitness training in the gym and plays two to three games a week for Guisborough.  He is not fond of English food, but explains that he cooks his own curries while in the North East, often with his roommate and vice captain Graham Murray.  He tells me he has even found a shop in Middlesbrough which specialises in Bangladeshi fish, his favourites are Hilsha and Bhoal.

Curries are not the only English pastime Enamul is keen on, he is also a fan of the beautiful game.

"I love football.  I love watching and playing, I support Manchester United!"

The conversation moves on to his time playing for Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy:

“Indian first class cricket is of a very high standard, I felt like I was playing in a test match.  It was a great experience, a good challenge.  I played against some good players, former internationals like Murali Vijay and Mohammed Kaif.”

He suggests that although the pitches used for internationals are slow and flat in India, seaming wickets are the norm in first class cricket, allowing batsmen to be tested against good fast bowling.

Enamul turns 25 at the end of the year and has already played 14 tests and ten ODIs for his country.  A precocious left arm spinner, Enamul was described by Wisden’s Matthew Engel as “a mature and confident cricket” - high praise indeed for a 16 year old debuting against a strong England side. 

Enamul explains he was born in the town of Sylhet although his father is originally from Barlekha in the nearby district of Moulvi Bazar.  Enamul lost his father in 1996 when he was only nine years old.  He learnt his cricket at school, progressing through the age groups.  Unlike his compatriot Tamim Iqbal, his was not a cricketing family or even a sporting one.  He chuckles at the notion that it might have been:

“Mine is an unknown family, the last five generations of my family knew very little about cricket.  They probably never even heard of the sport!”

Enamul is articulate, calm and assured.  Obviously an erudite cricketer, he conducts the entire interview in fluent English despite my offer to converse in broken Bengali. 

When I ask him about the lack of quality fast bowlers in Bangladesh he eloquently points to the lack of sporting wickets and good facilities as contributing factors.  He is confident however, that the talent exists and points to Bangladesh Academy bowlers like Shuvashis Roy as future prospects.

I ask him whether Bangladeshi expectations were too high during the World Cup. He replies that given the advantage of home conditions a quarter-final berth was not out of the question.

When I ask him about the form of his domestic team Sylhet (who frequently emerge as the weakest side in the National Cricket League), he points to the improvement they made this year and the form of left arm spinner Shaker Ahmed who finished the season as the country's leading wicket-taker in the first class game.  

I point out that historically Dhaka and Chittagong have provided a steady supply of national cricketers and that Rajshahi seems to have taken that mantel more recently.  Sylhet seems to have become a cricketing backwater.  He acknowledges it may seem that way, but points to the lack of infrastructure in the region:

“Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi all have indoor facilities, Sylhet does not.  It’s the rainy season now, if you’re a Sylheti cricketer there’s not much you can easily do about that.”  He denies that enthusiasm for cricket is declining in Sylhet.

When I ask why Sylhet’s leading players are notably absent from the current national side (Nazmul Hossain is the only Sylheti player regularly representing his country), he is similarly optimistic:

“Alok Kapali returned to the side against Australia, it’s only a matter of time before he plays more regularly. Rajin had a good season, he will be back soon I’m sure.  Inshallah I too will return soon.” 

Enamul speaks warmly of his compatriots in the national side.  He has played plenty of cricket with the likes of Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan:

“They are a great bunch of boys.  They work hard and are very talented.”  I ask him if he is surprised by the speed of Tamim’s rise:

“I played with Tamim in domestic cricket and he completely transformed his game in the space of about a year.  He worked really hard to do that.  It's now paying off.”

From my research, two key statistics about Enamul stand out.  First, with the exception of 2010, Enamul has played at least one test every calendar year since his debut.  He says he is unaware of this.  He speaks fondly of his recall in 2009 against a depleted West Indies sides:

“I took six wickets in that match. It was great to be back on the cricket pitch.  It was a tough series because we were expected to win.  But my favourite memory is probably the Zimbabwe series in 2005.  It was a great series win for the team and for me personally”. 

When I start quoting the second statistic to him, he finishes my sentence for me and laughs; all ten ODIs he has played have come against the same opposition, Zimbabwe:

“Yes I know that!  I don’t know why that is.  I’d like to play against different opposition and better sides too.  I don’t think it’s someone the selectors have done deliberately, it has just worked out that way.  I am keen to develop my one day cricket more.  I think I can play well in both”.

I ask him whether he feels the Bangladesh team of today are stronger than the side the debuted for, he replies affirmatively,

“They are much stronger now and mentally tougher.  The batsmen don’t worry about pace or bounce and they play to win.”

Enamul’s fondness for some of Bangladesh’s senior players is evident:

“When I first played for Bangladesh, Sujon bhai [Khaled Mahmud], Alok [Kapali] and Tapash [Baisya] helped me a lot, they encouraged me and helped me overcome any nerves.” 

He also has close friends among the current crop:

“Mehrab Hossain (Junior), Mahmudullah Riyad, Shahriar Nafees - they are probably my best friends in cricket right now”.

I ask him how the two national coaches he worked with compare:

“We were very lucky; we had some really good coaches.  Dav Whatmore was a great coach, a good motivator.  Jamie [Siddons] was a hard working coach, good for the batsmen and very encouraging to bowlers too.”

His thoughts on who the next coach for Bangladesh might be are refreshingly simply:

“We need someone who will work hard with the boys.  Jamie did that.  I’ve heard a few names mentioned, like Graham Ford and Stuart Law.  If we can get one of those guys it will be good for Bangladesh”.

I ask him what the prospects are for a future Bangladeshi coach,

"There are some good coaches around, Khaled Mahmud and Salahuddin for example.  But they probably need a bit more experience.  Khaled Mashud will also make a good coach if he chooses to do that.  Also, when some current players retire and take up coaching, they could do well.  I think in the next ten to 15 years we could see a Bangladeshi coach for the national side".

We then get to a potential banana skin. There had been whispers that Enamul was out of favour with the Jamie Siddons regime, but Enamul refuses to blame the selectors for his recent omission from the national side and denies the national set-up has been a closed shop of late.  Here too, Enamul displays a mature attitude to his cricket 

“If you play well you will get picked.  The boys involved now have done well, but others have been picked too.  I am confident I will play again I just need a chance to show what I can do.” 

I ask him about his plans for the immediate future, what if he is not picked for the Zimbabwe serious, what will he do then?  With Shakib Al Hasan and Abdul Razzak leading the spin attack and young spinners like Suhrawardi Shuvo waiting in the wings, Enamul acknowledges it will not be easy to earn his place back in the side:

“Definitely it will be tough, but I believe I am good enough to compete with anyone.  I will play the English season here.  If I get picked for Zimbabwe, then I will go.  If I am not, I will finish the season here and then play first class cricket in Bangladesh”.

I learn that Enamul also has trials with an English county next month:

“Hopefully it will go well, I am confident.  But it will be hard, the English counties are only allowed to field one overseas player each”.

The workmanlike attitude Enamul displays in our interview is also reflected in the way he goes about his cricket.  He takes great pleasure in describing his bowling:

“I use the crease well and get lots of flight and turn.  I am developing my arm ball and a delivery that is even straighter than that!”

Enamul holds the best test match figures for a Bangladeshi, he took 12-200 against Zimbabwe in 2005. 

Against Australia in 2006 he memorably outfoxed Michael Clarke with a magnificent delivery which turned from leg stump to off stump, making the future Australia captain look distinctly ordinary.  Enamul recalls that moment with glee:

“That was a good ball.  I’ll never forget it, it was a big wicket.  I’ve taken other good wickets too, I’ve dismissed Sangakkara and Mahela [Jayawardene]”.

Enamul first picked up a cricket ball as a schoolboy in 1997, six years later he was playing test cricket against England.  I ask him whether he regrets debuting for Bangladesh at such a young age.  Whether it might have been better for him to develop his game before being thrust under the blinding lights of test cricket:

“I consider myself very lucky to have played for Bangladesh.  For me test cricket is real cricket, the pinnacle of the game.  For example, an English schoolboy would have no chance of playing a test match at 16, I did.  It was a fantastic experience; I don’t regret it for one moment”.

In person, Enamul Haque is determined, charming and engaging.  It has been eight years and 14 tests since he made his test debut.  It is said that spinners are at their best in their thirties and at only 24, Enamul is significantly younger than, for example, Monty Panesar or Amit Mishra.

Enamul’s father never had the chance to see his son play cricket for his country and one  can only guess at the delight a father would take at seeing his son achieve such a milestone. 

Enamul has habit of being where the action is.  He was there when Bangladesh gave Australia a scare in Fatullah in 2006.  He was also instrumental in Bangladesh’s maiden test series victory against Zimbabwe in 2005 and contributed when that feat was repeated on tour against the West Indies in 2009.  It is therefore not improbable to suppose that he will be involved in Bangladesh’s victories in years to come.  I am not a betting man, but if I were I am not sure I would wager against it.  

 

About the author(s): Abu Choudhury is a mediocre cricketer and occasionally a freelance cricket writer and goes by the nick abu2abu on our forums. Follow him on twitter @bangalicric_abu

 

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