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Ora Egaro Jon (The Magnificent Eleven)

Recently a number of cricket websites have taken the initiative to form the greatest XI of different countries. Ex players, journalists and in some cases the general public is voting to select the XI. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any such attempt to select the all time greatest Bangladesh XI. Of course, it is not easy to select such an XI, given that Bangladesh has been playing top level cricket only for the last decade or so. Nevertheless, I have taken the bold initiative to form such an XI. Obviously, I am not going for any voting system, but depending entirely on my own judgment. But, I would be delighted to hear the opinions of the Bangladeshi cricket lovers regarding my selection. I have decided to select the team with test cricket in mind. Interestingly, 4 members of this side never had a chance to play test match cricket. One of the 4, Raqibul, was the 12th man in a test match, not for Bangladesh, but for Pakistan. The team has no less than 3 left arm spinners, a testimony to the fact that Bangladesh do depend very heavily on its left arm slow bowlers. I have also thought deep about a possible 12th man, and I eventually selected former captain Minhajul Abedin Nannu for that position. He was one of the most consistent performers for the national team between 1984 to 1999. He performed brilliantly in the 1999 WC, but was overlooked for the test squad. The team includes just  2 members of the current side, all-rounder Shakib and opener Tamim. Finally, I have chosen Habibul Bashar Sumon as the captain, simply on the ground that he led Bangladesh in their maiden test victory, against Zimbabwe, in Jan 2005. I will start my all time greatest XI with the grand old man of Bangladesh cricket, Raqibul Hassan.

Raqibul Hassan: On 26th Feb, 1971, on a bright and sunny spring morning, a huge crowd gathered at the Dhaka stadium to watch a 4 day ‘test’ match between the Pak XI and the touring Commonwealth XI. The unofficial nature of the match didn’t seem to bother the crowd too much. The reason behind their joy was the fact that, for the 1st time, a Bengali player, Raqibul Hassan was included in the full Pak side. With the Pak side scheduled to tour England during the summer, young Raqibul, with his immaculate technique against the fast bowling looked a good prospect for the tour. But destiny had other plans for Raqibul. Within months, instead of playing for Pakistan, he had to flee to Calcutta to save his life. He returned to Dhaka, later in the year, only to be devastated by the news of the killing of his mentor Haleem Chowdhury (Shahid Jewel). Not only was Haleem his opening partner for the East Pakistan side, they in fact used to be room-mates on away matches. Amidst all these ups and downs, young Raqibul didn’t lose his composure, and soon he started playing a leading role in establishing the cricketing infrastructure of this newborn country. And quite appropriately, he was given the job of leading the local side in our entrance to the international arena. On the final day of 1976, on another sunny morning, he led the North Zone side against the touring MCC side at Rajshahi in the very first international match in our cricketing history.

A batsman in the Ken Barrington mould, Raqibul was a great believer in building his innings. A short man, he didn’t possess the big shots. But, his defense was faultless, and like most other short players, he scored a lot playing square of the wicket shots. In Rajshahi, he missed out on the first innings, but made amends on the next day with a patient 73. He followed this with 74 and 33* at Jessore. Raqibul was given the duty to lead the national team the very next season. He, like everybody else struggled against a very strong Lankan attack in Jan, 1978. But, Raqibul found his form against Deccan Blues side in Feb. He scored 64, and led his side to a score 320/9. But, when he failed in the next season against a mediocre MCC bowling attack, it was clear to everyone that captaincy was becoming a burden for Raqibul. WK Hira replaced Raqibul as the captain.

Raqibul reached the peak of his form during the 1980-81 season. Batting at the No.4 position, he gave side stability, as the stroke-makers, Yousuf Babu, and the young trio of Lipu, Mantu & Rafiq went for their shots. He started the season with a patient 40* for the Central Zone against the tourists. At Chittagong, he looked all set for a hundred, but inclement weather intervened to deny him the chance. He was left unbeaten on 78. Undaunted, he scored half centuries in each innings at Dhaka. From the next season onwards the focus of Bangladesh cricket shifted from the longer version of the game towards the shorter version, and this shift didn’t suit Raqibul. Although, he remained a national team member for 5 more years, his role in the side diminished gradually. He retired from the international cricket after the 1986 ICC trophy, at a relatively early age of 32, paving the way for the youngsters to takeover.

 Record books will tell us that in his 2 full ODIs he scored only 17 runs. His record in ICC trophy is hardly better, 340 runs at an average of 22.67, with a highest of 47*. But statistics will tell nothing about the true contribution of this man to Bangladesh cricket. A perfect gentleman, on and off the field, he was a role model to the first generation of Bangladeshi cricketers; and nearly quarter of a century after his retirement, he remains a source of inspiration to our current generation cricketers.

Tamim Iqbal: Almost 1500 runs at an average of just over 40 makes Tamim the undisputed No.1 batsman of the country. His One day record is also impressive, and on current form he is probably good enough to get into any test team in the world. Especially impressive is his record in 2010, he started the year with a personal best of 151 at Dhaka, against India. And in the summer he has scored successive test tons in the tour of England. Obviously, the hundred at Lord’s has to be the highest point of his career so far. Forced to follow on, on the 4th day of the match, Tamim and his opening partner Imrul very nearly changed the course of the match with an opening stand of 185 runs in less than 40 overs. While Imrul batted in true test match fashion, Tamim was batting in a carefree manner. There was pressure on him, in the first innings, he needlessly ran himself out after scoring a stylish 55. He not only denied himself a personal glory, more importantly, he had put his team under enormous pressure. On the 2nd innings, he was determined to make amends, and he did. His 103 came from just 100 deliveries, 15 fours and 2 sixes contributing a huge proportion of his runs. His heroics didn’t save the match for his side, but he earned respect from both the opposition bowlers and English cricket pundits. He enhanced his reputation further with his 108 at Old-Trafford in the very next game. His ODI record is also impressive; almost 3000 runs with a highest of 154 against Zimbabwe.

But, for the fans of Tamim (and of Bangladesh cricket in general), the past is not so important as the future. Ever since our test match debut against India, 10 years ago, there has been controversy regarding our test status. In the eyes of many cricket experts, just 3 test victories combined with odd successes here and there in the limited versions of the game is not good enough to justify this status. Perhaps the only good thing that Bangladesh has been able to achieve amidst all these struggles, is that the national team has now taken a pretty stable look. Previously there used to be constant chops and changes in the team. Now, players like Tamim, Sakib, Riad, Rahim and others have established themselves in the team, and they do not look uncomfortable playing at the highest level of the game. As Bangladesh gets ready to start the 2nd decade at the highest level, the challenge is for 2/3 of these players to become truly world class, perhaps even try to achieve greatness. Only with the help of 2/3 world class players in our side can we expect to compete with the best teams in more even terms. Tamim is fully aware of the enormous responsibility that rests on his shoulders. There is no need for him to change his batting styles. Perhaps, he should be thinking about making his hundreds really big ones, score odd double hundreds if possible. He is the mainstay of our top order batting and will remain so for the next decade or so.

Habibul Bashar Sumon (C): The career of this elegant right hander can be divided into 3 different parts. During 1989-94, he was a very good club cricket player; immensely popular in Dhaka, but nowhere near international recognition. During the period 1995-2000 he was a fringe player for the national team, in and around the national team, but unable to hold a regular place in the squad. Finally, after getting his big break in our debut test match, against India, in Nov. 2010, he quickly became our most successful batsman in the test arena. While, more naturally gifted players like Ashraful, Al Shahriar and Tushar Imran struggled in the big stage, Bashar got applauds from both the pundits and the general public.

 In the summer of 1989, Bashar was a successful member of the Bangladesh schoolboys team that toured England. Later in the year, he represented the Bangladesh U-19 team in the Beximco Asian Youth Cup. But, while some of his teammates, like Aminul Islam Bulbul, Selim Shahed, Jahangir, Saiful and Anis, quickly graduated to the national team, Sumon first had to establish himself in the highly competitive Dhaka League. A look back at the records of Sumon during this period would show that he had lots of scores in the 20’s and 30’s. His inability to convert his starts into meaningful scores stymied his progress as a player. It also hurt his team, as he normally batted in the vital No. 3 position. For example, playing for Abahani against Karachi Gymkhana, in April, 1993, he reached 32 without any real effort. But, then he threw it away at a critical stage of the game, and his team eventually lost the game by just a single run.

Things finally changed for young Sumon during the 2nd half of the 1994-95 season. A string of match winning knocks for Bangladesh Biman finally caught the attention of the national selectors. After playing for the ‘A’ side against HK and Kenya, he was included in the team for the Asia Cup in April. After spending a number of years playing the club bowlers of Dhaka, he suddenly had to prepare himself to face the best in the business. Waiting for him in Sharjah, were the likes of Wasim and Murali. After not making the first XI in the opening fixture against India, Bashar was given his chance against SL, taking the place of Javed Omar. Bashar and the rest of the team thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the match. Medium -pacer Saiful produced the best bowling of his life to take 4/36 as the Lankans were bowled out for just 233. It was the first time that Bangladesh had managed to bowl the opposition out in a full ODI. 234 was a reachable target, as the Sharjah pitch is always known to be batting friendly. Here, perhaps the pitch was a bit slow, with the ball not coming to the bat properly, but our batsmen were accustomed to playing in such conditions, and we fancied our chances. Experienced Athar was run out with the score at 4. Debutant Sumon came to the crease to join Shipon, playing his 2nd ODI. The two struggled against the accurate bowling of Vaas and Gamage. Not only the Bangladesh duo failed to hit boundaries, they failed to run the quick singles. Here, their inexperience played a part. After struggling for 35 deliveries for just 16 runs, Sumon was caught by Aravinda De Silva of the bowling of Gamage. Interestingly, Gamage was a regular in the club cricket arena of Dhaka, and he obviously knew enough of the weaknesses of Sumon. His next effort, against the Paks lasted just 2 deliveries. He was out for a duck, yorked by Wasim Aram. Earlier, in the season the two had met in a club match in Dhaka. There, Sumon had lofted the Pak legend for a six on his way to a match winning knock. Akram was not too pleased about it, and here having got his chance, he took just 2 deliveries to take his revenge. Sumon played in the ACC trophy in KL, in September, 1996, but was dropped from the side for the more important ICC trophy, later in the season. Sanwar was preferred to Sumon for the vital No. 3 spot. Instead, Sumon was sent with the ‘A’ team for a tour of Pakistan. In the Wills Cup in Pakistan, Habibul was consistently amongst runs. With scores of 35, 71, 42*, & 26* he finished the tournament with 174 runs at an impressive average of 87.00. His performance would look even more impressive if we take into effect the fact that he had to face world class bowlers like Waqar, Mushtaq & Saqlain to get his runs. This performance, coupled with Sanwar’s failure in KL meant that Sumon was back in the side for the Asia cup in July. But, he failed again, scoring 0 against Pakistan and 6 against SL. And although, he did score his maiden ODI fifty against Zimbabwe in Oct., he failed to achieve the consistency required to cement his place in the national team. Over the next 2/3 years he was in and out of the side. He was consistently among the news, he had both his supporters and critics within the cricketing circle. He missed the 1999 WC, and although, he was in the squad of 14 selected for our maiden test match, it was not sure, even in the morning of the 1st day, whether he would play or not. Fortunately, public sympathy and media support at that time was with Bashar, and the selectors decided to give him a chance at the biggest stage. Bashar was determined to justify the faith shown on him.

Bangladesh captain Durjoy won the toss and decided to bat first. Despite the batting friendly conditions, Bangladesh quickly lost their two openers. At 44/2, Bulbul joined Bashar. And together they started the recovery. But their approach was different. Bulbul, the most technically correct batsman of the side batted patiently, ready to play a long innings (which he eventually did). Bashar was more impatient and eventually perished carrying his attack a bit too far. But, while it was going on, it was great fun, at least for the Bangladeshi fans. He struck 10 boundaries, not all of them authentic cricketing shots, but the crowd didn’t care much about that. Bashar thoroughly dominated the 3rd wicket stand of 72 with Bulbul, before he tried to pull a ball from Zaheer which was not short enough, and ended up giving a simple catch at Mid On to the Indian captain Ganguly. Perhaps, the Indians detected some fault in Bashar’s handling of the short ball, as in the 2nd innings he again perished to a short delivery; this time failing to keep his hook shot on the ground, and holding out to Zaheer, deep on the leg side. His 30 was the highest 2nd innings score for the local side. Despite the disappointment, his scores of 71 and 30 finally gave him his big breakthrough in the international arena. Most productive time in his cricket career had started. Over the next few years, Habibul Bashar Sumon would emerge as the most consistent Bangladeshi batsman in the test cricket arena.

Bashar’s first test century came a year later, against Zimbabwe in the M.A. Aziz stadium in Chittagong. His 108 was a lone hand in the Bangladesh 1st innings. Bulbul and Ashraful could not convert their starts into scores as the local side failed to avoid the follow on. Even in the 2nd innings Sumon showed his class. In fact, his 76 and a patient 80 by the opener Javed Omar gave us hope of saving the match. But, our batting collapsed badly on the final day against the part time spinners Grant Fowler and Marillier. Zimbabwe won the match by 8 wickets, and the 2 match series 1-0. Bashar held his head high after finishing the series with 249 runs at an average of 62.25. His next century came against Pakistan, at Karachi, in August 2003.His 71 and 108 were not enough to save the match for his side, but he received rich plaudits from the cricket experts. He narrowly missed another ton in the next match at Peshawar, falling in the nervous 90’s (97). He finished the series with 379 runs at an average of 63.17. His highest test score (113) came against the Windies in May,2004. He finished with more than 3000 runs in his test career at an average of just over. A very high proportion of his runs came with horizontal bat shots.

Bashar had a brief stint as a national team captain. In Jan, 2005, he led Bangladesh to their maiden test victory. The win was highly predictable given the depleted nature of the opposition. A bigger achievement under his leadership was our historical win over the Aussies in the following summer. It was the 130 run 4th wicket stand between Ashraful (100) & Bashar that led the foundation of our 5 wicket victory.

Aminul Islam Bulbul: Back in 1977, as Test cricket was celebrating its hundredth anniversary, Keith Miller, the legendary Aussie all-rounder picked an all time greatest Aussie XI. He included opener Charles Bannerman, simply on the ground that Bannerman scored a century for Australia in the very first test match, in 1877. Taking a cue from the incomparable Miller, I have decided to include Aminul Islam Bulbul. Just as Bannerman is the first Aussie to score a test hundred, Bulbul is the first tiger to score a test ton. It should be stated that even without this hundred there would have been very strong claim for his inclusion in my XI.

After a knee injury ended his hopes of becoming the ‘Maradona’ of the country, Bubul quickly switched his attention to cricket. Enormously talented, he soon found himself playing for the national team in Jan, 1988. However, despite his natural talent, he struggled in the international scene for a number of years. He had a disappointing time in the 1990 ICC trophy, and things hardly improved for him 4 years later, in Kenya. It was in the process of the rebuilding of the team during the 1994-95 season, that we saw a new and more matured Bulbul. First, against an Indian ‘A’ side, he lived up to his reputation of a fine player of spin bowling, by scoring 64 out of a team total of 172. Then against the England ‘A’ side, in Feb., he scored a quick-fire 52, in a 50 over game, as he and Md. Rafiq nearly snatched the victory from the jaws of defeat. But, it was his hundred in the 3-day match that silenced all his critics. The first day’s play was affected by rain. In cloudy conditions, the batsmen struggled, The 2nd morning saw bright sunshine. And on perfect batting conditions, Bulbul and Nannu made light work of the English bowling. They put on 179 runs for the 4th wicket. Nannu missed his ton, getting out on 81, but Bulbul carried on reaching 121. This knock enhanced his reputation as the most technically correct batsman of the country.

 During the busy 1996-97 season, Bulbul was consistently among the runs in important matches. In the ACC cup final, in September, he held our middle order together with 46 from 48 deliveries. In Feb, he scored a polished 78 against India ‘A’. In the ICC trophy SF against Scotland, he contributed 57, sharing a 115 run 3rd wicket stand with WK Pilot. Bulbul captained the Bangladesh side in the 1999 WC, in England, but his greatest moment would come a year later, in our inaugural test match. On a bright autumn morning, Bangladesh captain Naimur won the toss and decided to bat first. After an hour’s play, his decision seemed a dubious one, as Bangladesh had lost both their openers rather cheaply. At 44/2, Bulbul walked to the wicket, joining Habibul Bashar. Together, they started the repair job. Bulbul was as solid as ever, while Bashar was more belligerent. The Indian bowlers bowled too much short pitched stuff and Bashar took the opportunity to show his range of horizontal bat strokes. However, it was one such shot that brought about his dismissal. He attempted a pull shot of the debutant pace bowler Zaheer Khan, which was not short enough, and ended up giving a simple catch to the opposition skipper Ganguly, fielding in the Mid On region. Bashar left for 71, with the team score at 110/3. After that, Bulbul’s old mate Akram came to the crease. As the mid afternoon sun shone brightly over the Bangabandhu Stadium, the pair made steady progress. Although, India hit back with 3 wickets late in the day, Bangladesh finished their first day in Test cricket at a highly satisfactory 239/6, Bulbul 70*. On the first day, Bulbul had batted cautiously, curbing his natural stroke-play. On the 2nd morning, we saw him in his more natural mood, as he decided to assume the more dominant role. With excellent support from WK Pilot, and all-rounder Rafiq, he frustrated the Indian bowling for a long time. He eventually held out to Srinath of the bowling of Agarkar for 145, but the Bangladesh score was already approaching the 400 mark. Bulbul had batted for almost 9 hours and had faced 380 deliveries. There were no less than 17 well struck boundaries. He was given a standing ovation by the happy crowd.

 Bulbul followed this knock with 84 against Zimbabwe in his next test match. And, although his test career went downhill after that, he will be always remembered as one of our best batsmen in the early days of our cricket history. Especially, his 145 at Dhaka will be remembered for ever.

Shakib Al Hasan: Shakib first came into the test team as a lower order batsman and a useful left arm spinner. His performances in the initial stages of his career suggest that. As a batsman he was getting scores of 30’s and 40’s, and as a bowler, he was picking up wickets here and there. Enormous improvement in both the aspects of the game during the 2008-09 season saw him emerge not only as the best player of the side, but as a top all-rounder in world cricket. Although, 2010 has not been as successful as he would have liked, his all round record in both form of the game is still impressive.

As a batsman he has only 1 test hundred to his credit, exactly 100 against the Kiwis earlier this year. But, he has got close a number of times. In fact, he has got 3 scores of 96. One of those, 96* against WI last summer helped his side win the match by 4 wickets. Bangladesh were struggling at 67/4, when Shakib came to the wicket, but a brilliant 96 from just 97 deliveries took Bangladesh home to 217/6. In the process he shared a match winning 5th wicket stand of 106 with Raqibul. It was a brilliant all round performance by the Tigers’ skipper, as with the ball, he had figures of 3/59 and 5/70. He was the obvious choice for the MOM award. He has so far taken 75 wickets in test matches 32 apiece. Some critic may say that his average is a bit too high, but we should remember that generally there is very little support for him. Fellow left arm spinner Razzak is very un-effective in test matches, while Enamul Haque (Jr.) is not consistent enough. And the pace attack has a depleted look due to the long term injury of Mashrafee. With greater support Shakib can show greater penetration and can win more matches for his side.

 The biggest concern regarding Shakib is the threat that he might burn out too quickly. Apart from his batting and bowling duties he had to lead the side as well. He took over the captaincy from Mashrafee after the fast bowler injured himself. Thankfully, Masharafee has just returned, and the selectors had entrusted him the captaincy of the one day team for the time being. The selectors should be extremely cautious about using the talent of Shakib. He has shown enormous potential, and if he fulfills his promises, he would eventually become one of the greatest all-rounders of all times.

 Akram Khan: I considered two men from Chittagong for this position; Minhajul Abedin Nannu & Akram Khan. Nannu was a model of consistency during his long international career spanning for a decade and a half. But two factors contributed in my decision to select Akram ahead of Nannu. First, Nannu never had the chance to play test cricket. Despite his fine showing during the1999 WC, he was overlooked for the test match against India, a year later. More importantly, on a gray and wet afternoon in KL, in April 1997, Akram played the most memorable innings in our cricket history.

‘Captains Knock’ is an often used term in cricket. Many a times in the long history of the game, a captain would come to the wicket, with his team struggling; but then would change the course of the match with his courageous batting. In case of Akram, his magnificent effort against the Dutch, not only changed the course of the match, it changed course of the cricketing history of a whole nation. But for his brilliance, the progress of our cricket would have stopped for at least 5 years, possibly for more. Bangladesh was one of the favorites for the 6th ICC trophy in 1997, and indeed under the able leadership of Akram they looked set for some memorable achievement. They were thrashing all their opponents, one after another. Yet, rain intervened badly in their match against Ireland to halt their progress. Despite outplaying the Irish in all departments of the game, our boyz had to share points with their opponents after rain forced the match to be abandoned. This setback, plus results in other matches meant that, while the Irish were almost guaranteed a place in the Semis, Bangladesh and Holland had to battle for the remaining SF birth from the group. Things started well enough for Akram and his men on the big day. Put into bat, the Dutch struggled against some accurate bowling by our seamers and spinners. Skipper Leede (23),Cantrell (37) and Oosterom(40) threatened briefly, but at the end the Dutch total was a mere 171. A target of 172 should have been cakewalk for out boyz, but the Dutch all rounder Lefebvre had other ideas. A genuine all rounder, he was both his teams opening batsman and new ball bowler. Here, he had missed out with bat, scoring just 1, before being bowled by Saiful. But, Lefebvre more than made up for his batting failure with his hostile bowling. Athar, Naimur and Sanwar all perished to his bowling, scoring just 4 runs in between them. With Asim Khan counting for Bulbul, Bangladesh was struggling at 15/4. Back in Dhaka, the cricket-lovers were following the game by radio. They were crestfallen. We were heading for yet another disappointing end to our ICC trophy campaign. But, out there in the middle, Akram had other ideas. He was lucky to have Nannu at the crease with him at this critical juncture. Nannu was playing his 4th ICC trophy, and at that moment experience was a very critical factor. Together, the two men from Chittagong had just started the recovery, when there was another twist to the game, Rain intervened to stop play. All kind of calculations were done during the rain break. A complete washout would have helped us avoid defeat, but also would have meant playing our arch rivals Kenya in the Semis, and we did not want that. When rain stopped and play resumed Bangladesh’s target was reduced to 141 from 33 overs. The target was smaller, but the required run rate had swelled. Also, the heavy outfield made hitting boundaries extremely difficult. Instead, Akram and Nannu had to look for quick 1s and 2s. And in pursuit of quick runs, Nannu perished, run out for 22. Normally reliable Moni failed to cope up with the pressure, and his departure saw Bangladesh at 86/6. The predicament was not as severe as it looked. Akram was batting beautifully at one end, and all it needed was some support at the other end. Fortunately, Bangladesh had a long batting line up. In fact, all the 4 remaining batsmen; Pilot, Rafiq, Saiful and Hasibul could use the long handle quite effectively. (Both Rafiq and Pilot scored test hundreds late in their career). Here, the Bangladesh coach Greenidge opted for the Mymensingh medium pacer Saiful. May be our Bajan coach had a sense of history. Because, it was quite appropriate that a Chittagong-Mymensingh combination would take Bangladesh close to a famous victory. Back in the 80’s and the early 90’s, Chittagong in the SE, and Mymensingh in the North became great hubs for cricketing talent. Players from these two places dominated the Dhaka League, and our national team. Even now, two of our best players, Mahmudullah and Tamim Iqbal(nephew of Akram) come from Mymensingh and Chittagong respectively. As they were fighting the Dutch bowling attack on this gray April day in KL, Akram and Saiful were not only carrying the hopes of millions of fans back home, they were also representing the rich cricketing traditions of their home cities. Their 50 run stand for the 7th wicket settled the issue in our favor. Saiful scored 18 from 20 balls; unlike most tail-enders, he preferred to hit the ball down the ground. And he used this tactic well here. Future captain Khaled Mashud Pilot joined the present captain Akram, to take us home with 8 balls to spare. Akram was left unbeaten on 68. He took 92 balls, and hit just 3 boundaries. It was not typical Akram stuff. The man, who had made a name for his big hitting in the grounds of Chittagong, now showed at a bigger stage that he could change his batting style to suit the needs of the hour.

A week later, Akram would proudly lift the ICC trophy for his country. A year later, he led Bangladesh to our first ever ODI win over Kenya. He played in 2 WCs (1999) & (2003), and also in our maiden test match against India. Like many others of his generation he failed to change his game enough to shine at the biggest stage, but his heroics on a grey evening in KL, is enough to ensure him a permanent place in our cricket history. Akram’s nephew, Tamim Iqbal, is now the best batman of the country.

Khaled Mashud Pilot (WK): Again there was a straight fight between two of my favorites. This time the candidates were Shafiq-Ul-Haque Hira, who captained Bangladesh in the 1979 & 1982 ICC trophy tournaments, and Khaled Mashud Pilot, who captained Bangladesh in more recent times. There is hardly anything to choose between the two; both were very neat and tidy behind the stumps, both excelled in standing up to the spinners; and finally both were more than useful batsmen, scoring vital runs for their sides. I finally gave my vote to Pilot, because of his versatility as a batsman, normally a down the order batsman, he could bat as high as No. 3 if required. And, his excellent technique against fast bowling meant that often he indeed batted high in the order, ahead of more specialist batters.

 During our successful campaign in the 1997 ICC trophy tournament, he topped our batting averages. He scored a total of 92 runs, and was dismissed only once. In the final stages of the tournament, we saw the two sides of Pilot’s batting. In the SF against Scotland, he was promoted to the No. 3 spot. Although, the team was doing brilliantly, Sanwar in the vital no. 3 spot was struggling for his form. Though, Nannu did an admirable job as a makeshift No.3, he preferred batting down the order. The selectors at that stage, was ruing their decision to leave Habibul Bashar out of the side. Finally, for the vital match against Scotland they decided to give Pilot a chance. It was not entirely a new job for Pilot, as he had experience of batting at No.3 before. The move worked wonderfully well, as Pilot (70) shared a 3rd wicket stand of 115 with Bulbul (57). Nannu and Rafiq then provided some late flurry to take the score to 243/7, a score that was always going to be beyond the reach of the Scots. In the final, with the Bangladesh innings reduced to just 25 overs, Piot went back his more familiar down the order duty. As the pressure mounted towards the end, Pilot held his nerves. His unbeaten 15 of just 7 deliveries included two massive sixes. Especially, the six he hit of first ball of the last over bowled by Martin Suji, went a long way towards settling the issue in our favor.

Pilot very seldom had the chance to show his full array of crisp strokes in the test match arena, as he almost invariably came to the wicket with his team struggling, and the situation calling for a rearguard action. His best effort, an unbeaten 103, came in the final day of the 1st test match of the 2004 test series against West Indies. Despite taking a 64 run 1st innings lead, Bangladesh ran into trouble in the 2nd innings losing 7 wickets for 123. Pilot then led a marvelous recovery. With the help of the tail enders Rafiq(29) & Tapash (26), he took the score to 271/9, the declaration came immediately after his ton.

As for his keeping, former Bangladesh coach, Dev Whatmore once described him as the best WK in Asia. While many in the subcontinent would argue against that, there is no doubt that he normally kept it very neat and clean behind the stumps. With the Bangladesh bowling lacking any real venom, there was limited opportunity for him. Out of his 87 rest victims, only 9 were stumpings. Rafiq, the main spinner of the side didn’t possess much variety in his flight. Rather than deceiving the batsmen with his flight, and getting them stumped, Rafiq normally relied on his arm delivery to get the batsmen LBW. Piot’s 35 stumpings in the ODIs show that with more variety in flight from our slow bowlers, he would have made an even bigger impression in the test arena.

Md. Rafiq: In time, Bangladesh will produce all-rounders, of quality far greater than that of Md. Rafiq. But, I wonder, whether there will ever be any player in our cricket history, who will be able to match the popularity that Rafiq enjoyed during his heydays. Especially, the crowd at Dhaka just loved him. And, in my opinion his popularity had very little to do with the wickets he took, or the runs he scored. It was his cavalier approach that impressed us most. He was like a novice, who was extremely reluctant to show any respect to the masters. He was never overawed by the opposition, no matter how highly reputed the opposition might have been.

He had his limitations, in both his bowling and batting. He never had much variation in his flight. This meant that, on good batting conditions, he had to take a defensive role. In such conditions, he had to buy his wickets, waiting for the batsmen to make mistakes. As for his batting, he never bothered about what the MCC Coaching books suggest. He had little (or perhaps no) footwork; a weakness that was quick often exploited by the quick bowlers. Yet, he overcame all these obstacles to complete the All-rounders double (1000 runs and 100 wickets) in both Test and ODI cricket.

Rafiq had a highly successful ICC trophy tournament in 1997. He was our most successful bowler, taking 19 wickets at 10.68 runs per wicket. He was especially effective in the 2nd half of the event, and his best 4/25 came in SF against Scotland. With the bat, he had played a little cameo of 16 runs from just 7 deliveries, providing the finishing touch to the innings, after Pilot, Bulbul & Nannu ahd done the hard work. His role changed in the final. With the rain forcing our innings to be reduced to just 25 overs, he was sent to do the opening job. His short stay at the wicket was highly entertaining for the crowd. He scored 26 runs from 15 balls, with 2 sixes and 2 4s. Rafiq’s most memorable moment in ODI cricket came in May 1998. Opening the innings, he blasted his way to a match winning knock of 77 from 87 deliveries. He hit 11 fours and one six. Having taken, 3/56 with the ball, he was an obvious choice for the the MOM award.

Rafiq had to wait considerably longer to establish himself as a test player. He didn’t do too badly in our debut match against India. Bowling very tightly, he took 3//117 from 51 overs in the 1st innings, providing excellent support to the off spinner Durjoy. But, the selectors only thought of him as a One day bowler. And he struggled to find a regular place in the test team, as other less gifted spinners were tried. Eventually, Rafiq was recalled, and after taking 6/77 against SA in 2003, he didn’t have to look back. In the Pak tour, during the following autumn, he utilized his arm delivery brilliantly to fox some of the best Pak batsmen. At Multan, in the 3rd test, Rafiq seemed to have put us on our way to a famous victory, taking 5/36 in the 1st innings. But, A brilliant 138* not out by the Pak skipper Injamam saw the home team home to a narrow 1 wicket victory. Rafiq finished the test with match figures of 7/116, holding his head high; yet feeling disappointed just like his teammates. Quite appropriately, Rafiq featured quite prominently in our first ever test win, against Zimbabwe, in Jan,2005.Rafiq, with 5/65 put the opposition under pressure in the 1st innings; it was the other left arm spinner Enamul Haq (Jr.) who did the damage in the 2nd, taking 6/45. His best match figures 9/160(5/62 & 4/98) came against the Aussies in Dhaka, in April 2006. Yet, again it was only for a losing cause, as Ricky Ponting with 118* took Australia to a 3 wicket victory. Rafiq’s best effort with the bat came in the drawn test match against the WI in St. Lucia, during the 2004 tour. On an extremely slow wicket, Rafiq scored 111 from just 152 deliveries. His knock included 3 sixes and 11 fours. That’s the way Rafiq played his game. He cared very little about the coaching manuals, but whether in his bowling or batting or fielding, he always gave his 100% for his side, and always entertained the crowd.

Jahangir Shah Badshah: He made his international debut in Feb. 1978, and until his retirement in 1990, he was a regular member of the side. During this period, the Bangladesh cricket saw drastic changes, but very little changed with Badshah. The most reliable all-rounder of the side, he kept picking up vital wickets with his gentle medium pacers, and with the bat contributing valuable runs in different positions. He was the most versatile cricketer of the country during his period.

His type of bowling was more suited for England conditions than the sub-continental conditions. Not surprisingly, some of his best bowling performances came abroad. In May, 1979, he bowled superbly against Canada, in an ICC trophy match, to take 4/17. Unfortunately, some fielding lapses saw Canada recover from 81/5 to a respectable 190/9, and with our batting struggling in difficult conditions his superb effort went in vain. No less impressive was his 1/7 from 10 overs (with 5 maidens) against Fiji in the opening fixture. Overall, he finished the tournament with 7 wickets at an impressive average of 8.00. He was less successful in the 82 and 86 ICC Trophy, but still he took 4/39 against Malaysia, in 1986, before our batsmen muffed it again.

A genuine big occasion player, he quite often reserved his best performances for the big matches. On the difficult tour of Kenya, in Feb. 1984, he bowled with good pace to take 4/79 in the 3 day fixture. Against the touring Lankans, in March 1985, he bowled superbly with the new ball to dismiss the Lankans opening pair of Wettimuny and Amal Silva for 6 and 0 respectively. Later on, he added the big names, Mendis and Dias in his victim’s list, and finished with highly respectable 4/89. But perhaps his most memorable game for his country came, in Jan 1986, against the Imran Khan’s men. With the ball, he dismissed Imran, Kadir and the WK Masud. But, an even bigger effort came with the bat. The Bangladesh top order was struggling against a varied Pak attack. The openers Raqibul and Shantoo perished early. Nehal and Rafiq tried to counter attack, but only succeeded for brief periods. Only the skipper, Lipu stood firm. But, it appeared that he would run out of partners. But, the old pro Badshah gave him support, and showed the youngsters how to play against quality bowling attack. He did not try anything spectacular, but just simply played every ball in its merit. The 63 run 7th wicket stand gave the innings some stability. Badshah top scored with 46. His efforts did not save the follow-on, nor did it save the match for the local side; but he received warm applause from the opposition captain. He impressed the Paks again, in March, in Bangladesh’s 1st ever official ODI. A target of 95 was expected to be a cakewalk for the strong Pak batting line up, but they were kept in check for a long time by the accurate bowling of Badshah. He eventually finished with 2/23 from his 9 overs.

Badshah never played a test match for Bangladesh, his career ended long before Bangladesh was granted test status. If he was born a decade later, he would have certainly led our new ball attack. It is his brother, Nadir Shah, who is now keeping the family connection with international cricket, not as a player, but as an umpire.

Golam Nousher Prince: Tall and strong, left armer Prince always commanded great respect from the opposition batting line up. In Jan, 1986, he was treated with great respect by the top order Pak batsmen, Shoaib Mohammad, Mansoor Akhtar & Rameez Raja, Zimbabwe batsmen handled him very carefully In 1986, and again in 1990. Even the world class players from India and SL were reluctant to take any risk against his bowling during the Asia Cup in 1990. The only thing that stopped him from being the greatest fast bowler in our history is the fact that, he didn’t bowl enough wicket taking deliveries.

Originally from Mymensingh, Prince made his reputation as the fastest bowler of the country in the mid 80’s, a mantle he took over form Ziaul Islam Masud. The selectors, however, took a cautious approach with him. Rather than putting him straight into the national team, they tried him first in the young ‘Tigers’ team in the 1984 SEA Cricket Cup. He performed admirably, not taking many wickets, but along with his new ball partner, (and another left armer) Morshed, bowling very tightly, making it difficult for the opposition to score runs. Prince was promoted to the main national team, a year later, in the 3 Day match against SL, and he celebrated his promotion by dismissing the elegant right hander Ranjan Madugalle. In January, 1986, he dismissed Shoaib Mohammad and Rameez Raja in the 3 Day match at Dhaka. He made an impressive start to his ICC trophy career, taking 1/16 and earning lot of respect from the Zimbabwe batsmen in the opening match. He took 2/33 against Kenya, but then he lost his form and failed to deliver the goods. However, he was in outstanding form throughout the 4th ICC trophy tournament in 1990. There, he took 11 wickets at less than 20 apiece. But, yet again, his heroics against Zimbabwe(3/47) went in vain, as our top order batting collapsed. 4 years later, he started the ICC trophy tournament in Kenya with a bang. He took 3/25 against Argentina in our first game, to bowl the South Americans out for a mere 120. Even more impressive was his 4/36 against East and Central Africa, in the very next fixture. After years of bowling in slow, docile pitches, Prince was thoroughly enjoying the extra pace and bounce of the Nairobi wickets. Unfortunately, he injured himself at the end of 1st round, and thus missed the vital games of the next round. His services were especially missed in the do-or-die match against the hosts Kenya. He topped the bowling averages, taking 8 wickets at 14.12 apiece; a fact that emphasizes his importance to the team.

Following the disappointment in Kenya, there were changes in the national team. With a view to build a team for KL, 1997, the selectors introduced a number of young players in the squad. And, Prince was among those who gave away their places. Anisur Rahman emerged as the new left arm pace bowler for the national team.

Nazrul Kader Lintu: He was not the best fielder in the world, and he was a real rabbit with the bat, yet the Dhaka crowd just loved him. The only reason being that, at his prime he was easily the best bowler of the country. But for an unfortunate incident in 1979, he would have become the greatest spinner to come from Bangladesh.

He had an unusual action for a left arm spinner, running onto the wicket at a very fast pace, and mostly bowling over the wicket. He had a good chinaman (the wrong un for the left arm spinner), and he used it very effectively at times. He had a great understanding with wicketkeeper Hira, and the two combined to dismiss many a batsmen. Lintu enjoyed an outstanding season in 1978-79 against MCC. With Hira behind the stumps, and the all-rounders Rumy and Ashraful providing excellent support, he completely mesmerized the MCC batsmen. Lintu took 4/49 at Jessore, 5/67 at Rajshahi, 4/58 at Chittagong, 3/79 and 3/29 at Dhaka. With Lintu still being very young, he seemed set for a long and distinguished career ahead in the international cricket arena. Destiny, however, had other ideas.

During the spring of 1979, BCCB organized a month long fitness camp for the national cricketers, as part of their preparation for the 1st ICC trophy in England. Lintu at that time was studying Engineering at BUET, and attending the camp would have meant missing a whole semester for him. He decided to give the camp a miss, and the board retaliated by dropping him from the England tour. Soon, Lintu went abroad for higher studies, and his international career ended abruptly.

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