10

'I found international cricket easier than domestic matches'

Former Bangladesh captain Akram Khan talks about his early days in cricket, winning the 1997 ICC Trophy, and his nephew Tamim Iqbal

Interview by Mohammad Isam |

"Captaincy was such a light matter in those days that I knew I could lose [the job] if four or five people said something about it" © Getty Images

There wasn't much else to do other than playing sports and going to school when I was growing up in Chittagong.

In 1981 I started playing cricket for the Kazir Deuri Super Boys Club. We trained for a month but got knocked out after losing the first game. Next year we went to the final.

My innings against Netherlands was one of five or six things that helped us in the 1997 ICC Trophy campaign.

I feel proud to be part of a family that has three Test cricketers.

A hundred usually took 150 balls in one-day matches in those days but I used to go after the bowling and hit sixes that landed on the road outside the ground.

Nannu bhai [Minhajul Abedin] was my idol. I used to skip school just to watch him bat, and it was due to him that I slowly found cricket more interesting.

Tamim Iqbal followed Sanath Jayasuriya, so he said, "Chacha [uncle], get me a Kookaburra bat." In the West Indies I saw Ricardo Powell using that bat, so I exchanged my Vampire with the Kookaburra.

I was very nervous about my first tour for Bangladesh. We went to Hong Kong, where it was very cold. I didn't even have boots and one day I slipped while batting.

I usually batted at No. 4 or 5, but they held me back on my ODI debut. They sent me at No. 8. I remember crying in a corner of the dressing room because I wasn't sent to bat. I was a local player in Chittagong. It was a dream batting against the likes of Abdul Qadir, who we saw on TV. I never dreamt I would play against them. Qadir was the best bowler those days. But the Pakistani players also appreciated me as the home-town boy. I think they also wanted me to score runs.

"I could never tell my mother about the living conditions in Dhaka in the early days because there was a big difference in the environment of a club hostel and my home"

Being overweight made me a shy person during my childhood. It stopped me from playing football matches, but I did train with top players like Monem Munna.

I never imagined that I would take such a leap in my life through cricket. Back then, playing for Abahani or Mohammedan was more important than the national team.

Ahead of the 1994 ICC Trophy, we were quite sure that we could qualify for the 1996 World Cup but we played poorly in the important matches and eventually bowed out early.

I was unbeaten on 21 on my ODI debut, during the 1988 Asia Cup. We used to be scared of the big names. I wasn't picked in the first game, against India, though I had scored heavily in the league and the trial matches leading up to the tournament. But in those days they used to count the clubs where the player came from, not the player.

Seven of our brothers were involved in sports. As long as my studies were up to the mark, my parents didn't stop me from playing. I got out of the house when I was 17-18, while all my brothers lived in Chittagong.

Bangladesh cricket's main boost was the 1994 SAARC tournament. It was my first stint as captain. Anisur Rahman and Mohammad Rafique bowled very well. Jahangir Alam batted well. I was one run short of being the highest scorer in the tournament. Rahul Dravid beat me to it and received Tk 25,000. I got married the day after the final.

On the afternoon of our win against Pakistan, [coach] Gordon Greenidge was given his release letter. It hurt us. He was like our brother, guardian and friend. His contract ended that night but I didn't like how the Bangladesh Cricket Board dealt with him.

"My innings against Netherlands was one of five or six things that helped us in the 1997 ICC Trophy campaign" © Associated Press

We didn't know what Test cricket was, even in our first game. The management was after me continuously, and I hardly felt settled in my 12 Tests.

On my ODI debut, fielding in front of such a big crowd also made me nervous but I slowly adjusted to it. We played against Sri Lanka in the next game, which was the first time we realised the importance of fielding. They were very athletic.

Professionalism was far less in my early days. More than winning, we wanted to do well in those few international matches in the 1980s and 1990s.

I was sitting at the back of the dressing-room tent during the lunch break of our 1997 ICC Trophy match against Netherlands. I thought I wouldn't have to bat, but we lost four wickets for 15 runs. I padded up and rushed to the crease. I knew that losing the game would send us packing, perhaps for good.

The first time I played in Dhaka was in the Damal Summer Tournament for the only club that represented Chittagong. I got offers from some Dhaka clubs but I chose to play for Bangladesh Railways because they let me study while playing, and it was a team based in Chittagong.

I just had to cross a road from my house to reach the MA Aziz Stadium, which had a beautiful, green outer ground. I emphasise on the green because these days you can't find any grass there. It is all barren, with hundreds of kids playing cricket and football.

Nannu bhai and I have won plenty of matches batting together. So when we were together in that game against Netherlands, I was confident. But he got run out. Saiful [Islam] batted well, and then I thought maybe we can win this. The closer we got to the target, my confidence grew.

Abahani-Mohammedan matches built us to tackle tough situations, and that helped greatly in the 1997 ICC Trophy. The win-at-all-costs mentality in the Dhaka Premier League gave us confidence.

My father was a businessman and my elder brother, Iqbal Khan, was good at football and cricket. I followed him to the field, because he was a very popular footballer.

Raman Lamba always stressed that I shouldn't hit the ball in the air. I used to bat a lot with him. We would win by eight wickets a number of times. I learned a lot of things from him.

"Being overweight made me a shy person during my childhood. It stopped me from playing football matches"

The game against Netherlands was played at a ground that was part of a huge park. We saw it was raining in the other ground, so we were trying to slow down the game. The English umpire was getting angry with me, but I had none of it. The rain came after 19.2 overs. If it came two balls earlier, we wouldn't have gone through. We knew that it would now be one point each. We then got the news that one point won't do, we had to win. We were in despair that this could be the end of Bangladesh cricket. My wife called me and told me not to be upset. "Everyone in Bangladesh is praying for you guys," she said. These words relaxed me.

In 1995 we went to Sharjah to play the Asia Cup. Our board president Saber [Hossain Chowdhury] bhai said that if I remained not out, he would give me a $1000 bonus. I sometimes can't believe we have come this far in our mentality in such a short time.

I could never tell my mother about the living conditions in Dhaka in the early days because there was a big difference in the environment of a club hostel and home. She would have been hurt and wouldn't have allowed it had she known, so I used to lie to her, tell her I am doing very well.

I found international cricket easier than domestic matches.

We would have had better results had we not made too many changes after the 1997 ICC Trophy. Zimbabwe and Kenya played the same team for a number of years, which gave them continuity and more confidence in themselves. They did well in the 2003 World Cup.

I wasn't a very good fielder but I was a safe fielder. I would take catches.

With nephew Tamim Iqbal

With nephew Tamim Iqbal © AFP

We couldn't make use of many talented players in Bangladesh's early days in international cricket. We let them go far too early.

After playing for Railways for two years, I got a call-up to play for Bangladesh after a good season. It was hard to get recognition in those days if you didn't play for Abahani or Mohammedan.

In the 1999 World Cup we were not allowed to stay with our families, who had travelled with us. We went there to beat Scotland and one other big team. After we beat Scotland, the board said that our families shouldn't be with us. We didn't know whether we were servants or what.

Tamim would go after every bowler. Nafees was good too, but he was too keen on what the coaches were saying. Tamim was his father's No. 1 chamcha. He didn't know anything in this world apart from his dad.

Captaincy was such a light matter in those days that I knew I could lose it if four or five people said something about it. Organisers in those days were not too patient with the players.

In the 1999 World Cup, Pakistan had their all-time best ODI team.

"I usually batted at No. 4 or 5, but they held me back on my ODI debut. They sent me at No. 8. I remember crying in a corner of the dressing room because I wasn't sent to bat"

I wasn't as mentally strong as Tamim [Iqbal]. I got upset when I did poorly in two World Cup matches.

During the 1997 ICC Trophy, our bus to the ground was very cold, so we always took towels to wrap ourselves. The journalists used those towels to dry the ground during that Netherlands game. I just sat in the corner and thought to myself: people are praying for us back home, many of the Bangladeshi expat workers have come from far to watch us in this game, the journalists are drying the ground…

The team management consisted of 12-15 people in the 1999 World Cup. Sujon [Khaled Mahmud] fought to keep me in the XI against Pakistan. I made 42 against Saqlain, Waqar, Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar.

Bangladesh cricket was helped greatly by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We played plenty of first-class cricket in India and Pakistan.

We got one dollar as our daily allowance while touring back in the 1990s but it was in Sri Lanka where their board gave us $35, like they paid all the other international teams.

In our inaugural Test, I was too excited. I was in a daze. I think I kept playing the sweep for no reason, and then told Bulbul [Aminul Islam], "Look what I am doing. I think I will get out doing this."

Bangladesh cricket was most criticised in the 2003 World Cup.

Eddie Barlow valued our senior players, but it was the opposite with the next two head coaches.

Iqbal bhai did everything for Nafees and Tamim. For me too. He would organise events for me, and once he arranged a Tamim v Akram one-over match in the Chittagong Gymnasium in 1997. I just scored four runs off six balls against the kid. He hit me for six runs in the first two balls.

What I got out of cricket is unbelievable.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

 

RELATED ARTICLES

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY pervez2849574 on | August 12, 2016, 5:24 GMT

    Well Akram, Bulbul and Nannu they might be nothing much in the international level of cricket. But they are part of my childhood. I bet lots of fans from BD feel the same way. I still remember me and cousins from my village listening heated radio commentaries of their innings in domestic cricket. They are great batsmen. At least to me.

  • POSTED BY Vijay Narayanan on | August 11, 2016, 3:14 GMT

    While playing international matches he would have known that they are definitely going to lose, hence no pressure. But when it came to domestic, he would have fought really hard. Totally agree with his comment!!!

  • POSTED BY pathum2487617 on | August 11, 2016, 1:27 GMT

    I think he means playing against associate nations before Bangladesh got test nations.

  • POSTED BY John on | August 10, 2016, 17:07 GMT

    If he found international cricket easier than domestic, why is his domestic record so much better than his international record (test average 16, other FC 32)?

  • POSTED BY Farhan Hussain on | August 10, 2016, 15:56 GMT

    Great to learn more about one of our former greats :)

  • POSTED BY Md on | August 10, 2016, 11:41 GMT

    One of the Pioneers of BD cricket. Respect from Sri Lanka.

  • POSTED BY Greg on | August 10, 2016, 11:03 GMT

    I realise that Akram may have been taken out of context unfairly with his comment "I found international cricket easier than domestic matches", but perhaps this underlines the slow progress that Bangladesh has made at the international level. The toughest domestic competition in the world is still Aus, and yet there is a huge leap up to the international level. Perhaps too many Bangl cricketers have felt there work is done once they are in the national side, and there has been no expectation to win. I hope this attitude has changed. There is no reason for Bangladesh not to be a very competitive team.

  • POSTED BY Faisal on | August 10, 2016, 9:47 GMT

    Whose interview is coming up next? It's easy to take an interview, but tough to write something analytical. Isn't it buddy. Nice read though.

  • POSTED BY Wesley on | August 10, 2016, 9:40 GMT

    Test average 16.18 , FC Average - 29.00, ODI - 23.23 , List A - 27.74

    If he found international cricket easier I dread to think what he found hard.

  • POSTED BY sam on | August 10, 2016, 6:19 GMT

    Nice Interview. Got to know few new things about BD cricket from one of their most famous cricketers. The only thing I want to say is that as Akram Khan mentioned BD did not even know what test cricket was even after playing first test. BD should have given test status after World Cup 2007 and not in 2000. It was way too early. That's why they have an abysmal win-loss test record and even now only a couple of guys (Shakib in bowling and Mominul in batting) now have developed test temperament. Rather than giving test status to BD in a hurry ICC should have helped BD build a strong domestic first class structure with assurance that test status would be awarded after WC 2007. That way BD would have been far more competitive in test cricket. Talent is not the problem with BD test team. However, temperament is a massive issue. As soon as they get 11 talented guys with good temperament BD will become competitive & good side in test cricket just like they have become in limited overs cricket.