Habibul Bashar

'Playing for Bangladesh is the best thing that happened to me'

Habibul Bashar was in the side (though he nearly wasn't) when Bangladesh played their first Test, and for many of the other high and low points in their cricket history

Interview by Mohammad Isam

"I was not a born captain, but I was always willing to learn" © AFP

It was a huge decision for me to leave my hometown, Kushtia, to play cricket in Dhaka. Cricket was not a career option in Bangladesh back in 1988.

The motivation was always to play the best cricket. We were competitive but financially it was very different from now.

I was part of the inaugural Test squad, but I was dropped and told to go home from BKSP [Bangladesh Sports Institute]. That was another shock for me, because I was quite a regular with the national team. My wife came to pick me up, and she saw how upset I was.

I have met a lot of cricketers in my career, but Steve Waugh was totally different. He was at a different level.

I was the sort of player who needed mental reinforcement. I needed to be told I was doing well. Coaches have a big role to play in these situations.

In 2003 I made runs against South Africa and Australia, but the Pakistan tour was one that I enjoyed the most. I scored a lot of runs there, and I dominated their bowling attack.

My maiden hundred was a big relief, because I had made a few fifties in Test cricket. I remember every moment of it, and I ended up getting out to Grant Flower to a ball pitched way outside leg stump. I really need that hundred.

I still can't understand why I did badly in the two World Cups. I survived the 2003 tournament, but the 2007 World Cup finished my international career.

When the selectors revised their decision to drop me [for Bangladesh's first Test], Aminul Islam was looking for a way to let me know and arrange for me to return to BKSP. I didn't have a phone at home, so he told my club team-mate [Ziauddin Ahmed] Shovon, who asked someone at his house to inform me. When that guy told me I was selected, I didn't believe him. When we started a practice match there, I started to get a sense of the occasion. I was about to play in Bangladesh's inaugural Test.

Mohinder Amarnath, the Bangladesh coach, started the trend of picking younger players from the 1994 ICC Trophy. He left after the tournament but the trend remained and that's possibly why I got to play for Bangladesh the next year.

I missed the 1999 World Cup and it almost ended my career. I wasn't even in the 30-man preliminary squad, so I had to reconsider my options.

I got married in 1997 and people started to say that I was going to lose focus. In those days, a player getting married meant that cricket was to take a back seat. I think it is just the opposite. For most players, they become stable after they get married.

Bangladesh's first tour as a Test team was quite good for me. I would call the two fifties I made against Zimbabwe as one of my best Test matches as a batsman. I had never really played on such a wicket, where the ball moved a lot. Heath Streak was at his prime, and there were other quick bowlers who troubled me.

Luckily everything worked for me in our first Test. I found it a little easier to bat against the likes of Javagal Srinath because we had just got back from playing in South Africa. I was over the moon to score 71, but now I regret not getting the debut hundred.

It used be difficult for a youngster to get a spot in the Bangladesh team in the 1990s. A fixed group of players used to play, and on top of that there were very few international matches, so there weren't many changes in the side.

[Dav] Whatmore told me that he didn't mind how I batted or how I got out, because this was the method that got me runs. I used to be peeved at the way I got out sometimes, because maybe it looked odd. But what he said really gave me a lot of confidence, and I started to make runs thereafter.

I really enjoyed facing Shoaib Akhtar, although I copped a lot of sledging from him. We used to worry about facing Shoaib's pace, but I kept telling everyone that he was a little wayward. It was a great contest with him.

I look soft, but I have a "don't-give-a-damn" attitude. Everyone found this amusing.

We were building on our belief and our first-ever Test win, against Zimbabwe, was the just result. We needed this win, because it had been a long time since our inaugural Test that we were without a win. It wasn't an easy game, because they played with pride. They used to beat Bangladesh regularly in the early days, so they never wanted to let that pride go. This feeling works in them all the time, even now.

I was not a natural captain, so I was worried when taking over the Bangladesh captaincy. It took me a year to learn, from everyone and everything. I was not a born captain, but I was always willing to learn.

When I got a pair in Harare, I was like, "Here we go", but we won a game there - our first ODI win in five years. People kept saying that I couldn't lead, but I like taking up challenges. So I told myself that since I don't have any captaincy qualities, I will strive to do this job.

Captaincy is a lot about the relation with players. I have had arguments with players, but I don't think anyone can say I didn't take the right decision for the team.

I didn't start off as an extraordinary performer. I first did very well in the 1994-95 season, and was selected for the 1995 Asia Cup team.

I managed to remain in cricket in 1997, mainly because I had a good time with the bat in Pakistan for the A team. That encouraged me and I started to believe in myself again.

I was lucky to be in the Nirman School XI in my early years. We used to train for hours, just like in these modern academies, but it was unheard of in those days.

I loved to bat, and I didn't want to do anything to harm my focus of it. I had made a lot of sacrifices for my batting. I gave up my family, friends, social life, just for batting. So I was worried if I would have enough time to focus on my batting when I became the captain.

"Nobody should find out how the captain is feeling on the inside. Not his opponents and not even his team-mates. If the captain shows his frustration, it affects all his team-mates"

That win against Zimbabwe in 2004 was a big one. It was the starting point of a good few years.

The next step we took was drawing the Test in West Indies in 2004. We had a decent tour, pushed West Indies in the ODI series. Had we not dropped Chris Gayle so many times, it could have been different in that game. I will never forget that tour because I always dreamt of playing in the West Indies.

Steve Waugh invited me to the Australia dressing room after a Test match in 2003. We were having a long chat when I noticed the lively atmosphere there. The rest of the players were really enjoying each other's company.

When I landed at the Dhaka airport from West Indies [after the 2007 World Cup], the first thing a board member asked me was whether I would announce my retirement. I couldn't stop people from talking, but it was unfair.

These days when I look back to my career, I miss batting the most. It gave a lot of pleasure to put bat on ball.

We should have won the Fatullah Test. Australia was such a great side at the time, but we had their number in that game.

A captain has to know everything about his team.

Between Dav Whatmore, chief selector Faruque Ahmed and me, there were a lot of arguments when we had meetings. But I think we didn't have an ego among us. All of us wanted the best for the team from our position.

As a captain, the 2007 World Cup was a memorable tournament. With the bat I was in decent form ahead of the tournament but it all went wrong when it got underway.

After we had beaten South Africa, the world media wanted to know how I was getting things right. Back home, it was just the opposite: I was being hammered. I just didn't understand why, it was unacceptable. My team was doing well, but I wasn't.

I remember getting run out in the second innings in Fatullah, and yes, it was a crucial dismissal. I didn't expect the fielder to hit from a zero angle, but that was Australia, and I was also suffering from a heel injury. If Mashrafe [Mortaza] had taken that catch of Ponting in the second innings, it would have been different. I remember he moved just a little late. Enamul Haque Jr too needed to bowl well in that second innings.

We were having a very poor tour of England in 2005, during which everyone criticised us, even Geoff Boycott. Australia were the best team in the world at the time, so to beat them was unthinkable. Frankly, we didn't believe we could do it. It could have gone downhill for us if Hayden, Gilchrist or Ponting had got hold of us. Later, Ashraful played that once-in-a-lifetime innings, and I also enjoyed batting that day. There was no sideways movement for once on that tour.

It struck me that the Australians may have differences but they enjoyed the game, enjoyed each other's company and they looked like a family. I tried to copy this in the Bangladesh team, and I think I did a few things differently from that day onwards. I wanted everyone to spend time together in our team.

One day towards the end of the 2007 World Cup campaign, there was a huge argument in the team. We were there for a long time, so the players were getting agitated. Our physio put us through a tough training regime towards the end, where he put us in a competition. Right at the end of a volleyball game, there was a point that went in one team's favour and then all hell broke loose. Everyone went mad. Rajin Saleh chased Mashrafe, Ashraful and Javed [Omar] had a hot argument. Whatmore and I decided to take strict action but when we went back to them, I saw they had all mended their differences and were rolling on the floor laughing.

Playing for Bangladesh is the best thing that happened to me. I got a lot of respect for it.

Nobody should find out how the captain is feeling on the inside. Not his opponents and not even his team-mates. If the captain shows his frustration, it affects all his team-mates.

You can't bat when you are angry. Your decision-making gets hampered.

We, in Bangladesh cricket, lose confidence very quickly. We also want changes in the side but when there are changes made, we say that there are too many changes.

We were thrown in at the deep end at the start of our international careers. We learned to swim in the middle of the ocean.

It is much better now. There are two sides of the story. I am not going to belittle anyone, but journalism has matured in Bangladesh.

I went to the ICL simply because my Bangladesh career was over. I regret going there but if I had two years of international cricket ahead of me, I would not have gone.

Criticism always helps, it keeps you grounded.

I believed that if I was around for the next six months after the 2007 World Cup, the next captain would have inherited a better team. It was a young side in terms of age, so they needed a few senior players to balance out the maturity factor.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here