Syed Badrul Ahsan: It was in 1967 — and I was thirteen at the time — that cricket took leave of me or I said farewell to cricket. These days, whenever anyone asks me about some on-going cricket tournament or the other, it is not so much what is going on but what could have gone for me that stirs the sensibilities. My direct links with the game ended because of my classmate’s poor bowling. He aimed for the bat I was holding, but somehow in the manner of a ground to air missile going haywire that ball hit me straight on my right knee. A loud rush of pain was what I felt coursing through that entire leg. More than that, though, it was sheer anger at the bowler that overwhelmed every other feeling, every other passion working in me at the time.
I have not played cricket since. And I cannot tell you that I have taken in it the kind of interest that other men and women have. In the late 1990s, as media spokesperson at Bangladesh’s diplomatic mission in London, I traveled to places in the United Kingdom where the country’s cricketers happened to be playing for the World Cup. When I was informed, prior to the arrival of the team from home, that I would be the link between the High Commission and the players, it was plain disbelief that quite floored me. Here I was, as ignorant as anyone could be about cricket, now being asked to have a role in that very game. And so it was that I welcomed the team when it landed at Gatwick. I watched the way the players handled themselves before the British media. And they did the job well.
Over the next few weeks, it was intense fun watching our boys play. With Rakibul Hasan, to whom I took an instant liking, I sat in the visitors’ gallery, doing all I could to convince him and everyone else that I did understood the game, that indeed I was quite an expert in it. It was not true, of course. Pretence was at work. Rakib Bhai, at one of the matches, told me, “That was an lbw, Badrul.” I looked at him, wondering how exactly an lbw was measured and how a layman was to comprehend the intricacies involved in it. In the cold winds, I quietly moved away, to find Rouful Bhai (Rouful Hasan from the Bangladesh Observer) sipping a sizzling drink inside a tent. Enjoying the game? He asked. I smiled sheepishly. All he said was, “Good. Now come and have a drink.”
Cricket does bring back memories. In the old days of the good old radio, cricket was a festival to be enjoyed for days on end. Sometimes I wonder if people of my generation would enjoy cricket if it had come in one-day packages. There was always magic in the Test matches that went on for days. In 1967, the year when I retired from my nascent world of cricket, it was the Ceylonese (now Sri Lankan) team that came to Pakistan for a Test. Glued to the radio, to the running commentary coming from Karachi, we marveled at the intrepidity and patience Michael Tissera, the Ceylonese captain, demonstrated on the pitch. He was on course, perhaps for a century. The commentator, in all his exuberance, let us in on the thought that all the young women in the stands were applauding Tissera. There is always this charming thing about pretty young women rooting for handsome young cricketers. “Tissera, Tissera, we want a century.” That was the refrain from those Karachi women. And Tissera did go on to make a century. In Quetta, I leapt for joy and nearly dropped the radio from my hands.
Talk of cricket invariably takes people of my time back to black and white images of Hanif Mohammad and Mushtaq Mohammad. There was that punch in the Little Master which always informed us that greatness generally came in little packets. Who would have thought, in the days when Hanif pursued education in a madrasa soon after his family had migrated to Pakistan in the aftermath of Partition, that he would go on to make cricket history? Life often comes couched in ironies. And Hanif’s was one of the more intriguing of ironies, for from the madrasa he went out to claim the world as his own. It was the splendour of his batting that did it all. Any conversation on cricket, for me, is a looking back over the shoulder at those figures who once added a huge dash of romance to the game. A.H. Kardar, Imran Khan, Moshtaq, Intikhab Alam are a few of the names that made their way into our sports niche of the mind. Those names have remained. Those cricketers have remained symbols of vibrant youth in our imagination.
Some years ago, in the snowy winter of London, it was cricket that I turned to under the cheerfully bleak skies. Strolling through Waterstone’s bookstore in Piccadilly, I found myself staring at a wonderfully compact book which seemed to be announcing its presence in all its pleasure and humility. The Picador Book of Cricket. That was the book, edited superbly by Ramachandra Guha. It turned out to be a veritable treasure for me, seeing that it brimmed with essays on various facets and periods of cricket history across the years. Suddenly, it occurred to me that had such a book landed in my hands in my early teens, life would have taken a distinctively different turn for me. I have watched Sunil Gavaskar commentate on Tests; and I have observed Kapil Dev burst into tears on television. Sachin Tendulkar remains a beautiful enigma. I have watched them play or I have heard of their exploits on the pitch. There is that sense of the vicarious which then wells up in me. It is just as well.
In cricket, perhaps too in golf, there is that strong whiff of the gentlemanly you always come across. It is a cool game, Mediterrranean in its perfumed form. And those who play the game do not forget to respect one another, in life — and after it. Remember Victor Trumper? He died at the age of thirty eight in June 1915. Eleven Australian players carried his bier to his grave in Sydney. In faraway London, then caught up in the agony of the First World War, news of Trumper’s passing made the headlines. ‘Death of a Great Cricketer’. That was the consensus.
Ah, cricket! It is a thought, a mystery, a reality which makes a bonding of your youth and your fading twilight. You almost wish you were Don Bradman, the younger version of the great man that he turned out to be. Cricket is quiet magic coursing through the poetry of languorous afternoons. – UNB