In the early days of Test cricket Bangladesh did not have too many indispensible players in the team. Wicketkeeper-batsman Khaled Mashud was one of the few exceptions, who did not have any replacement ready until 2005.
Anwar Hossain played one Test against West Indies in 2002 as his understudy before being quickly discarded. Mohammad Salim played two Tests against South Africa in 2003 when Mashud was facing an investigation after a disastrous campaign in the preceding World Cup. Mashud’s Rajshahi team-mate Golam Mortaza also played few matches in A team but was never considered good enough for a Test cap.
Selectors were badly looking for someone who could fill in the shoes of the long-serving wicketkeeper. This is when I first heard the name of Mushfiqur Rahim from Al Musabbir Saadi, then a cricket correspondent of daily Independent, who later switched his profession to sport administration and served the Bangladesh Football Federation as the general secretary until his death in 2011.
Pomel Bhai, as Saadi was known to us, told me during a leisurely chat in Bangladesh Cricket Board headquarters at Navana Tower, Gulshan that a BKSP boy named Mushfiq could be the long term successor of Mashud. Our discussion did not last long because Mushfiq was still completely an unknown cricketer to us.
My second introduction to Mushfiq came in a bizarre circumstance in 2005 when I was working as the cricket correspondent of Daily Prothom Alo. Mushfiq struck a century for Bangladesh A team in Zimbabwe and we decided to publish his photo. The problem was that none of us in the sports desk knew his face. Our photojournalist Shamsul Haque Tenku, a famous journalist in his own right, singled out a boy from a group photo telling us this was Mushfiq. We all tentatively agreed and the photograph went for publication. The very next day, my sports editor Utpal Shuvro received a call from Mushfiq’s father, who was surprised to see the change in the physic of his boy. In fact it was the photograph of Nasirul Alam Nahid, better known as the elder brother of Rajin Saleh, who we mistook as Mushfiq.
Mushfiq, however, did not take much time to make his photo published regularly in sports pages. After showing some potential in age-level cricket he was called up in Bangladesh’s maiden tour of England in 2005 at the age of 16 and made his Test debut in no other place but Lord’s, albeit as a specialist batsman. I was then too young a journalist to be assigned to cover a Test match at Lord’s, so naturally I did not get a chance to see his debut Test.
I first got a chance to watch Mushfiq closely in an Under-19 tri-nation tournament in BKSP in December 2005. I can still recall the match, where Mushfiq led Bangladesh Under-19 team to a 102-run win against Angelo Mathews-led Sri Lanka. Batting first after winning the toss, Bangladesh Under-19 team found themselves in a tricky situation when they lost their fourth wicket for 120 runs. With 29 overs already gone, Mushfiq stepped up to keep the scoreboard ticking before guiding his team to a decent 253-6 with an unbeaten 75. It was a class innings under pressure, which finally made me believe that, yes, Mushfiq could serve Bangladesh for a long period.
Bangladesh eventually won the tournament under his leadership, which turned my belief into conviction. The same Under-19 team also included Tamim Iqbal and Sakib al Hasan, who also showed an early glimpse of their talent in the tournament. I was so impressed with their performances that I started believing if some players could usher Bangladesh into good days it must be this group.
Little did I know that their performance would also bring some fame for myself. After their success in the tri-nation tournament I wrote an article in New Age titled, ‘Junior Tigers growing of age.’ The report earned me cricket journalist of the year award during the Bangladesh Cricket Board award night in 2006, the last time the Board organised it. A modified version of the report was also published in the official souvenir of World Cup 2011.
The writer is the sports editor of New Age
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