Very often you do not take notice of a player who played just two matches of a tournament and that too against Canada and Uganda. So, naturally I was not aware of Mahmudullah’s participation in the 2004 ICC Under-19 World Cup at home. He got perhaps the most illustrious career out of the 10 players who went on to represent Bangladesh from that batch, famously known as ‘McInnis Babies.’ But back then he was at best a fringe player, a middle-order batsman who could bowl a few overs.
Richard McInnis, the then Bangladesh Under-19 coach, was well known for his harsh treatment of players, obviously did not rate Mahmudullah very highly. It was evident in the fact that he did not select the player for the ACC Under-19 Asia Cup, held just few weeks before the World Cup. Mahmudullah had to wait for his first match in the World Cup after they lost against New Zealand and India, which relegated the side to plate group. His contribution in the last group match against Canada was limited to eight runs and no wicket. McInnis abandoned him quickly after he could score only seven against Uganda in the next match.
I became aware of his participation in the tournament many years later when Mahmudullah started showing signs of becoming a top player. I still don’t know what prompted the selectors to pick him for the Sri Lanka tour in 2007 and hand him an ODI debut. He did reasonably well in the match, of course, by making 36 runs and taking two wickets – a decent show for any potential all-rounder. But it was those days when Bangladesh were struggling to find a right combination with plenty of youngsters in their limited overs side. Players got picked and dropped too soon, so I was not surprised to see Mahmudullah sitting out for the next six matches.
He then did something very special in domestic first-class cricket in 2008-09, which we all know of. Four consecutive hundreds in first-class cricket was not something we see every year in our domestic cricket. That made almost everyone to take notice of him. But somehow, I was not very fascinated. This is perhaps one reason I refused to take his interview during the ICC World Twenty20 in 2009.
Bangladesh would not want to remember the tournament, partly for their defeats against Ireland and India, though I had a lot of memories to carry from it. One night, while we were having a leisurely chat after our dinner in the famous Mughal-e-Azam restaurant in Nottingham, we saw a man literally running to us. He struggled to take breathe before telling us that we just missed a story as they just celebrated the birthday of opening batsman Shamsur Rahman in the team hotel. I did not pay much attention to him, then a parliamentary standing committee member and now the state minister for youth and sports Jahid Ahsan Russel, because for me it was not a story. Likewise, when my senior colleague Hasan Ullah Khan Rana proposed me to approach Mahmudullah for an interview next day I did not agree. Instead of talking to Mahmudullah, I preferred seeing the statute of Brian Clough, former Nottingham Forest coach, who helped the club win two European Cups. I politely refused to join my favourite Rana Bhai to interview Mahmudullah and instead moved to Nottingham city centre just off Old Market Square to see Clough statue.
Ironically, I was forced to change my attitude towards Mahmudullah in my next England tour in 2010. It was two days before the second Test in Old Trafford when we were all waiting to talk to a player after a training session. Manager Tanjeeb Ahsan Saad told us Mushfiqur Rahim would speak to media that day. The practice session got unusually long. We were getting restless with the pressure to meet the deadline. Owing to a five-hour time difference between Bangladesh and England, the pressure was actually enormous. But we had little choice. When the practice ended, we all approached Mushfiq, who in his typical manner, blatantly refused to speak. Saad did not have the courage to intervene but to our luck Mahmudullah noticed it from a few yards away and realised our predicament. He quickly stepped in to give an interview arbitrarily that saved our day. My respect for the player suddenly got very high and it remained the same always since.
The writer is the sports editor of New Age
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