‘Oh! Really! 20 years have gone past? Thanks for reminding me this.’ – Khaled Mashud was startled. The former Bangladesh skipper often gets a call from media - sometimes for his expert opinion on national team performance, some other times about the club or franchise teams that he guides as a coach, but not too many people ask him about Raman Lamba these days.
Mashud was therefore surprised. For the last 20 years, he remembered Lamba many days, in many ways. But even he was unaware of the anniversary of the tragic incident that shook the cricketing world at that time.
On February 20, 1998, wicketkeeper Mashud was standing in as Abahani captain for Akram Khan only for few overs in their Dhaka Premier League game against arch-rivals Mohammedan Sporting Club at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
During an over of left-arm spinner Saifullah Khan Jem he asked Lamba to come in from the outfield to stand at forward short-leg. He asked Lamba to take a helmet, but the former Indian batsman declined. ‘It was only a matter of three balls, so he did not want to take the helmet and I did not insist much either,’ Mashud recalled the moment.
The next ball came short and batsman Mehrab Hossain pulled it powerfully. It struck Lamba on his head before going high. Mashud moved few yards to his right to take a simple catch. When other fielders were racing to Mashud for celebrating the wicket, Lamba lied on the field, flat. Mashud stopped the celebration immediately and rushed to Lamba. But the fieldsman got up and walked to the dressing room without much of assistance. The game ended without further incident and Abahani won it.
Lamba was taken to the hospital after he vomited in the dressing room, but initially, hardly anyone could guess the seriousness of the injury. When he lapsed into coma it soon became clear that it was a grave situation. An emergency brain surgery was carried out and when his condition failed to improve he was placed on a life machine and within three days, he was dead on February 23, 1998.
His wife Kim Crothers, with whom Lamba had two children, came from Ireland. Everyone present at the neurosurgery unit of then PG Hospital (Bangabandhu Medical College and University) was moved seeing Kim weeping when doctors decided to pull out Lamba’s life-sport machine. What was still then only 50-over league of an ICC Associate Country Dhaka Premier League instantly became a global headline.
‘I could not sleep for many days after the incident,’ Meharb told New Age on Thursday. ‘There was always a kind of guilty feeling inside me, though I knew it was just an accident,’ he said. ‘People still talk about him with me. Whenever I get introduced to someone, the first thing they speak about my first international century for Bangladesh and then they quickly change the subject to Raman Lamba.’
Though the country’s cricket administrators have forgotten the incident completely, Mashud and Meharb said they could not wipe out Lamba from their memories under any circumstance.
‘Even the other day I wall telling our Prime Bank’s Indian cricketer Kunal [Chandela] about Lamba. Kunal is from Delhi. I was telling him that I played club cricket with another great player from Delhi. He had no idea about Lamba, so I shared my experience with him,’ said Mashud.
Mashud could not blame Kunal for not knowing about Lamba though he was from the same city. The cricket administrators in Bangladesh and India took no step to preserve the memories of Lamba, who had a great first-class career with 8,776 runs, including 31 centuries, in 121 matches. He also played four Tests and 32 ODIs for India. In terms of volume of international cricket, it might be nothing, but Lamba should have been remembered for the tragedy he suffered for cricket, Mashud felt.
Lamba’s club Abahani played a Dhaka Premier League match also on Thursday, which in some count was his 20th death anniversary. But the club did not wear a black armband or did not bother to offer a minute of silence. The club also has no portrait of Lamba in their boardroom, unlike the North Down Cricket Club in Belfast.
Lamba played for a long period and met his life partner Kim in the Belfast club, which still has a big portrait of the player in their pavilion. In the history book of the club, few chapters were especially dedicated to Lamba.
Sydney Cricket Ground installed a bronze memorial plaque to Phillip Hughes at the top of the stairs to the home team dressing room in less than three months after the player died being hit by a cricket ball.
Bangladesh could not take a similar step even in two decades.
‘It’s very unfortunate that we have nothing to remember Lamba,’ lamented Lamba’s former team-mate Mashud.
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