Friday, June 14, 2024

Cricket before Liberation

Deep within the archives of cricket lies a season that has a lot of significance for Bangladesh. For any other country that has played the game, 1970-71 was nothing significant (except for the first-ever one-day international played in Australia), but it was a time that had the blood boiling for millions in this land, then known as East Pakistan.
Cricket should have been the last thing on everyone’s mind but the game was played on several occasions, a sum total of seven to be precise. This included three games each of the BCCP Trophy and National Under-19 Championship and a match between BCCP XI and an International XI. After Pakistan began playing domestic cricket as a separate entity in 1948, this was the most number of matches held in Dhaka (then known as Dacca). Though the first-ever home Test of Pakistan was played in the city, not more than three or four games were given per season. In the previous season to 1970-71, only a single game was held here, a Test match between Pakistan and New Zealand.
Roquibul Hassan, who is a former Bangladesh captain, was a rising star back then. A first-year student of Dacca University, he used to play in the various tournaments but never was given the scope to break through to the top, much like everyone else who was a Bangalee.
“It began when the English schoolboys came to play in the 1960s. I was made the 12th man and it happened again in 1969,” he told The Daily Star Sport. With the promise of breaking into the Pakistan Test fold, Roquibul played in the side game in Rawalpindi but was made to bat as a tail-ender despite having a confirmed place in the top-order.
“I was supposed to open with Aftab Gul after Sayeed Ahmed let go of his usual place in the opening slot. But I batted at No 8.
“These were just in the matches when I was a sufferer of deprivation. In the nets at the Railway ground in Rawalpindi, I never got to bat facing the new ball. It made me cry and I wanted to leave only for Wasim Hasan Raja to drag me back,” he added.
Roquibul ended up carrying the drinks in the third Test match against the Kiwis too, the game played in Dacca. “Everyone was thinking, will Roquibul score, will he keep his place? But I was made the 12th man,” he said.
It seemed that after the hypocrisy when it came to giving the Bangalees chances to play, the Pakistani authorities scheduled so many games in East Pakistan to either an olive branch after the previous two decades saw very few games each year.
It began on December 14, 1970 with the Under-19 tournament match between Dacca Under-19s and the Dacca Education Board Under-19s. Jahangir Shah Badshah, the most talented of all-rounders from that first generation of Bangladesh cricketers, scored 36 runs and took three wickets in the first innings.
In the final, the match is said to have been a draw between East Pakistan Sports Federation and Lahore Under-19s with such luminaries as Imran Khan, who scored 116 in the first innings though he was given two lives early in his innings, and Wasim Raja for the Punjabi side.
Between January 15 and 30, 1971, the matches of the BCCP Trophy were also held with many Pakistani top stars; and several of the local boys who went on to play for Bangladesh in the next few years took part.
Roquibul was also selected for the match between the Pakistani cricket board and an International XI. But there was a day of amazement for him in the BCCP Trophy games during that season.
“It was the first time I saw Hanif Mohammad bat. I was fielding at third slip and I noticed everything that he did beginning from his footwork while playing strokes. I am sure I would have dropped him if it came my way,” he said.
But on the first day of March, Pakistani president Yahya Khan indefinitely postponed the pending National Assembly session. Two Quaid-e-Azam Trophy games were scheduled to be played in Dhaka but they were lost in the ensuing chaos and were given to the West Pakistani sides (PIA-B given points on both occasions). “I don’t remember any such matches but it could have been scheduled,” said Roquibul.
As if nothing was going wrong in the country, the tournament continued in West Pakistan with home side Punjab University taking on Lahore in a first-class that began on March 25.
It sounds cruel, but on this day 41 years ago the other part of the country was up in flames and the cricketers here were fending for their lives; the oppressors up in the West had to look normal, no matter how abnormal they were.

-With The Daily Star input


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