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Bangladesh v MCC XI - A historic day in Bangladesh cricket

An article on the historical significance of January 7, the day which helped shape Bangladesh's cricketing destiny.

16-member Bangladesh squad before the historic match against MCC XI. Image Courtesy: Book “Sentimental Journey” written by Yousuf Babu  
 

In the early 70s, soccer was the heart and soul of every Bangladeshi. Legendary soccer player Salahuddin was the poster boy of Bangladesh sports fraternity and Salahuddin’s impact was so heavy that it created a legacy of producing some of Bangladesh’s finest soccer players.

The domestic Football Leagues and various domestic football tournaments gave people heart filled joy. There was no space for cricket in Bangladesh.

As a matter of fact, Bangladesh tasted the beauty of Test cricket during the East Pakistan era. Teams like England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies played Test matches in the Bangabandhu National Stadium.

But after independence, cricket’s charm was devoured by the sky-high popularity of soccer.  

The Bangladesh Cricket Board was established in 1972. A cricket League commenced in Dhaka and Chittagong, but it was not encouraging enough to catch the pulse of the Bangladeshi public. Cricket in Bangladesh was in need of a massive boost. 

Robin Marlar’s nostalgic article

Robin Marlar, the ex-cricketer who played for England and then became a renowned cricket journalist after retirement, wrote an article in The Sunday Times about Bangladesh’s enriched cricketing history by recalling the fond memories he had while watching Test matches at Dhaka during the pre-liberation days.

He was not sure whether cricket existed in the new country named Bangladesh. He was afraid that gradually, cricket might become a fossil in a land which has the tradition of hosting legendary players like Sir Garfield Sobers, Ted Dexter, Richie Benaud and co.

Syed Ashraful Haque’s initiatives

Marlar’s opinion piece caught the attention of ex-cricketer of Bangladesh Syed Ashraful Haque who was staying at London during that time as he was completing his graduation. Ashraful wrote a letter to Marlar stating that the passion for cricket still existed in Bangladesh and boasts a good number of followers.

Ashraful’s letter led Marlar to arrange meetings with the senior officials of International Cricket Council, who lacked the appropriate information about the state of cricket in Bangladesh and thus, Bangladesh’s membership in the ICC kept on getting shelved.

The ICC officials nurtured the idea that the condition of cricket deteriorated immensely after the birth of Bangladesh and they had doubts about the cricketing abilities of the players of this region as the last Bengali that played any sort of decent cricket was Pankaj Roy from India.

The names of martyred Abdul Halim Chowdhury Jewel and Raquibul Hassan were not in their minds and no wonder, the ICC had kept on ignoring Bangladesh’s efforts to join the international cricket fraternity.

Roquibul Hassan features in the World XI

In the winter of 1975, the Pakistan Cricket Board organized a series of one-day matches to be played between the Pakistan National Team and World XI. Pakistan cricket’s hierarchy decided to invite a player from Bangladesh to represent the World XI.

The invitation was orchestrated by Ashraful and Bangladesh Cricket officials forwarded Raquibul Hassan’s name to Pakistan Cricket Board and immediately he was en route to Karachi. Raquibul featured in the matches and the world came to know that the passion for cricket in Bangladesh still was not dead.

Marlar’s influence, Ashraful’s diplomatic strategy and Raquibul’s move to represent the World XI in Pakistan, helped the ICC generate enough support to give Bangladesh a chance. In May 1976, Bangladesh invited the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) to tour.

In June, the International Cricket Council discussed Bangladesh's membership and they decided to wait for the MCC tour before allowing Bangladesh membership.

 

The arrival of the MCC team in Dhaka

The MCC team, led by Ted Clarke, arrived in Dhaka on December 27, 1976, for a short tour. Two days later they traveled to Rajshahi and Chittagong to play two-day zonal matches.

The match in Rajshahi was a draw where North Zone’s Raquibul scored a brilliant 73 runs in the second innings while the performance in Chittagong was a dismal one – the English bowlers rattled the batting line-up of East Zone team twice in just more than one day. Only Ashraful Haque stood firm to score 60 runs.

But the three-day match in Dhaka against the Bangladesh national team  generated more attraction.

Historic January 7, 1977

January 7, 1977. Dhaka was, as usual, noisy and chaotic. Dhaka’s winter was, as usual, festive. There was the scent of traditional pithas (pancakes) of winter in the air, one could listen to the music of a harmonious Bangladesh, one could witness the smiley faces despite the cold weather and one could hear people talk about cricket amid the popularity of soccer.

All roads led to the Bangabandhu National Stadium.            

The morning was cool and sunny. The visiting team relished such a weather as they are accustomed to it. The Dhaka track was fairly hard with even bounce and devoid of grass. Shamim Kabir, the captain of Bangladesh won the toss and elected to bat first.

At 9:45 am, the two umpires, Altaf Hossain and Reza-i-Karim walked out on the ground to officiate the match amid thunderous applauds. It was not a soccer match, but a cricket match where the presence of the crowd was inspiring.

Shamim Kabir and Roquibul Hassan, the two openers from Bangladesh, walked out to bat and Bangladesh’s journey in world cricket started.   

Yousuf Babu – The hero

Yousuf Babu (left) after scoring an unbeaten 60. Image Courtesy: Book “Sentimental Journey” written by Yousuf Babu
 

Shamim and Roquibul’s start was a cautious one, but a sharp inswinger from Martin Vernon disturbed Roquibul’s woodwork and the rhythm of Bangladesh innings was dented.

Mainul Huq and Omar Khaled Rumi played some brilliant strokes but their presence was like an ice sclupture in the desert. At one point Bangladesh were reeling at 145 for 6. The batsmen had starts, but their stay at the crease was not brief.

The last-minute-inclusion Yousuf Babu, a hard-hitting lower order batsman who could bowl as well took the charge of the innings and he not only forged useful partnerships with Daulatzzaman and Farook, but also attacked the English pacers as well.

It was a flawless innings where he executed shots on the back foot with perfect balance and pristine timing. He was not out on 60 at stumps and his fluent knock gave Bangladesh the much needed confidence to fight.

Babu was dismissed for 78 the next day but he was not done yet.  He proved useful with the ball as in the first innings his figures were 4 for 37. From an unknown fellow, Babu became an overnight sensation.

The significance of January 7, 1977

The match ended in a draw. A team which lacked the proper preparations and experience to battle against a formidable English unit, fared very well to earn the respect of cricket connoisseurs.

On the back of Bangladesh’s performance against the touring MCC  side, the ICC made Bangladesh an Associate member on July 26, 1977.

January 7 bears enough importance in the history of Bangladesh cricket. The seeds of a bright future were sown on that day. It instilled confidence among the Bangladeshi cricketers to work hard and strike gold.

Surely, Bangladesh cricket has come a long way and one must not deny the impact of that three-day match which commenced on Januray 7, 1977. 

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