Remembering Bangladesh cricket's mentor and father figure - Eddie Barlow
“The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood and the sound of outer ocean on a beach” – Henry Beston.
When someone asks a Bangladeshi cricket fan their favourite sound, he would most likely choose the sound from the jam-packed cricket stadiums in Mirpur, Chittagong, Khulna and Fatullah.
The roar of the crowd is better than the sound of the monsoon rain, of waves beating the shores at Patenga and Cox’s Bazar or the sweet song of the cuckoo during the time of spring.
Cricket has the power to beat the music of nature and one can sense this if they pay a visit to Bangladesh and witness a cricket match in the stadiums.
Would this sound of the passionate crowd have been possible, if Bangladesh was not awarded the coveted Test status seventeen years ago? Yes, the cricket followers have always existed in this region, but there was no medium to express their passion. Thanks to Saber Hossain Chowdhury’s determination, Syed Ashraful Haque’s keenness and the hard work of his team, earned Bangladesh nine votes in the annual conference of ICC on June 26, 2000 to confirm Test status.
A dream became a reality.
The Bangladesh cricket fans have much to rejoice and they have found a medium to express their passion; the Bangla Tigers fans are regarded as one of the most passionate fans in the world.
The road to Bangladesh’s Test status was not rosy. Bangladesh’s victory in the ICC Trophy in 1997, and two years later, the memorable win against Pakistan at Northampton during the ICC World Cup, provided Saber and Ashraful the ideal reasons to press for Test status.
Bangladesh cricket owes a lot to Gordon Greenidge for the success in the ICC Trophy and the World Cup, but his relationship with the Bangladesh Cricket Board soured and Eddie Barlow entered into the scene.
It did not take long for Barlow to become one of the most influential figures in Bangladesh cricket. He played a vital role in them achieving Test status and helped materialise Saber Hossain’s dream.
Barlow was a South African cricket legend. As a boy, he looked far from that of a sportsman. His spectacles and stout build earned him the nickname "Bunter". He was so short-sighted that he could hardly see over the front wheel of his bicycle when he rode to school. As time progressed, podginess transformed into muscles and the boy turned into a man.
As a cricketer, he was highly competitive and played with a certain brand of aggression and determination. Had apartheid not existed, Barlow’s career would have been even more glorified. After retiring from cricket, he remained in the sport as a coach.
After the departure of Greenidge in 1999, Saber and the Bangladesh board chose Barlow to groom the Tigers and help them prepare a plan to impress the ICC officials for Test status.
The South African was not just an ordinary coach; he was more of a father figure and friend for the Tigers. He was the first person to give emphasis on the improvement of the domestic structure, as former Bangladesh cricketer and administrator Faruqe Ahmed confirmed later, “To be honest he was the architect behind the change of domestic structure.”
Barlow worked hard day and night with the Bangladeshi cricketers to change their mentality and approach towards the game. He wanted to change the face of Bangladesh cricket and inject the aggressive intent and professionalism so that the Tigers don’t find the going tough after entering into the topsy-turvy world of Test cricket.
“Whatever I have achieved was because of that man. He gave me the mental support when my place in the national team was not even confirmed. I will always remember his words to the selectors that I have learnt afterwards ‘Is Sumi (Eddie use to call Habibul Bashar by that name) in the list for the inaugural Test,” said Habibul Bashar.
Barlow prepared a ten-year development programme to revamp the domestic cricket and invested his experience to help Bangladesh achieve Test status. While some of the big names remained pessimistic about Bangladesh’s Test status, Barlow always remained optimistic about it and it was evident during the ICC’s annual conference in London.
Md. Shafiqul Haque in his column for Daily Star wrote in November 10, 2000, “Three more years we have to spend in ignominy before Akram Khan led us to the most memorable victory in the history of our cricket. Since then the Board officials took the challenge to seal the honour permanently that our boys ensured for the countrymen.
Their intense and enterprising lobbying in the world body, the ever-growing passion among the fans, Eddie Barlow’s successful presentation to ICC that cricket is thriving there and will continue in the years to come.”
Barlow’s impact on Bangladesh cricket was immense.
A fatal hemorrhagic stroke cut short his stay as the coach and development director of Bangladesh cricket and it was a big loss for the Tigers. Still, many believe, had Barlow stayed longer with Bangladesh cricket, the improvement might not have been painfully slow and the domestic structure would have never remained poor.
Even though Barlow was physically not able to carry on his job, he didn’t miss the historic day of Bangladesh cricket and attended Bangladesh’s first ever Test match by sitting on a wheelchair.
One of Bangladesh’s great batsmen Aminul Islam said of the historic day and Barlow’s presence, “I was determined to do well. I gave plenty of time to adapt myself with the conditions. The Indian attack was boosted by Srinath, Agarkar, Sunil Joshi and co. It was a strong attack. I waited for the loose balls and planned to play session by session. I got nervous when I was in my 90s. I became slow. Two names kept wandering in my mind – Javed Miandad and Pravin Amre.
Both of them had scored Test hundreds for their country on debut. I kept on motivating myself by remembering their unique feat. Finally, I reached my hundred and thanked the Almighty Allah. Soon after thanking Allah, I looked towards the dressing room where a paralysed Eddie Barlow was trying hard to stand up from his wheelchair to give a standing ovation. Later his wife helped him to stand up. These are just precious moments.”
Barlow passed away on December 30, 2005 in Jersey.
Bangladesh will play their 100th Test match at P Sara Oval on March 15, 2017, and their former South African mentor, coach and hero will be smiling down on them with great pride and joy.