October 20, 2013

'I always thought I have to do something extraordinary'

Sohag Gazi has come a remarkably long way considering the little support he got during his early years in Bangladesh cricket

Sohag Gazi holds a remarkable position in Test cricket but it has not sunk in yet.

It has been a week since he became the first cricketer to score a hundred and take a hat-trick in a Test match. Most heads would spin after such a performance, and perhaps Gazi's did too. But when you sit down and talk to him, he doesn't treat his achievements with childlike wonder or with cynicism.

"I have been through a personal struggle since I was in my teens," Gazi said. "I never had anyone to back me. Someone who would recommend me, give me that final push during selection time in the age-group tournaments. There were no major cricketers in my family. I always thought that since I am alone in this fight, I have to do something extraordinary. I cannot perform at a normal level like everyone else. It is so tough to play as an offspinner in Bangladesh.

"People say there is a shortage of offspinners in the country, but I have reached a level that others have striven for but never reached. There were so many good offspinners from the past and even some now. I must say that I am proud of how far I have come in my career."

During the extraordinary events over the past week, Gazi was reminded of the night before his first-class debut, for Barisal Division nearly four years ago.

"I was picked in the first-class team from [Dhaka's] first division league. It is very tough to play first-class cricket directly from that level. I thank [Zafrul] Ehsan sir who believed in me. The night before my debut, he told me he had had to battle to put me in the playing XI. After hearing that, I told myself I have to perform, but not by taking pressure. I cannot lose sleep over it. I have to play normally."

After two good seasons in the National Cricket League, Gazi made it to the National Cricket Academy. In his first four-day match, in South Africa in August 2011, he took 11 wickets, including a first innings hat-trick (in a seven-for). Two months later he scored his maiden first-class century - a 99-ball 140 against Khulna Division. After another productive season, Gazi expected to get noticed.

Four weeks later, he put in a performance that grabbed everyone's attention. In the 2012-13 NCL season opener for Barisal Division, he struck a hundred and took a hat-trick in his seven-wicket haul in Khulna's second innings.

"When I didn't make it to the Under-19 World Cup, I wanted to see what happens in the end. I had given so much time in my life to cricket, I just wanted to see what is there when it all finishes"

"We fielded the first day and nearly half the second day. Almost immediately afterwards, I had to bat. I was middling the ball very well. I got to 50, so I thought, let's take a chance. I took it, and I got the hundred.

"Taposh Ghosh, Rubel Hossain and Al-Amin Hossain were my hat-trick wickets in that game. I don't know how it happened. I got into the national team after I had done this, so it felt great. I had done something, it is a record, and I was hearing people talk about me as a prospect for the senior team," Gazi said.

Barisal wicketkeeper Shahin Hossain, who caught Ghosh and stumped Al-Amin in that match, recalled the hat-trick. "He is a good bowler and doesn't miss the spot often. We lost the game, but someone later told me that he is the first player from Bangladesh to score a ton and take a hat-trick in the same first-class match," Shahin said.

Gazi was picked in the Test team to play West Indies. A few days before his debut, the captain, Mushfiqur Rahim, informed him that he would be opening the attack.

"The greatest pressure was to bowl to Chris Gayle in the first over of a Test match," Gazi said. "It was my first over in Test cricket. Before that, when I made my BPL debut, I had felt the pressure. I was terrified at the thought of playing on live television. My performance suffered as a result, and I vowed never to do such a thing again."

With that over to Gayle, Gazi became the first offspinner to bowl the first over of a Test on debut, and the first debutant spinner to do so in 104 years. He still remembers the first ball: Gayle ran down the wicket and slammed him for a huge six over long-on. But Gazi got Gayle out in his third over, and ended up with nine wickets in the match.

By his third Test, in Sri Lanka, Gazi was the team's bowling leader. The pressure was immense for a young cricketer, but he ended the series as Bangladesh's highest wicket-taker. However, in Zimbabwe after that, he struggled to get a decent spell, and in England, playing for the A side this August, he felt lost.

"I needed to struggle somewhere, and it happened in England. I wouldn't know what I was doing wrong. After I returned from the tour, I did a lot of spot-bowling on my own. I understood what areas needed improvement, and I worked on them. The senior players helped me through this period. There was also talk about my fitness. I really wanted to prove myself, and I think I needed the Chittagong Test to go my way."

If Gazi hadn't buckled down to bat on the fourth morning in Chittagong, New Zealand would have dominated and probably forced a win on the placid track.

"My mind was fresh before I had gone out to bat. I had just prayed, so I was feeling good. My only target was to bat as long as Nasir [Hossain] is in the middle. After I defended the first ball, I felt confident because I had middled it. During the innings I charged the spinners. My mind was set on not playing a cross-bat shot - just to play straight.

"As much as the hat-trick, I was happy with the hundred. I helped the team in a vital moment, and I batted with the tail. [Robiul Islam] Shiblu kept telling me that I will get you through to 50 and 100. I didn't play rough shots, only tried to play deliveries within my reach."

After the Test, Gazi went home to celebrate Eid with his parents. He travelled 82 nautical miles, from Dhaka to Patuakhali at the southern tip of the country, on board Kuakata-1, a sturdy ship that is often overloaded as it meanders down Bangladesh's rivers. It is an unusual way for a Bangladesh cricketer to go home between Tests.

Those who have played with Gazi say he doesn't like to be told how to do things. It probably explains why at the age of 19, having faced several rejections in age-group cricket, he decided to stick to the game.

"I had been a standby for nine years. When I didn't make it to the Under-19 World Cup, I wanted to see what happens in the end. I had given so much time in my life to cricket, I just wanted to see what is there when it all finishes," he said.

Credit goes to Gazi for not giving up on the game. He has lit up a path for others like him. Players coming through will know it is possible to make it big as long as their belief in themselves is as strong as his.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dik on October 25, 2013, 22:30 GMT

    Calm down kids. Here he talks about his childhood, club cricket and first class cricket, as in the first 20 years of his life. Saqlain sure did help him lot but only for few months in last couple of years. And he did credit him for it. There's another article where he just talks about Saq.

  • Dummy4 on October 21, 2013, 22:21 GMT

    Saqlain is the greatest off spinner in our time even if u consider murali... Sohag is lucky to get such a great mentor...

    I don't think gazi can speak english... Its too much if u ask english from a guy from barisal... Becoz i heard sohag speaking of and praising saqlain mushtaq...The reporter must've missed it...

    Anyways saqlain is saqlain with or without credits acknowledged...

  • S on October 21, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    Great work Gazi - just keep your head down and keep working hard and success will follow. We are proud of you. Good Luck.

  • Dummy4 on October 21, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    @Harmony111, you're living in cloud cuckoo land if you class Ashraful as an amazing player. A great debut, of course, but he has since then failed repeatedly, regardless of format. He has consistently failed to live up to any sort of standard for an international batsman. His average of 24 (from 61 tests! 61!) is not the sort of thing that deserves praise. for anyone with aspirations for battign higher than 8.

  • Dummy4 on October 21, 2013, 9:58 GMT

    not a single word of praise for saqlain the off spin bowling coach...

  • Android on October 21, 2013, 9:33 GMT

    @peter_jones 2012, china already plays cricket

  • Harmon on October 21, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    BD have not been able to become a strong test team in the 12+ years they have played but they have been able to produce some amazing players who have made terrific records. We all remember Ashraful as the youngest to score a century on debut and that was against Murali. IIRC, Ashraful's SR in that knock was quite high too. Then we have Mahmadullah who scored a 100 batting 10th or 11th in a test match, that is amazing too. BD already have Shakib Al Hasan who is quite a superb all rounder and now we have Sohab Gazi who has a hat trick and a 100 in the same match.

    A team does not become strong over night. A strong team is almost always composed of strong players. BD just need to ensure their domestic structure is fine tuned to produce strong players simultaneously. They need talent spotters in their board.

    If BD can get 2-3 more such players then BD will improve tremendously in all formats of the game.

    All the best to Gazi and BD.

  • Android on October 21, 2013, 8:45 GMT

    great character!!

  • Adam on October 21, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    As an Aussie, it's good to see Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ireland coming up the ranks. Good stuff for the game if we have more teams playing eh. I reakon, we could do more to attract nations to take up cricket; China anyone? Good luck mate.

  • Dummy4 on October 20, 2013, 18:30 GMT

    Patience is a virtue , but few bother to keep that in mind. Ghazi is resolute; he is patient and willing to wait for the opportune moment. What better trait do u want from you best spinner who is also required to score centuries with the bat. Ghazi is our warrior - aptly named after the heroic Ghazi Salahuddin. A Ghazi survives the battle and emerges as a hero in the end. Sohagh Ghazi's career trajectory appears to be following that particular route.