Akram Khan sets himself for BCB challenge
Akram Khan's move from the professional domain of cricket to the largely voluntary role of a councillor has to be his boldest decision since he moved from Chittagong to Dhaka to pursue a cricket career in the mid 1980s. The first step was fraught with tremendous insecurity for a young man when cricket was hardly professional and well below football in popularity. But his journey put him on course to be one of the most sought-after cricketers and loved personalities in the country. Three decades later, his latest decision will test his character again.
Akram's ambition to contest the upcoming election for the position of the BCB director will pit him against seasoned and politically astute organisers, many of whom are masters of altering the course of the election. There have been four BCB elections since 1998, and none of them have been without controversy. The current ad-hoc committee was supposed to hold its fifth election within three months of its appointment by the government last October, but it will now be close to its one-year reign when the polls are actually held.
There have been reported allegations of influences being used to change councillorships in several divisional and district sports associations. Members of many Dhaka clubs have claimed and counter-claimed the legitimacy of their own councillors. There are numerous politically-backed councillors, which would mean that the corridors of the BCB will be filled with intrigue in the upcoming weeks leading up to the election.
It is like any other political battle in Bangladesh as two sides have already been established, one led by the incumbent BCB chief Nazmul Hassan and the other being ex-president Saber Hossain Chowdhury.
But the fact remains that none of the 190-odd councillors, which includes eight other former Bangladesh captains and eight former cricketers including two international players, have a track record like Akram's. And as a result, it sounds like an unnecessary crossing of the bridge.
Akram is a revered figure, the man recognised to have single-handedly won Bangladesh's permanence in international cricket with his most famous innings, and the ensuing ICC Trophy triumph. Though his international career stuttered to an end a decade ago, he was seamlessly reattached to the heart of Bangladesh cricket when he was made the selector in 2007, and the chief selector in 2011.
In the last two years, the Bangladesh team has been progressive in ODIs, appearing in the Asia Cup final, winning against West Indies and drawing in Sri Lanka. However, they have only made little improvements as a Test side and remain a below-average Twenty20 unit.
But Akram has already moved on, having resigned on September 18 after being confirmed of his representative position in Chittagong Divisional Sports Association. Although most of Akram's playing achievements came during Saber's reign (1996-2001), it is BCB chief Hassan who has openly backed him. More importantly, he has logic based on close observation and a plan in mind.
"There's a lot one can do as a board director," Akram told ESPNcricinfo. "I have observed this during my time in the BCB over the years. I want to take advantage of that, and develop cricket and cricketers across the country. Because I have a commitment to the people of Chittagong, and it is my hometown, I would like to bring out more players from this region. I also have plans to find women cricketers from the indigenous population in Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban."
"There is a huge difference between cricket in Bangladesh from when I played and now. There's 100% improvement in facilities, and the financial side is much stronger. But these improvements haven't produced enough players. There are some good players, not many."
He has had to select teams within the limited resources, and his mantra of continuity has fostered confidence within the team members, helping in maintaining a core group of senior cricketers despite inheriting a young side. He admits that he has left gaps to fill for his predecessor.
"I wanted to stay committed to keep pretty much the same team when I became the chief selector in 2011. At times, I was forced to make changes due to injuries but largely, I have kept my promise.
"I have tried to establish players, but I couldn't find a decent second opener and a No 3 in the batting line-up," Akram said.
He revealed how he had to protect two senior cricketers, and how he disapproved of the delay in the appointment of Mushfiqur Rahim as the captain . "Abdur Razzak and Mashrafe were players who I had to protect from negative comments. I made sure they never got to hear of it.
"Everyone knows what happened ahead of the Asia Cup last year, with Tamim Iqbal. But what people don't know is that the captaincy wasn't decided two days before Bangladesh's first match. I was vocal about resolving it quickly," he said.
Akram had resigned ahead of the Asia Cup last year, after the then BCB chief, Mustafa Kamal, dropped Tamim Iqbal. The country's prime minister convinced Akram to stay on as selector, and retained his nephew in the squad. Tamim responded with four fifties in a row, a Bangladesh record, and Akram felt vindicated.
It won't be as straightforward when he contests the BCB elections. It is a discouraged route in Bangladesh cricket, one where controversy is just around the corner. If he does win a position in the board of directors, there will be even more scrutiny and he won't be able to justify the inertia that has lately gripped the BCB.
But he believes that the selector has the most thankless job, and courts disagreement. So one would assume that he is well-trained to handle setbacks, one of which could be a defeat in the elections and him remaining as a councillor till the next election. In that case, he has to draw inspiration from his early playing days, when his passion brought him to Dhaka. It was a no-no back then, just like what he faces now.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here