Javed Omar retires from cricket
Javed Omar's retirement from all forms of cricket earlier this week has cut off Bangladesh's last on-field link to their early days as a Test team, when they struggled to come to terms with the demands of the format. He was the last member of the team that played Bangladesh's maiden first-class match to call it quits.
As an opening batsman Omar played 40 of Bangladesh's first 48 Tests. He was part of the team that still holds the records for most consecutive Test defeats (21) and most consecutive Test series defeats (16). He averaged 22.05, with one century and eight fifties, and was a constant presence in the team till the selectors cut him loose in 2007.
"It was very tough to play Tests in those days," Omar told ESPNcricinfo. "We went from playing against teams like Scotland, Malaysia and Kenya to facing teams like Pakistan, India and Australia in one-day cricket and then on to Tests from 2000.
"We heard calls for Bangladesh's Test status to be taken away. We always knew who was making those comments, but we remained patient. We knew what was happening around us. From a personal point of view, I can say that I couldn't have reached this far had I taken all the comments made about me seriously, so it is the same thing with Bangladesh."
Omar will be remembered for being one of three batsmen to carry their bat on Test debut. That innings, an unbeaten 85 against Zimbabwe in 2001, remains the only instance of a Bangladesh batsman carrying his bat in an innings.
Omar's style - inclined towards occupying the crease and grinding out attacks - was often at odds with how the rest of the team batted in those days. While Omar's anchor role was part of the team's broader plan in Test cricket, it never quite gained a wider appreciation, and he never got the adulation reserved for talented but inconsistent strokeplayers such as Al Shahriar, Mehrab Hossain and Mohammad Ashraful.
Staying true to his style of batting, Omar picked a six-hour vigil as his most satisfying performance. In that innings, he made 43 off 258 balls as Bangladesh batted out 142 overs to save the second Test against Zimbabwe in 2005 and complete their maiden series win.
"Before we had gone to England in 2005, my coach said it was the end of my career," Omar said. "I batted well there, and was Man of the Series in England. But I always batted for the benefit of the team so the innings that gave me the most satisfaction would be the 43 I made off 258 balls against Zimbabwe, earlier that year.
"I have scored a hundred against Pakistan and hold a record for carrying my bat in my debut Test. But this innings meant a lot to me as I had ample opportunity to make runs on a flat wicket at the Bangabandhu National Stadium. I let go, making sure the team could bat out the final day without any hiccups."
Omar finished 2005 with his best batting average in any year, scoring 346 runs at 28.83, but the next two years brought poor returns and the selectors moved on to younger openers. Apart from Tamim Iqbal, however, none of them, so far, have lasted as long or scored as many runs as he did.
Omar supports the recent trend of selectors preferring experienced domestic players over young players for Test cricket. He says Bangladesh's results might have been different had their early transitions proceeded at a slower pace. "Some of our senior players were pushed out of the national side far too soon. Akram (Khan) bhai's batch and our batch had to make way for a very young lot.
"If the likes of Mohammad Ashraful or Junaid Siddique were refined further in domestic cricket, it would have been a much better transition. Imagine if suddenly they axed Shakib (Al Hasan) and Tamim. It will put a lot of pressure on the likes of Mominul Haque. Why did Shamsur Rahman bat so well against New Zealand in only his second ODI? Because he has vast domestic experience, so nothing really put him off."
On Friday, Omar, who played his last first-class game towards the end of the 2011-12 season, played a match against a team of journalists at the National Cricket Academy ground, in the shadows of the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur. He had come a long way since his debut in the Dhaka league in the 1987-88 season.
Many former Bangladesh players showed up for the testimonial but the absence of the BCB was a sour note. Only one director, Jalal Yunus, made a brief appearance.
"The officials have to respect players in Bangladesh," Omar said. "The last time I returned from a tour with the senior side, they tried to cut me off from first-class cricket. They don't understand that an experienced player is very important for a dressing room. Cricket is so much a mental game that it is important to learn from our surroundings.
"I lost hope of playing for Bangladesh in the 2010-11 season. But I still enjoyed playing the domestic game. Money didn't matter to me. I had to spend a lot of time away from my wife and kids just to play cricket around the country. Dhaka Division dropped me so I found a place in Barisal."
Omar also played 59 ODIs, but his batting style meant he was often labeled "just a Test cricketer". He never considered it a pejorative term, however. "It was very tough to shift from first-class to Test cricket," he said. "I was desperate not to get out. I used to hear things like I was slow, couldn't hit the ball. But I liked it. I enjoyed it when people said I was a Test player.
"It is my biggest achievement. Most of our batsmen didn't have the habit of playing long innings but I used to practice that way, and I stayed at the wicket more."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here