Hard work nothing new to Al-Amin
After spending enough time hanging out at the Bangladesh nets, you are bound to get friendly with the pace bowlers. First of all, you can only get close to them. More accurately, they will come near the sightscreen to turn and take their run-ups, near where you will be standing. Soon you will exchange smiles, maybe joke a bit about the ducking batsmen and then discuss cricket more freely once they are done. On match days, you end up rooting for them. You have learned of their stories of struggle, being under-appreciated as cricketers and professionals in the general cricketing pattern of the country.
Pace bowlers in Bangladesh barely enter the picture. They are under-used in the domestic circuit and even when they get a bowl, it is to 7-2 fields in the longer format and with sweepers back in one-day cricket. Pitches hardly support their cause and as a result, when time comes to trade them in the Dhaka league system, they end up getting less money than batsmen and spinners. Granted, they are of less use than the other lot, but pace bowling is heavily required in Bangladesh's Test team, which makes many of the bowlers break down quickly as they are hardly used to the physical burden.
So when Al-Amin Hossain, part of Bangladesh's current seam attack, decided to take up cricket seriously five years ago, his mother reminded him that his education should not stop. Hailing from Jhenidah, a small town 200km southwest of Dhaka, meant that Al-Amin quickly understood the significance of a university degree on his life, and how a pace bowler's career can often go downhill very quickly in this country.
He got admitted to Rajshahi University, another 160km northwest to Jhenidah, where is now in the fourth year of studying public administration. His struggle is unique for pace bowlers in Bangladesh, and at the same time he is part of a minority of cricketers across the country who are keeping up with their studies.
"Juggling cricket and studies has been really hard for quite a number of years," Al-Amin said. "But my mother insisted that while I can do what I think is best for me, education should never stop. It was always 'cricket vs studies' but I have chosen to do both.
"I am in the fourth year, and pulling through somehow. Last year I played an Abahani-Mohammedan match [the Dhaka derby], took the overnight bus, studied all night and then appeared for my third-year exam in the university in the morning just after I had arrived."
Al-Amin's introduction to cricket was a curious one, and the narrative of his early days suggest why he is a realistic individual. "I was once walking past the Jhenidah Stadium when I saw that they were holding a trial for an Under-15 team. I made the team, and that was my first-ever cricket-ball match. I got 8-3-21-3. My first wicket was getting the batsman out bowled.
"But for the next few years I missed the age-level teams. I always overshot the age-limit. I failed the "teeth test" at all levels and it was getting very boring, always getting rejected."
But he did break through. A chance meeting with Sarwar Imran, Bangladesh cricket's byword for mentoring pace bowlers, led to a berth in the National Cricket Academy and a first-class debut followed. Thirty-nine wickets in the first season brought him to the notice of those that matter, and in the space of less than two years, he was an international cricketer. Though he doesn't have a big bag of wickets just yet, he has bowled the most of all pace bowlers in the last 12 months.
New coach Chandika Hathurusingha has been impressed by his work so far. His somewhat unconventional action offers more variations, recognised as an asset by the management. "Al-Amin has a natural action, though it is unconventional," Hathurusingha said. "He gives variation of different release points and angles. He can be really good once he gets his body strong.
"He makes the batters awkward. I am not so worried about his pace, because he is growing and getting stronger. When I saw him in the T20 World Cup to now, he has got stronger and bowled quicker for long period, sustained the pace. It is a process."
Al-Amin says that despite the lack of international wickets, he has become a more confident bowler. He has hardly looked nervous, except for a moment when he dropped a sitter at fine-leg against Pakistan in the Asia Cup.
"I am growing in confidence, which is helping me bowl more overs," he said. "I have always tried my hardest, and slowly I feel the captain is also finding more faith in me.
"I am always trying to repeat what I do well. I am not too keen on the wickets but I have been unlucky at times. I have had about five or six catches dropped off me since I made my debut. I have started to read batsmen better. I now understand batsmen, their strengths and weaknesses. It is different for someone like Mashrafe bhai who does it very well."
Al-Amin is likely to continue taking the new ball alongside Mashrafe Mortaza in the West Indies, with Taskin Ahmed and Rubel Hossain coming in afterwards. While Hathurusingha doesn't worry much about his pace, Rubel's experience could come into consideration. But Al-Amin is hardened by rejection from his early days, so that might not be a worry for him or the team management.
But his story is important to cricket here. He has taken up one of the tougher skills in Bangladesh cricket, and showed that he is more aware of the bigger picture than many, by sticking to studies. Often found with a beaming smile and constantly discussing something or the other with his team-mates or the support staff, it is also crucial to note that he does enjoy doing the harder things in life.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84