Ashraful playing in New York in bid to stay sharp
Former Bangladesh Test captain Mohammad Ashraful is biding his time during his ban from international cricket by playing club cricket in New York. In May, he was in Los Angeles, playing for Pegasus CC in the American Cricket Federation-affiliated Southern California Cricket Association. At the time he was waiting for the Bangladesh Premier League corruption tribunal to come to a verdict related to fixing matches in the 2013 BPL. At the start of August, Ashraful arrived in New York to spend the rest of the summer with Bengals CC in the unaffiliated Bangladesh Cricket League located in Queens.
"I asked my lawyer Yasin Patel and he said you can't play under any cricket board so I said I'd go and play in USA," Ashraful told ESPNcricinfo after a local unsanctioned tournament match in New York. "I asked [former Bangladesh players] Atiar bhai [Atiar Rahman] and Sajid Hassan, they live in New York. Those two senior guys I know and told them I'm free and wanted to come play."
Ashraful was banned for eight years in June by the BPL tribunal after admitting to his involvement in corruption and match-fixing during the 2013 BPL. However, his sentence was recently reduced on appeal to five years with two years suspended pending completion of an ICC or BCB anti-corruption training program meaning he will be eligible to return to play ICC-sanctioned cricket in 2016.
An ICC spokesperson told ESPNcricinfo that Ashraful can play cricket as long as it is not sanctioned by any member ICC board. "There is no jurisdiction to prohibit his participation in any other form of cricket and Ashraful is therefore not in breach of the sanction by participating therein," the spokesperson said.
Ashraful says he was looking for a way to stay busy and keep fit rather than staying at home in Bangladesh unable to play. Coming to New York where he can be away from the spotlight but in a community with a support system in place has helped him stay motivated. He has also traveled around the country wherever he has been invited to find more outlets to play cricket.
"I need to be busy and fit," Ashraful said, noting that he had lost 10 pounds through intense training since his arrival in August. "I feel it's a good competition here also. I was surprised, seriously, because I've played Michigan, Boston, New York, Los Angeles. I've played in a few areas and in America I'm surprised they play so much cricket here and a lot of good players are here. Why I'm saying very good is because these people are working six days and playing one day without practice or anything.
"You're never gonna get that kind of standard that I'm used to in Bangladesh. Everybody knows that but at least I am getting something. I just want to keep busy. Skill-wise it's difficult. Six days I'm going to the gym, staying three or four hours, and only one day playing cricket. It is difficult but still it's not bad."
With cricket season winding down in New York, Ashraful plans on leaving at the start of November to head back home to Bangladesh. However, he says the overall reception he has experienced around the USA has been very positive and he plans on coming back in 2015 to continue playing while in exile from the international scene.
"I'm thinking one more season I want to come back because at that time when it's US cricket season, it's rainy in Bangladesh so at least I can train here," Ashraful said. "Everybody wants me to come back again. They say 'Ashraful bhai please train hard and Inshallah you can come back again.' Everywhere in USA so far Alhamdulillah nobody has told me any negative things and everyone is wishing me to come back again."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna