Bangladesh v South Africa, 1st Test, Chittagong July 24, 2015

Aftab teaching Chittagong's next generation the 'natural game'

Aftab Ahmed was a free spirit during his career for Bangladesh, and as a coach he is now teaching young cricketers to follow their instincts

Aftab Ahmed played 16 Tests, 85 ODIs and 11 T20Is for Bangladesh © RisingBD.com

A roar emanates from inside the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium as kids in the nearby Chittagong Divisional Sports Association ground learn how to call for high catches and take a quick single. One of the coaches instructing a group of boys is a man who knew a thing or two about drumming up a crowd into such a roar.

Aftab Ahmed, the former Bangladesh batsman, is quietly going about his job. Bearded and with his eyes hidden behind modern reflective sunglasses, he isn't easily recognisable. He doesn't want to be recognised either. Aftab also doesn't like going to cricket grounds anymore and bears as much regret as any newly-retired player would after having an unfulfilled international career.

"I don't come to the ground these days," Aftab says. "I don't like hearing that noise. But look, I don't want to talk about regrets. I had problems, so did the board. When Akram bhai [Akram Khan] was the chief selector [in 2011], things would have been different had they given me a chance to make a return to the Bangladesh team. But now I have started a new life. I am more religious and I am busy with coaching. I made money from playing cricket. I am enjoying life right now."

The Aftab Ahmed Cricket Academy was inaugurated in February, three months after he played his last competitive domestic match. He had announced his retirement in August, before the 2014-15 domestic season began. The demand for his services in domestic cricket had steadily diminished since his last international match in May 2010, and he compiled only 49 runs in four Dhaka Premier League games for Brothers Union.

Aftab's reputation as a lethargic cricketer had caught up with him finally and towards the end of his career, even he was talking about it.

Another roar erupts from the stadium as South Africa try to cut down Bangladesh's 78-run first-innings lead on the third day. Aftab looks to his right, a constant smile on his face but there's a twitch in his shoulder. Aftab had been in the thick of action in the previous Test played between Bangladesh and South Africa at the same venue in 2008. "This got swollen by a Kallis bouncer," he says pointing to his right cheek. It was his last Test before rebelling to the Indian Cricket League.

The crowd roars again as Mustafizur Rahman got one to go across Stiaan van Zyl and threw his hand up, enough to urge the crowd into a loud appeal.

"The crowd was a big influence in how I played. I used to be stirred by their noise," Aftab said. "They used to cheer my name from the time I walked out of the dressing-room to bat in the middle. All my fears were gone. I wanted to give them entertainment.

"I never thought of the consequences. I didn't think too much about getting out. I always wanted to express my natural game, without paying much attention to the bowler's name."

Despite the regret of a premature finish to his career, Aftab is happy to see the new breed of Bangladesh cricketers getting early success by playing with freedom. He was particularly impressed by Soumya Sarkar, who in a way resembles the free spirit that was Aftab's trademark.

"It makes me happy that Bangladesh is playing much better cricket these days. They play fearlessly and that's how it should be. What can happen? They would only get out. What's there to be afraid of? I used to be fearless from the word go. It feels great to see Soumya, Mustafizur play that way.

"It seems they have been playing at this level for five-six years. I like seeing their confidence. There was a time when Mushfiqur, Shakib and Tamim used to be the only performers. Now everyone is doing well."

His belief in batting with instinct is now being instilled in the next generation of Chittagong cricketers. "Many players used to cut down on their shots to stay at the wicket. I tried to do the same towards the end of my career. It didn't do me any good. When your natural game goes away, there isn't much you can do in cricket.

"This is what I teach the kids at my academy. Everyone should play their natural game. The ball selection should just be taken care of. If you can maintain that, you can play your shots from the first ball."

Aftab, who is not yet making waves as a coach, is a welcome addition to Bangladesh's system. It has been in dire need of a free spirit for a long time. With there being a dearth a talent from Chittagong in the last eight years, Aftab said he wanted to produce more players from the city. Nazimuddin was the last player to make his international debut, in 2007.

"I have come into coaching for Chittagong. There are no players from Chittagong in the pipeline. We only have an Irfan Sukkur and no one else. He is in the academy team and I pray he goes to the top level. I want to produce players for the Premier League, like they do in Rajshahi. People these days don't want to take players from Chittagong. I want to take Chittagong cricket ahead."

Apart from being one of Bangladesh's best No. 3 in ODIs, one of the country's best fielders and a pleasant person, Aftab is also a frank speaker. He did not even let the question finish when asked what he wanted to achieve.

"Through coaching, I want to fill the gaps of my own unfulfilled coaching career. As a player, I had responsibility of only myself but I couldn't do it properly," he said. "Now I have to take care of a lot of players so I cannot do any compromises. Maybe I would have been in a much better place had I done things the right way. Rather than being in this ground, I would have been in that ground."

He was physically a 100 yards from the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium but it could have been a million miles.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

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