Memories of a Dhaka hero
There are cricket grounds, and there are cricket grounds. Whether it is the lowly maidan where you play lazy club cricket on the weekends, Lord's where stuffy stewards bossed you around as you watched Ajit Agarkar stroke an unlikely hundred, the picturesque Rangiri Stadium in Dambulla where the trees sway in the breeze as Sanath Jayasuriya crashes the ball through point - each ground calls out to you in a unique way. The Bangabandhu National Stadium is one of the great venues in Asia, in that it rivals Eden Gardens in size and its fans can match Kolkata's best for passion and voice.
But when you first walk through the maze of electronics stores that skirt the stadium, through the tiny Gate No. 21, and emerge into the stadium, you suddenly find yourself in a vast open space, much like bursting through a thicket of sturdy trees and finding yourself in a meadowy glade. And, if you've just arrived from India, with the shocking and wasteful death of Cristiano Junior on the football pitch in a match between Dempo and Mohun Bagan all over the headlines, you can't keep images of Raman Lamba out of your head.
It is an unfortunate association to make with a ground, but it is the sort of thing that you just cannot avoid. It was here, on February 20, 1998, that Lamba, fielding close to the bat, copped one on the skull off the bat of Mehrab Hossain. Lamba, playing for Abahani Limited after retiring from a long first-class career with Delhi, had just come up to forward short leg, and did not wear a helmet, contending that he only had three balls to field in that position.
Mehrab, who would later go on to play for Bangladesh, was batting for Mohammedan and struck a short ball fiercely. The ball was hit with such power that it ricocheted off Lamba's head, and ballooned to Khaled Mashud, the wicketkeeper, who had to backpedal to take the catch.
Lamba, shaken and with an understandably nasty headache, dusted himself off, picked himself up and walked off the ground unassisted. When he reached the changerooms, the team doctor laid Lamba down, and gave him a glass of water to drink. By this time the hemorrhaging had begun. Finally, when the gravity of the situation became obvious, Lamba was taken to the Institute of Post Graduate Medicine and Research, then considered the best centre for neurology in Bangladesh. But by then, it was too late.
The next day, a national holiday, a few cricket journalists got wind of the news and went across to the hospital, only to find the Indian High Commisioner, Kim - Lamba's Irish wife - and the seniormost doctor hushed in conversation. The decision was made to turn off the respirator, and soon Lamba was declared dead. Newspapers in Bangladesh called it Bangladesh cricket's saddest day, for Lamba had been hugely popular here. His swashbuckling batting against some less-than-menacing bowling made him one of the country's leading crowd-pullers.
Naturally, Mehrab was deeply affected by the incident, had sleeping trouble, and even voluntarily spent a spell away from the game. Months later, when he was called to a school as chief guest, the kids asked him to hit them some catches. One of the boys misjudged a catch and was hit on the face. This reinforced what Mehrab felt when the Lamba incident occurred, and made it that much harder for him to return to the game. Eventually, though, he did make his way back to international cricket, and how.
In the Meril International Tournament later in the 1998-99 season, he cracked 101 against Zimbabwe, and remains the only Bangladeshi to have scored a one-day international century. Sadly, though, it's not the century that Mehrab is remembered for. Like the Bangabandhu, he will always be associated with the death of Raman Lamba, whether he likes it or not.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.