Mohammad Ashraful February 2, 2005

'I want to average more than 40 in both forms of the game'

Mohammad Ashraful is 20 years old but he already is senior member of the Bangladesh side

Mohammad Ashraful is only 20, but he is already a senior member of the Bangladesh side. He knows that, and has started acting like one - his unbeaten century against India in the recent Test series proved his calibre. In this interview he spoke about his development as a cricketer and his goals:

'Something like that was necessary for the team and it was good that I could play such an innings against India' © AFP

The series win against Zimbabwe must have been very satisfying?
It was indeed. Although I could not contribute much, it was still a wonderful feeling to be part of a history-making team. I think a big weight has been lifted with the first Test and one-day series win, and the way we came back after being 0-2 down in the one-dayers was particularly pleasing.

But you said that Zimbabwe's bowling attack was the weakest you have faced. Does that take some of the gloss off this victory?
What I said was that among the teams we have played against, theirs was the least-threatening bowling attack. But they are an international team, mind you, and they had given England some worries not too long ago. Contrary to what many people think, Zimbabwe are not a side that will lie down and get rolled over. We had to play really well to beat them. Also you have to remember that we were under a lot of pressure, probably more than ever because we went into this series knowing that we had a chance of winning. We weren't accustomed to that situation.

Dav Whatmore must have been a good influence?
He has been a great motivator. He never dwells on negatives, and that rubs off on to the players.

Where do Bangladesh go from here?
Well, England is next and it will be foolish to expect us to dominate in the same way over there. They are a much, much tougher outfit and things might not always work out for us. But there is something precious that we will carry over to England - confidence. We will fight much better and be more competitive in the future after this Zimbabwe series.

It is difficult to predict the future but in five years time, we should be in the top four of the international rankings. I am saying this because we have the talent to get there

Some say your 158 not out against India at Chittagong acted like a catalyst that transformed the mentality of the team which was getting used to losing ...
Something like that was necessary for the team, and it was good that I could play such an innings. We were 50-odd and already three down. It was a rather frightening pitch to look at, and I decided that I was not going to hang around worrying about it. Then things started happening fast and I looked up to the scoreboard and saw that we had played two sessions and gone around six an over in a Test match! I could not believe it was happening.

But just when you were expected to carry on in the same vein, you struggled against Zimbabwe?
I enjoyed the Indian bowling more as they were always trying different things and attacking all the time. It allowed me to play strokes, and that's the way I like to bat. But the Zimbabwean bowlers set a defensive field and tested my patience. It was a situation which I did not deal too well with. But you have to have luck on your side also, though, some people will tell you that have to make your own luck. I am aware that I haven't made the scores consistently enough and got out at the wrong times. Maybe I need to concentrate more and I'm working on it.

Tell us about that debut hundred against Sri Lanka in 2001, where you bravely faced the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan?
I knew I was going to play the match. I had already toured with the side so I was not uncomfortable. I watch a lot of cricket, and before going to Sri Lanka, I watched Muralitharan bowl against India, and he took seven wickets in one innings and five in the other. I noticed how he bowled and when I did face him, I was ready. I made 26 in the first innings, which was the highest score, and although he took my wicket I could play him with ease. In the second innings, my captain [Naimur Rahman] told me to bat ahead of him, and I came in at No. 6, and again, the hundred came up before I could realise its magnitude. Big scoring is a habit. I had been scoring centuries at different levels and that helped too as I knew how to do it.

So things happened fast for you?
Yes. I was in an Under-13 coaching camp in 1997, and cried my heart out when I did not get picked for a BCB XI that toured Siliguri in India that year. The following year I made the Under-13s and within months I was playing in the Under-19 World Cup after I had made an impression on Eddie Barlow, the coach.

Dav Whatmore: a great influence © AFP

On my return my coach Wahidul Gani asked Khaled Mahmud to take me to Omorjyoti Club, which was in the second division league in Dhaka, and one official after just one look at me exclaimed: "Sujon [Mahmud's nickname] what have you brought? He will die at the crease." But even though I got limited opportunities, I think they liked my courage in batting, and my legspin was an added advantage as it was a rarity at that time.

So when did the crucial break arrive?
I made a step up and entered the premier division with Surjotorun Club in 2000, but the real break came when I scored a hundred against the visiting Australian Cricket Academy in front of a packed house at the Bangabandhu National Stadium with all the selectors watching. The next day I made another hundred in a National Cricket League game, and followed that with a seven-wicket haul. The call-up to the national camp came soon after.

Already at such a young age you are one of the most recognisable faces of the country. How do you deal with the fame and adulation?
I try to be the same person, but sometimes friends don't want to take me along as I might draw unwanted attention [grins]. But this is what I had longed for as it was my dream to become a top cricketer. As for the financial security, I just feel blessed. Most of my friends haven't even completed their studies, let alone getting jobs. But I never think about how much I am earning. I let my father and elder brother take care of the financial aspects.

This is an exciting time for Bangladesh cricket. Who do you see as the future stars?
Most of us are in our early twenties and, let me tell you, we have some awesome talents like Aftab Ahmed, Enamul Haque junior, Mashrafe Mortaza, Nafis Iqbal and some others. It is difficult to predict the future, but in five years time, we should be in the top four of the international rankings. I am saying this because we have the talent to get there.

And where does Mohammad Ashraful feature in that dream - as the captain?
No. I don't want to think about captaincy for another five years at least. I just want to play as much as I can. But if I ever become captain, I want to be someone like Stephen Fleming. He is so calm, and that helps the team relax. I don't have too many personal goals, but I would love to have an average of at least 40 in both forms of the game.

Rabeed Imam is a writer with the Daily Star in Bangladesh.