Raving about Rahim
When the Bangladesh team steps onto the hallowed turf of Lord's today, back home some thousands of miles away millions of eyes will be glued to television sets in anxious, nervous anticipation. But nowhere will they glow with as much pride as in a fenced-off complex which is roughly an hour's drive from the capital, Dhaka.
For the coaches, teachers and trainees of the Bangladesh Institute of Sports (BKSP), the historic Lord's landing of the Tigers has a special significance. The XI to take on England will feature two players who are still students at the institute - Shahadat Hossain and Mushfiqur Rahim - and another one, Anwar Hossain, who is a recent graduate. In 1987 BKSP welcomed its first batch of cricket talents, some 30-odd dreamy-eyed seventh-graders, but until today, it has never had three of its products in the playing XI of the national team.
Anwar, a fast-medium bowler, is appearing in only his second Test after two years in the wilderness. He has apparently shown more adaptability to English conditions than the tireless Tapash Baisya. Shahadat's debut was inevitable after he made a pacey and hostile first impression against the British Universities in the tour opener. But the newsmaker so far has been the angel-faced Rahim.
Picked originally as cover for Khaled Mashud, the 16-year-old Rahim, who barely exceeds five feet, was given a go in Bangladesh's second warm-up match, against Sussex, and ended up batting better than any of his team-mates in that ill-fated game, including scoring the only half-century. Just to confirm it was not a fluke, he then smacked an unbeaten hundred against Northamptonshire, during which he even advised his 36-year-old batting partner, Mohammad Rafique, to "play the balls a little late" in order to get proper timing. That's the uninhibited, confident gait with an unmistakable touch of innocence which sets him apart from other kids of his age. And there are some other traits in Rahim that money can't buy.
"He comes from one of the most reputed and affluent families of his district [Bogra]," says the BKSP's cricket coach Mohammad Salahuddin. "He could have had all the comfort in the world. Instead, he has decided to shape his life through hard work. His work ethic is exemplary, and he is absolutely single-minded about pursuing his goals - being successful in cricket and career. Mind you, he is academically very sound too.
"We have had individuals who have been far more talented than Rahim," added Salahuddin. "But some have fallen by the wayside while others have not made the next leap forward. That is why he is different. He has not got distracted and hasn't lost focus. His level of determination is much higher than the average trainee and he carries himself with dignity. He is very polite and disciplined. You won't hear anything negative about him from anyone here."
Rahim was in Australia with the Under-19 side when the news emerged that he had been picked for the senior side, and he was suitably dumbfounded when Nazmul Abedin, the chief coach at the institute, dropped the bombshell. But Nazmul also foresees brilliant times ahead for Rahim. "I think he is a future Bangladesh captain. He has the attributes to go the distance."
While BKSP gave Rahim the scope to flourish his sporting gifts, his character was moulded under the influence of the Australian, Richard McInness, the outgoing High Performance Manager of the Bangladesh Cricket Board and coach of their Under-19 and A squads. McInness had a good idea how his pupil was going to react to the Lord's adventure: "Obviously he'll be excited but he won't let it show. He will go about his business without letting the occasion get to him. That's the kind of character he is. He is very, very professional, which is a rarity in someone so young."
Rabeed Imam is a sports writer with the Daily Star in Dhaka.