'I wanted to play for another year'
Mohammad Rafique has been there and done it all, having played for Bangladesh since 1995, and then for most of their Test history. He now leaves the international scene as the team's leading wicket-taker - his 100th Test wicket came in what will in all likelihood be his last Test, against South Africa at Chittagong. Rafique has more than a few regrets, though, to be leaving the way he is, as he reveals in this interview.
Firstly, congratulations on your contribution to Bangladesh cricket. You must be pleased to be retiring on a high?
Playing for Bangladesh is the best thing to have happened in my life. I sincerely tried to do my best for the country and I am happy that I earned reasonable success as a cricketer. I am not happy to be retiring at this stage, though. I feel I have cricket left in me and that I can help Bangladesh establish themselves as a competitive Test team. I wanted to play for another year as we have a good number of Test matches in the next 12 months, and I am fit enough to lead the spin attack for Bangladesh in those matches.
So what made you retire?
I announced my retirement as a mark of protest. It's better to leave before getting humiliated at the hands of some people who prevented me from playing Test cricket for two years.
Last year the selectors omitted me from the ODI squad without any notice, although I had success in 2007. I took four wickets in my last ODI appearance. Some people thought I was not up to ODI standards and they decided to drop me - they didn't even make a courtesy call to convey the message. After they ended my ODI career, by leaving me out of the team to New Zealand, I decided to call it a day immediately. When petty politics and personal choices prevail over cricketing reasons, it's better to say goodbye.
I could have earned 150 Test wickets or even more if I had played those matches when I was at the peak of my career. I feel that some people cheated Bangladesh, not me. Everyone related to sports or sports bodies should put the country ahead of personal interest, but unfortunately that's not the case in Bangladesh.
What are your plans after retirement?
I am retiring from international cricket, but I will play club cricket for another three to four years.
I want to use my experience for the cause of Bangladesh cricket. I have mentioned it before that I want to become a pitch curator. I think we are failing to utilise our home advantage due to lack of suitable wickets. I want to use all my cricket education and experience to help make suitable wickets that will suit our style of bowling. It's very important for us to use home conditions to our advantage to win Test matches regularly. I believe a cricketer who has learned the art of the game from the field can be a much better curator than a person who has learned it from a book.
I also want to engage myself in teaching young talents the art of spin bowling and run nationwide camps for youngsters. However, everything depends on the cricket board. I will be very willing to contribute, but I am not sure if I will get that opportunity.
You are the pioneer of left-arm spin bowling in Bangladesh, and now Bangladesh has a good supply of young such bowlers. Any thoughts on that?
It's really encouraging to see a good number of left-arm spinners around. Abdur Razzak, Enamul Haque jnr and Shakib Al Hasan are already playing for Bangladesh, and some good young prospects are also in the pipeline.
International cricket is a tough place and there is no alternative to hard work. In my opinion, keeping it simple is the key to success for a spin bowler. You need variations, but accuracy should not be sacrificed for variation and that was always my motto throughout my career.
Among the current left-arm spinners, Razzak has a very bright prospect and Shakib can be a very good allrounder for Bangladesh. I have found another bowler, Mosharraf Hossain, who was my team-mate in the national league - very promising, and I find a reflection of myself in him. He has some exceptional variations, which can prove very lethal in Test cricket. I rate him highly to become the future spin king of Bangladesh.
|I feel that some people cheated Bangladesh, not me. Everyone related to sports or sports bodies should put the country ahead of personal interest, but unfortunately that's not the case in Bangladesh|
You must have lots of memories to look back upon from your career?
I have got a very emotional attachment with cricket. I was a very simple man coming from a poor family. It's cricket that gave me everything. I am leaving with plenty of fond memories.
If I am asked to pick the best five moments of my career, I will put the 1997 ICC Trophy win in first place, followed by the debut Test against India, first-ever ODI win (against Kenya) in 1997, the Test century against West Indies at Gros Islet, and the win against India in the 2007 World Cup.
Apart from these, as a bowler I will always remember the Multan Test against Pakistan and the Fatullah Test against Australia. We went agonisingly close to registering our first Test victory against formidable opponents, but were denied by two legends of Test cricket. I felt deceived in the Multan Test as a couple of legitimate shouts were turned down by the umpires, and either of those would have resulted in a Test win against Pakistan.
You were part of Bangladesh's inaugural Test squad and you're now retiring in what will be Bangladesh's 53rd Test. Why have Bangladesh failed to establish themselves as a Test team?
I feel we haven't done enough to raise the standard of our game. We need to play Test cricket regularly without any break, and at the same time we must build proper infrastructure and facilities for cricketers. One without the other will not work. We still do not have proper infrastructure in place after seven long years, which is a shame.
We had a break from Test cricket, which worked against us. We have suffered a number of wrong decisions from umpires on crucial occasions, which didn't help. One or two wins would have done wonders to the mindset of the young Bangladesh team, and the scenario could have been different.
Another problem is in our policy. Our team management never enjoys full freedom to select the playing XI. The coach and captain should have a major say in deciding the playing XI. We must stop the practice of having the playing XI announced over the telephone. This prevents the coach and captain from implementing their vision to take the team forward.
We need people with passion to run the show, and without a professional cricket board it will take longer than usual to establish Bangladesh as a Test nation.
A lot has been said over the years about the domestic infrastructure here. Do you have any specific suggestions?
My suggestion is simple: train coaches from overseas academies and build sufficient indoor facilities at divisional headquarters. If we can do these two things, the rest will happen with time. We cannot play cricket for about six months due to the monsoon, and we badly need indoor facilities for this period of the year. Cricketers should be within the game for 12 months to stay fit and bring intensity to their game. And we need good coaches to teach basics to the youngsters. A good number of players are playing top-level cricket without learning the basics, mainly because they didn't have the opportunity to see a trained coach. We have a large population, and we need a good number of trained coaches at different levels to develop our overall standard of cricket.
You are retiring, Khaled Mashud has already expressed his willingness to retire, and Habibul Bashar is also on the verge. The three of you have served Bangladesh cricket for a long time. Do you feel you are leaving a vacuum behind?
I don't think so. No one is indispensable and you have to call it a day at some point. Young players need to step in to fill the void, and we have plenty of talent in the current squad who can take the responsibility. [Mohammad] Ashraful is a positive captain and from what I have seen, [Jamie] Siddons is also a very fine coach. I see a bright future for the Bangladesh team.
Any message for your fans?
The fans have given me lots of respect and love. I don't know whether I have been able to repay a part of it. I want to keep myself associated with cricket to help Bangladesh break into the top five cricket nations of the world. That's my dream; hopefully I will be able to see that come true in the near future.
Khondaker Mirazur Rahman is the editor of banglacricket.com