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'Want to play for 10 more years, like Misbah' - Ashraful

Mohammad Ashraful spent the last three years playing unaffiliated cricket in the USA and UK ESPNcricinfo Ltd

It is hard to find a cricket facility in Bangladesh that doesn't have a connection with the BCB. However, since Mohammad Ashraful wasn't allowed to use any of the board's facilities due to his ban, he had to go farther to keep playing cricket in the last three years.

Having just become eligible to play domestic cricket for the first time since June 2013, Ashraful has two major challenges ahead, both of which have never been achieved in Bangladesh before. He has to forge a career again at the age of 32, and will have to do it after serving a ban of three years.

A few months following the indefinite ban enforced by BCB over his role in the BPL 2013 corruption case, Ashraful circumnavigated around facilities and tournaments that were outside BCB's jurisdiction. He played in USA in 2014 and 2015, and this year he played some matches in the UK.

Occasionally, he was found playing with his lawyer friends at small grounds in Dhaka. He ventured to Kulaura and Barlekha, small towns in Sylhet, which are more than 250km east of Dhaka. He played in Satkhira where Mustafizur Rahman, having just made his T20 debut against Pakistan in April 2015, dismissed him.

Playing in small venues was a 'different experience' for the former Bangladesh captain, who spent most of his youth playing in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand. He went back to Bangladesh's backwaters to prove to everyone, in his own words, that he is "still alive".

"I played plenty of khyap [on hire] matches," Ashraful told ESPNcricinfo. "I must thank those in Sylhet for regularly calling me to play these matches. I played T20 tournaments in places like Kulaura and Barlekha. I played in Satkhira where Mustafizur [Rahman] having just made his T20 debut got me out second ball. That was some experience.

"When I was starting off in 2001, I heard stories from [Khaled Mahmud] Sujon bhai and [Aminul Islam] Bulbul bhai about khyap tournaments in Mymensingh and Chittagong, but I never got a chance to play in these tournaments. After 2001, it was always international cricket. So this time I deliberately played in these matches. I wanted everyone to see that I am still alive."

Ashraful knows that playing after 30 and after losing a chunk of his career will be tough but he is taking inspiration from the indefatigable Misbah-ul-Haq.

"I want to do well in domestic cricket first, and prove myself. In Bangladesh, cricketers have a hard time after they cross 30 so it will be a challenge. And I will be back after a long gap which has never happened before for a cricketer here. But I am taking up both challenges. I want to play for ten more years, just like Misbah is doing at the age of 42," he said.

Ashraful, though, will have to return with his match-fixing background during the 2013 BPL, for which he was banned for five years, brought down from an eight-year ban. There were mixed reactions from his team-mates, and some praised him for his admission of guilt. Mushfiqur Rahim had said his involvement was a "loss of pride" for the Bangladesh cricket team.

"I recently saw Tamim's interview where he said they are waiting for me to return. I don't think I will generally have many problems. I confessed what I had done and I have never hurt a cricketer. There might be a comment or two when I go out to bat, as people will try to get me out," Ashraful said.

Ashraful's immediate goal is to play in the upcoming Bangladesh Cricket League first-class tournament, scheduled to begin on September 20. Though he may not be included in the competition, he is more relieved to be eligible to play competitively.

"I am relieved that I can play under the BCB and use their facilities," Ashraful said. "The last three years were quite tough. But I tried everything that I was allowed during this period. I trained for two years under coach [Sarwar] Imran sir, and later went back to Ankur Cricketers [his cricketing alma mater].

"I also trained at the small ground near Banasree where I live. Before leaving for the UK, I requested [BCB cricket operations chairman] Akram bhai and [chief selector Minhajul Abedin] Nannu bhai to consider me in the BCL if possible. I know that it might be tough on their part since only the best first-class players are selected in this competition."

Ashraful will also have to consider that he is returning to a competitive culture in Bangladesh cricket. Even if he makes it into the domestic teams, performance would be key. And he would also have to gain the trust of team-mates and those around Bangladesh cricket.