Ashraful, the first love of Bangladesh Cricket, the first world-class player Bangladesh had produced, the youngest Test centurion, the poster boy of Bangladesh Cricket - if you have been a Bangladesh fan, you have already read or heard these words a thousand times in the last week, be it on the news or in some Facebook page.
Now, having used up all the clichés, the rest of this piece is only my views, so feel free to disagree and question my limited wisdom on this topic.
Personally, I don't remember when I started watching or following cricket. I know it became a conscious obsession when I was about 14, when I started watching cricket matches between teams I had no connections to, and reading cricket literature and laughing at the silliest puns and jokes. But, I have watched Bangladesh play ever since I can remember, reportedly having woken up to celebrate that 1999 World Cup victory against Pakistan. I perhaps remember it so vividly thanks to the noise my family made, as I am not sure I even understood what winning meant, aged four.
One thing I remember very well is that, as a child, Bangladesh cricket meant Mohammad Ashraful. I didn't care who was batting, but all I saw was Ashraful was playing. Ashraful was synonymous with Bangladesh, with cricket itself.
The events of the last few days have broken my heart. When the first accusations came, I commented with due diligence in his favour, and even the Prothom Alo report didn't convince me. Then came the confession.
The confession hurts the most, as we rarely hear confessions. They are rare in our country, and in our neighbouring nations too. We are accustomed to seeing politicians and criminals travelling to prison holding up their fingers to signal victory - I am not referring to any cricketers here, only politicians. To hear someone confess is rarer than sighting a royal Bengal tiger walking into the local KFC.
I was actually very surprised by the concept of pleading guilty when I first came to the UK, as I never heard of someone actually admitting their fault in Bangladesh. More than 1500 people died in a recent tragedy in Bangladesh due to the flawed building construction. No one has confessed, apologised, or cried.
But Ashraful did. He cried, asked for forgiveness and confessed. Ashraful's admittance and tears perhaps prove that he does have some conscience left. He had the humility and humanity to accept his mistake, nay crime, which has led to a lot of public support for him. It is his confessions and 'wish to protect the game from further harm' that have made him the 'good guy who made a mistake' in people's eyes.
I am one of those who sympathise with him. However, I disagree with the people who say he shouldn't be punished, and that he should get a second chance. I refuse to say that he shouldn't be banned; he needs to be banned for the sake of cricket.
Ashraful was the first world-renowned player from Bangladesh. Shakib, Mushfiqur, Tamim and Nasir might be big names today, but Ashraful showed the way. I still believe this, as does every other Bangladesh cricket fan from my generation. With his raw talent and consistent inconsistency, he was the embodiment of Bangladesh cricket's story.
Imagine the message that goes out to every young cricketer out there, Bangladeshi or not, if he was forgiven or given a lesser punishment. If you are talented, if you are the one, then 'minor' mistakes will be swept under the carpet. Bangladesh is already well known for this ability to forgive. Imagine this message going to young players, who come from economically worse off families, to those who will sacrifice education for the game, to those who get injured too often, and therefore know that the income from playing will dry up one day, and their whole lives are ahead of them, with no certainty of financial support. South Asian cricketers are already the most vulnerable to the dark grasp of fixing, as recent events have shown, due to the lack of education, guidance, and with corruption being institutionalized. Let Ashraful off easy, and the message will be: "Be good at your game, and the broken rules and laws wouldn't matter."
Letting Ashraful off easy would make him bigger than the jersey he betrayed, bigger than the efforts of the whole team, bigger than even cricket probably. And no player can be bigger than cricket.
Talent without judgment is useless, and talent without morals dangerous. Whether Ashraful was stupid or greedy, I don't know. But, after years of getting out unnecessarily, to the utter frustration of fans everywhere, he has finally 'played the shot' which has gotten him 'out' for good, and there should be no DRS here. Ashraful the man can retain his place in the society, but Ashraful the cricketer must go. He has no place in the team or in cricket.
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