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'I have gone through what you're going through'

Mehrab Hossain, who played the pull shot that ended Raman Lamba's life 16 years ago, has a message of support for Sean Abbott

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mehrab Hossain, May 8, 1999

File photo - Mehrab Hossain made his Bangladesh debut three months after the Raman Lamba incident  •  Getty Images

Like everyone else, Mehrab Hossain kept himself updated about Phillip Hughes' condition on November 25, when he was struck by a bouncer during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and learned of his death two days later. Mehrab also kept tabs on Sean Abbott, the bowler who delivered that bouncer. Mehrab has followed everything that players and the media have been saying about whether or not Abbott will be able to play cricket again. He has a simple message for Abbott:
"Friend, I have gone through exactly what you are going through. What happened was an accident. Your family and friends, the cricket board, and cricketers from all over the world are in your support. We want you to come back to the game, but only when you are ready."
Mehrab would know exactly what Abbott is going through, feeling, and perhaps even thinking. On February 20, 1998, Mehrab played the pull shot that struck Raman Lamba on his unprotected forehead while he was fielding at short leg during a club game in Dhaka. Lamba, 38 and a former India player, died two days later.
Mehrab had trouble sleeping for a long time, and stayed away from the game for a couple of months. But he eventually returned, went on to play for Bangladesh, and become the country's first international centurion.
"My sympathies are for both Phillip Hughes and Sean Abbott," Mehrab says. "I think what people are thinking of Abbott is wrong. Time changes everything. I don't know what Abbott is thinking about himself, but I have known Australians and I have friends there. I know how mentally strong they can be.
"I am quite certain that he will take less time to come back than I did, definitely. It took me two to two-and-a-half months to recover and get back to normal life, and return to cricket. Aussies have strong nerves, and I feel that even if Abbott stays away from the game for a while, he will come back."
Mehrab still remembers the scenes from that club game 16 years ago. Lamba was fielding in the deep for Abahani against Mohammedan Sporting Club in Dhaka's Premier League at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, when Khaled Mashud pulled him to the short-leg position. Lamba didn't call for a helmet.
A short ball from Saifullah Khan sat up for Mehrab, and he pulled it right onto Lamba's temple. He hit it so hard that the ball ricocheted behind Mashud, the wicketkeeper, who ran back to complete the catch. As the Abahani players celebrated, they suddenly turned around to see Lamba lying on the ground.
Mehrab remembers that Lamba got up and walked off the field soon after. He had gone back to the other dressing-room when he heard that Lamba had said he felt ill, and had been rushed to a private hospital in Dhanmondi. He lost consciousness on the way, and was shifted to a government hospital nearby, where doctors took out a blood clot in his head. But it was too late.
"I can vividly remember the incident," Mehrab says. "Lamba walked off quite normally from the ground after being struck. He died two days later. I think the Phillip Hughes incident was far worse. He just fell to the ground within a couple of seconds. I have seen it a number of times.
"I took time out of the game. But at the time I was a club cricketer and I hadn't played for the national team. Abbott is a professional. Everyone saw what happened. This was an accident, nothing deliberate. It happens once in a generation."
Less than three months after the incident, Mehrab made his debut for Bangladesh. He played in the inaugural Test in 2000 and went on to represent the country in nine Tests and 18 ODIs. He had officially retired from cricket five years ago but came back to first-class cricket for a couple of matches in 2011.
As the conversation about Abbott drew to a close, Mehrab also had news to convey: "I will see you at the ground tomorrow. I am making a comeback to league cricket after five years. I will tell you why, but not today. Tomorrow."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84