Poverty was his best friend. Hardship was his best date in the evening. In front of the kerosene lamp, he had his candlelight dinner. But he decided to conquer all the hardships through cricket and ultimately, Rafique was the winner. The prince from rags-to-riches…..
“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe”
December 26, 1994. There was a pin drop silence in our drawing room and Bangabandhu National Stadium. The spectators present at the stadium and our family members were gripped by an immense tension. Neither could we focus on any other topics nor were we in the mood to talk with each other. The situation was absolutely electrifying at Bangabandhu, but none of us could react to that.
India needed two runs off the last two balls to win against Bangladesh and maintain their unbeaten run in the second edition of the SAARC Cricket Tournament. It was up to an unknown, simple-looking, lanky left-arm orthodox bowler named Mohammad Rafique to bowl the last over the match.
The young man showed great character under pressure – four of his deliveries were accurate enough to keep the experienced Indian tail under check. With the bat, a young Venkatesh Prasad was not that novice to squander such a chance, but Rafique was a wily customer. The fifth ball spun away. Prasad tried to play it by coming out of the crease and Jahangir Alam made no mistake to dislodge the bails. Bangladesh hung on to an absolute cliffhanger to register a nerve-wracking win.
Immediately, our house burst into a huge roar along with Bangabandhu National Stadium. The silence of an acute anxiety ebbed away to give space to a carnival atmosphere. Beating an Indian team boasting with the likes of Rahul Dravid, Pravin Amre, Vikram Rathore, Rajesh Chauhan etc. was never an easy task. For an Associated Nation like Bangladesh, back then, it was like reaching the moon.
The focus went back to Aminul Islam as he was adjudged man of the match for his fighting 64 and that young lad named Rafique was forgotten. But in the next twelve years, he won’t let any of the Bangladeshis to forget him. He would become the symbol of that class of people in Bangladesh, who reaches the pinnacle of glory from the rags by virtue of sheer hard work and dedication.
The bank of the river Buriganga at Sadarghat, Dhaka always gifted Bangladesh many things. From supplying life to business development to greater personalities, Dhaka and Bangladesh should always be thankful to mother Buriganga, but in return, more often, we have insulted our mother in various ways.
Jhinjhira is one of the settlements near Buriganga. As they say in Dhaka, the duplicate products of anything would be available in this area. This area is notorious and also, this area includes people, whose life is simple and their hopes and ambitions for a better life ply up and down like the boats resting beside the river. Some of them dream bigger and Rafique was one of those boys from Jhinjira, who took cricket as the tool to reach the top and bury the bad name of Jhinjhira.
Rafique’s journey is all about struggling. In those days, cricket was still not the most popular game in Bangladesh. The facilities were limited to the boys from well-to-do families. The boys, who lived in the slums, had to get of the house for a job to feed the family. And, for someone like Rafique this was a must as he lost his father at a very young age and thus, automatically, the responsibility of running the family came to him.
But the boy wanted to play cricket. Neither hardship nor the harsh reality could stop his passion. He would bowl in the open fields of Jhinjhira, he would bat and he would field better enough, even when the boys of his age would be more interested to play football as the craze about Abahani Krira Chakra and Mohammedan Sporting Club was at its peak during the 80s. His passion for the game and talent was spotted by Bangladesh Biman, who picked them in their team in 1985. Rafique would travel to play cricket in the city centre via Ferry, then cover a lot of distance on foot and then either via a local bus or rickshaw as the communication was not better like today.
Rafique did not want to stop.
Rafique never knew he could become a spinner. He was playing as a left-arm pacer in Biman. But things changed when his friend Wasim Haider, an overseas player from Pakistan advised him to switch to spin-bowling. In an interview to ESPNcricinfo Rafique said, “He asked me to bowl spin. I was puzzled, but I bowled to him in the nets. Next day, in a match, I bowled five overs of pace before I was asked to try spin. I picked up wickets and that’s it from that day I never went back to bowling fast”.
Wasim Haider just gifted Bangladesh one of the best in the business. It was just one of those pep-talks, which unleash the hidden talent inside an individual. Rafique’s talent as a spin bowler was unleashed and then there was no stopping of this dreamer.
Since that SAARC Cricket Tournament in 1994, it had been hard to think about Bangladesh cricket without Rafique. He was the best bowler in 50-over formats and he was the lone-fighter in Test matches.
What did not he do for the development of this team? He had to lead an attack, which had no support like today. In Test matches, Rafique bowled like a robot from one end, without taking rests as he knew, it was his responsibility to carry on as the others were not efficient enough. He had to lead the batting order as an opening batsman in an era when pinch-hitting was in its early days – he could hit the ball harder and sweeter than his teammates. He was one of our game-changers with the bat. Then, as a fielder, he had to lead from the front again. His athleticism in the field was an example for others, while in my opinion, he was the invisible brain of the team – one could notice his influence on various on-field decisions, which were beneficial for the Tigers.
Those struggles and hardships in the Jhinjhira slum produced a person who was self-motivated and did not know how to rest – he would bowl and bat for his team, he would give his everything for Bangladesh. A painstaking childhood did not make him the yo-yo boys of today who would blame Bangladesh for their failures and shortcomings. But it was the culture and history of Bangladesh, which always motivated Rafique.
They say about the dark side of Mohammad Rafique. Yes, hardship might let people commit mistakes, but it’s hard to point a finger towards the person who donated the land he received from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for the benefit of the people. Even the doubts in your mind would be ashamed if you start to doubt about someone like Rafique. At times, darkness overshadows the holy light, but the power of the light is so strong, the darkness has to meet a sad end.
The critics are entitled to give their opinion, they are entitled to express their doubts. But when a person is as dedicated and patriotic like Rafique, such doubts just become irrelevant. The holy light is bound to keep shining.
Patty Berg said, “What does it take to be a champion? Desire, dedication, determination, concentration and the will to win”. Indeed, Rafique’s twelve years journey in international cricket has been all about the adjectives which Patty used above.
For many years Rafique has been the inspiration to a generation, who learned how to chase their dreams. He became the symbol of hope for those boys in the slum, who once upon a time had to sacrifice their childhood either working in factories or begging. Those boys, at present, want to be like Rafique and that’s where Rafique maks himself such an important figure in the history of Bangladesh cricket.