Football was the number 1 sports, but cricket was equally followed with great interest during Pakistan era….
In 1947, the British Raj in subcontinent came to an end, but before they left, the undivided Indian subcontinent was divided into India and East and West Pakistan. With new hope and determination, the nations started to rebuild and the development of sports was also a part of it. Even though cricket was a British game and could have been ignored by both India and Pakistan, but it was hard to ignore the mass appeal this game generated and the value of it as a tool of diplomacy between two India and Pakistan, was bigger than any other subjects.
Also read: Natore and its relation to cricket
In West Pakistan, cricket started to progress by the enthusiastic people out there, but the scenario was completely different in the East. Since the Maharaja of Natore and Sarada Ranjan Ray left the scene, development of cricket in Eastern part of Bengal took a back seat. Gradually, football and hockey took cricket’s place. And when Dhaka District Eleven beat Islington Corinthians football team, which came to visit subcontinent in 1937, football became extremely popular in this region. Mind you, this was the only defeat, which Corinthians digested among the 36 or 38 matches they played – obviously, Dhaka’s victory just triggered a football revolution, which had a long-lasting effect even after 1971.
But cricket did exist……
From Osman Samiuddin’s famous book, The Unquiet Ones, we come to know: There was, in fact, enough happening for a haphazard club league in the days of partition, according to a veteran Bangladeshi journalist. “Although the football and cricket league were suspended in the year of Partition, different clubs played friendly matches, keeping the spirits high during the winter months,” wrote Muhammad Kamruzzaman, in a publication to mark the 2011 World Cup in Bangladesh.
“The League started in 1948 with matches starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoons and ending on Sunday. In a day and a half, the match spanned 75 overs a side. Apart from the Dhaka DSA Ground, Wari Victoria, East End, Race Course and EP Gymkhana/Garrison also hosted League matches. The fields of the Engineering College, and SM hall along with their splendid pavilions were sometimes compared to those county grounds in England. There was also the Eidgah, Dilkusha and Shabag Ground”.
Formation of a Cricket Association in the East
In 1948, a cricket team from West Indies and Common Wealth visited West Pakistan, but it none in the East bothered about it. But Feroz Khan Noon – a Punjab Landlord and future Prime Minister – thought of patronizing a cricket association in the East in 1951. As Osman Samiuddin wrote in his book: More Leagues and triangulars were arranged as a result. Masood Salahuddin, a former all-India cricketer, who played two unofficial Tests against Australia in 1935-36, had moved to Pakistan after Partition and was based in the region, becoming an early colossus on the circuit.
The visit of a cricket team from Burma
In 1951, a self-financed cricket team of West Pakistan businessmen from Burma (now Myanmar) visited Dhaka. It was the first foreign team to visit here since the partition. The Burmese team played a few exhibition matches on the greenish pitch of DSA ground, which had CI sheet as its boundary. The local team crushed the visitors.
One could say, those matches were played pretty casually by the visitors, who shunned white clothing and decided to wear coloured clothes, keds and stripped caps or straw hats. Certainly, cricketers, who smoked the same cigarette while fielding at slip cordon – could not be taken seriously. The local crowd – family members of the cricketers mainly – enjoyed such things, but their body language was far from being professional and surprisingly, the local team did not protest against such activities. But at least, cricket found some space amid the football mania!
Some changes started to take place
East Pakistan was rocked by the language movement. The likes of Salam, Barkat, Rafiq and Jabbar had to shed their blood to establish Bangla as the mother language of the people of East. It enlightened the people of East, which paved the way for some significant changes in that region.
In 1952-53 season, after its first international tour to India, the West Pakistan cricket team led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar landed on Chattogram to inspire the people of East about cricket. The Ispahani family of Chattogram, and the boss of Pakistan Cricket Board at that time, Justice AR Cornwalis played a very crucial role in organizing one match in Chattogram and three matches in Dhaka.
A 16-member East Pakistan Sports Federation (EPSF) side was announced for the Chattogram and Dhaka matches with Barrister and leader of East Pakistan assembly, ATM Mustafa as its captain. The matches were a two-day affair and the results were a draw, but some of the cricketers from local side did shine. After the matches, West Pakistan cricket team went to tour Burma, and two cricketers named Dr. Mazharul Islam Damal and wicket-keeper Qazi Mohsin were picked from East – but they were considered only because of injuries to two cricketers from West.
Those matches in Chattogram and Dhaka against West Pakistan made a slight impact. Kardar, who featured only in the last game, later on in a column at DAWN in 1954 hinted, the first seed had been sown via those matches.
Cricket started to create its own identity in the East.
The East Pakistan Sports Federation
The EPSF, which was formed in early 50s, took part in the Pakistan National League. In their first match, they faced Pakistan Services team studded with Test players at the Dhaka Club Ground. Kardar was the captain of the side and players like Imtiaz Ahmed, Sujauddin and Miran Box were featuring as well. But to the astonishment of all, EPSF bundled out Kardar’s men for 200. But in the end, Kardar’s men won due to superior temperament. It was a big learning curve for the East.
A cricket stadium was built in Dhaka
In 1955, a stadium in Dhaka was built, which is now known as the Bangabandhu International Stadium. It was built to host cricket matches and it ushered a new era in cricket of this country. International teams with prominent cricketers started to visit East and from a game of chosen few, cricket started to become the game of majority and choice of the new generation.
January 1, 1955, was a very significant day for the East. The newly built stadium in Dhaka would host the first Test in Pakistan. India were the visitors and they were greeted with a lot of cheer.
As Kamruzzaman wrote: Cricket as a game got a huge boost after hosting the first Test match. School and college students suddenly found this game quite attractive. Bat and ball sales went up in sports shops. A lot of clubs also came up during this time. Cricket, in the space of five years, became the second most popular behind football. India team manager Lala Amarnath commented that the Dhaka Test’s organization was the best and so was the crowd attendance.
Playing cricket was not just confined to Dhaka Stadium, but in the grounds like Dhaka DSA, Wari Club Ground, Victoria Sporting Club Ground, Dhaka Wanderers Club Ground, Eidgah Ground, Dhaka Club Ground in the Race Course, Engineering College Ground (now BUET), SM Hall Ground, East End Club Ground, Faridabad Club Ground in Gandaria, Dhaka University Ground and Gymkhana Club Ground – cricket was played with a greater interest alongside football.
Jewel, Raquibul and co
The grounds in Dhaka and international matches played in Dhaka stadium made cricket quite popular in the East and in the process, gave birth to cricketers like Abdul Halim Chowdhury Jewel and Raquibul Hasan. Such cricketers were extremely passionate and improved their cricketing skills by playing on the green-top wickets, which dominated in each and every ground of Dhaka. The likes of Jewel and Raquibul wanted to dominate fast bowlers like Weasly Hall, Alan Davidson and Fred Truman and thus, broke their sweat on toughest tracks.
Their hard work paid off. Especially, Jewel’s courageous stroke-play caught the attention of Western cricket pundits. In the course of time, Raqibul would also claim a place in the thoughts of West.
Alongside, Jewel and Raquibul, cricketers like Khawaja Mohammad Atahar of Nawab family, KM Omar (Hichchu), Amirullah Munni, KM Hasan, Chand Khan, Sukumar, Mohammad Hakim, Altaf Mahmudul Haque Bakul, Lutfar Rahman Makhan, Sohrab Khan, Mohammad Enam, SA Majid Koran, Latif and Dulatzzaman.
The influential Mushtaque and Islmail Gul
Mushtaque – a cricket crazy Bengali boy from the East built the Azad Boys club, which became a well-known organization for providing greater opportunities to youngsters from the East. Mushtaque used his connections with the elites of Dhaka to organize cricket matches and raise funds for his club. The great Jewel was one of the famous names of Azad club and its impact was huge in spreading cricket in the East.
Meanwhile, Ismail Gul was an all-rounder from Junagar, Karachi and skipper of Dhaka Wanderers. The youngsters of Dhaka used to love this person a lot and for them, he was the ultimate mentor. After Ismail became the captain of East Pakistan, he changed the face of cricket in this region. There would be regular matches, coaching camps and his smart mentorship and strict discipline would lift East Pakistan Cricket to such a level that they would challenge the might of Karachi and Lahore. This region would always be indebted to the contributions of Ismail Gul.
But the West continued to ignore the East…….
Even though some promising cricketers started to make their mark, still, they were heavily ignored by the hierarchy of West. Till 1970, Niaz Ahmed – a non-Bengali cricketer – was the only cricketer to play Test cricket from the East and his inclusion was a desperate bid by the Western think tank to save their faces.
The level of discrimination was evident from that first encounter against West Pakistan in that 1952-53 season. As Kamruzzaman wrote: Former all-India all-rounder Masood Salahuddin offspinner Sarwar and a high official of Lahore Railway, Sayeed Ahmed; and they weren’t just made to play, Salahuddin was made captain replacing Mustafa, much to the surprise of many. Mustafa knew all the players in the team, while Salahuddin knew only those who came with him”.
From Osman Samiuddin’s book we come to know: A feeling was building that as in life, so too was West Pakistan not doing right by the East. The culprit, Kamruzzaman wrote, was clear. “Nobody can deny that Kardar had a hand in the politics involving the East Pakistan players, by keeping the Cricket Board in front”.
The cricketers from East Bengal, while playing in Karachi, perhaps in the 60s, forced a draw by piling up an innings of around 300 runs in reply to Karachi Cricket Association’s 400 runs. Karachi included eleven Test players. Such was the calibre of cricketers from East Bengal.
But discrimination sustained. Even though, pressures from Cornwalis and some influential East Pakistan officials, Sohrab Khan and Amirullah Munni were included in Pakistan Eaglets team for its tour to England, but the mentality remained the same. The two players were fielded only in two matches out of twenty.
The likes of Jewel were ignored, while Raquibul’s talent was finally recognized by the West in 1971, but it did not happen as the liberation war broke through. His unofficial debut against a touring Commonwealth XI was abandoned by crowd invasion in Dhaka.
The war of independence broke out in March, 1971 after the West Pakistan army scripted a massacre in Dhaka on March 25. The whole nation united to fight against the oppression of West Pakistan Army. Jewel, Mushtaque and Raquibul participated in that war. Bangladesh cricket lost its precious diamonds: Jewel and Mushtaque in that war, but Raquibul could defeat death and come back home to rebuild the cricket in a land, which would become Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.
After the independence, somehow, cricket was lost and football dominated the proceedings throughout the 70s, 80s and mid 90s. But the effort to rekindle the lost glory of cricket before liberation and during the British Raj in this region never stopped. The effort started off in the mid 70s and gradually, cricket replaced football as the number 1 sports in the country.
The passion for this game always existed in Bengal and in Bangladesh, the passion was even more.
At present, Bangladesh is widely regarded as a nation, who are mad about cricket.