From reaching the pinnacle of success to bringing a bad name to the country —Mohammad Ashraful has seen it all in his cricketing career. A flamboyant batsman and a former captain of Bangladesh, Ashraful was handed a five-year ban for his involvement in match-fixing and spot-fixing cases in the 2013 edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).
In June 2014, the BPL’s anti-corruption tribunal had banned him for eight years and fined him 10 lakh Bangladeshi Taka. However, later that year, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB)’s disciplinary panel reduced the ban to five years.
As his international ban ends on Monday, the 34-year-old is hoping to return to the Bangladesh team. Though he was cleared by the BCB to play domestic cricket a couple of years ago, Ashraful is working hard to don the national colours again.
Ashraful , who is currently training in London, spoke to Sportstar on Sunday afternoon for a free-wheeling chat.
How would you describe the period of your ban?
I have been waiting for this day for the last five and a half years. I am happy that I could play domestic cricket for the past two years and now I am looking forward to breaking into the national team and also be available for the Bangladesh Premier League. The Bangladesh team has done well in limited-over tournaments against the West Indies, so if I can prove my mettle at the domestic league — which starts in October— I will be able to make a comeback.
Is there anything you regretted during these years?
When I was suspended, the fact that hurt me the most was I would not be able to play for my country. That feeling has haunted me since and now, if I can deliver the goods at the domestic level, I can return to international circuit.
I have been training hard for this. Before coming to London for advanced training, I was sweating it out in Dhaka. I will get one more month before the first-class season begins and the target is to do well.
You sound excited about your return. Have you spoken to the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) about it?
I have spoken to the BCB president, Najmul Hasan Papon, before coming to England. The Board officials have been with me all throughout and even now, they have encouraged me to do well and have given me the confidence that if I can perform well, the doors for Bangladesh team won’t be shut. Hopefully, I will get another chance.
I love the game and even in the dark phase, I had the confidence of bouncing back. I always wanted to play again, and in the last five years, I have followed each and every series. With T20 cricket becoming more popular, Bangladesh has been able to raise the bar. The style of play has changed.
Since I have been following the new style closely, I will try to get accustomed to it. When I started for Bangladesh, I always wanted to play faster — something that’s being approached by the present lot. So, if I am considered for selection, I don’t think it will be too much of a problem to adjust to the situation.
Do you feel you still have a chance to fit into this young Bangladesh side?
Definitely. For the last three-four years, we have played brilliant cricket, but then, who are the people who have delivered consistently? Tamim (Iqbal), Shakib-Al-Hasan, Mahmudullah, Mushfiqur (Rahim), Mashrafe (Mortaza) — these five cricketers have been the senior cricketers and the rest have still not cemented their slots in the team. I feel if I can have one good domestic season, then I will be able to bank on my experience to get another chance.
What has the entire episode taught you?
I had brought a bad name for my country and the team. So many people respected me, liked me and it was all gone because of one mistake. That incident affected our cricket. I hope that the young cricketers will take lessons from my experience and stay away from any kind of fixing controversies. I was lucky enough to have got another chance to play. For others, it may not come.
You talk about maintaining a good company. But is it really that easy for a young cricketer to know what company he is in?
It is tricky. But now, everyone has an idea that they might fall in difficult situations, so it is advisable that the moment you find any suspected communication, it is a must to report the incident to the coaches, board and the anti-corruption unit.
Talking about the fixing incident, some of your team members knew the plot. Did you trust wrong people?
I cannot explain what I was into. It is tough to come out of it. I sincerely advise players that whenever one is approached, it is important that you report to the manager and the Board officials right away. They need to be informed immediately. In franchise cricket, such situation can appear anytime.
In the last five years, is there anyone in particular who has helped you battle the odds?
It is very important have family support. I have been lucky that my family and friends backed me throughout. The fans supported me and without their help, it would not have been possible to stage a comeback. They have pushed me to remain positive and stay positive. (voice chokes)
You sound quite emotional…
I lost my father a couple of years ago, he would have been the happiest to see my return to international cricket. It’s a regret that he could not see me returning to international cricket.
How did your team-mates react? Did anyone keep in touch with you during the dark phase?
I have been close friends with Mashrafe. Since I had confessed to my mistake, my team-mates were also sympathetic towards me. I am lucky that even my former team-mates have been with me.
Now that you look determined to stage a comeback, is there a lesson you would want to take from whatever happened?
(Laughs) Life has been quite strange. I still have that record for scoring a Test century at an early age for Bangladesh. That gave me fame and helped me become popular in the country. That was a first in Bangladesh cricket. And then, look at how things changed. Who would have thought someone from Bangladesh would be banned on fixing charges? It was another first and incidentally, I was involved in that too. I have always admitted to my mistake.
In Bangladesh cricket culture, there is still not enough instance of a cricketer returning to the team at the age of 30 and then continuing for long. I hope to set that example. People like (Sachin) Tendulkar, (Kumar) Sangakkara, Misbah-ul-Haq , (Chris) Gayle have played at the age of 40-plus, and I hope to continue for another five to six years for Bangladesh. Since I am a batsman, I am looking at it that way.
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