‘We are in a good situation now’

ARUN VENUGOPAL

“We pick the best players and train them for two years for the under-19 team. If they perform well, we pick them for the academy team —which is very good. Then, the best players are selected for the ‘A’ side or the National team,” says Akram Khan, the chairman of cricket operations, BCB, in this interview with Arun Venugopal.

Akram Khan’s foremost identity will always be that of the intrepid leader who oversaw Bangladesh’s transition from the periphery of the cricketing world to a Full Member Nation. Post-retirement, the former Bangladesh skipper has slipped into the role of a cricket administrator.

After being the chief selector for nearly three years, Akram has become the chairman of cricket operations and director of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). The 45-year-old is also involved in his family’s business ventures, ranging from a transport company to a CNG fuel station.

In this interview with Sportstar, he speaks on the problems ailing Bangladesh cricket, on the corruption-issues in the Bangladesh Premier League, and on how the proposed tour to India will help his nation’s cricketing ambitions. Excerpts:

What do you think about Bangladesh’s patchy performances lately?

Some BCB officials have been lashing out at the team. I don't like it. This only put pressure on players. They are very keen to compare Bangladesh with other teams. These boys, in the last two-and-a-half years, have been playing very good cricket. In the last Asia Cup, we beat India and lost in a close final to Pakistan. In Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, there’s a lot of pressure (to perform). The players are basically talented but these are tough times.

Some top officials in the BCB have said endorsements are a distraction. Do you agree?

No. If some team is not playing well, then a lot of people will attribute different reasons to it. This happened to even Australia last year.

Why is everything pertaining to Bangladesh cricket coming out in public? Shouldn’t such matters be discussed internally?

We are only hurting ourselves. We have got many directors and they are talking everywhere! They love to talk to the journalists. That’s the problem.

Tells us about your early years. Tamim Iqbal, your nephew, says you are his hero.

Ours is a sports-loving family. Our home in Chittagong was very close to the stadium. Depending on the season, for six months we would play cricket and for another six months, football. I started playing cricket in school before representing Abahani, a very popular club side. And then, I got the chance to play for the National team, and I was the captain for five years. When I was captain, we won the ICC Trophy in 1997. It was a huge thing for Bangladesh cricket. Before that, football was the most popular sport in the country. After 1997, everything changed. Now, everybody likes cricket.

What are your memories as a Bangladesh cricketer?

It was a difficult atmosphere. We were fighting for ODI status, Test status, and looking to win the ICC Trophy. There was no exposure. I remember we would get $1 as Dearness Allowance. Some former cricketers such as Aminul Islam have pointed out there isn’t much three-day or four-day cricket at the age-group level. In my playing days, there was no proper structure. But after 2003 or 2004, we are playing a lot of age-group cricket. There are more first-class matches now and more International grounds. Slowly, we are improving.

Can you elaborate?

We are playing a lot of age-group cricket — under-14, 16, and 18. We have seven divisions and each division looks after itself. We have got a very good under-19 team picked basically from school sides. We have 520-odd teams playing school tournaments every year. We pick the best players and train them for two years for the under-19 team. If they perform well, we pick them for the academy team —which is very good. Then, the best players are selected for the ‘A’ side or the National team.

There are many instances of corruption in the BPL. What do you think is the problem?

Many wrong things happen here because they don’t conduct it properly. There is no clarity. They (organisers) said they will give 1 crore Taka to Shakib (Al Hasan), but they gave only 15-16 lakh Taka. You can’t compare it with how the IPL is organised. But we don’t want to scrap it. It’s a big event and we have to make a decision in the Board meeting which will happen after the World T20. We are planning to revamp the BPL and launch it by October or November this year. But firstly, we need to solve the existing problems.

How much will Bangladesh’s proposed Test tour of India help cricket in the country?

We are in a good situation now. When we didn’t play ODIs and Tests, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka helped us a lot. We played a lot of first-class cricket in these three nations. I remember playing the SAARC tournament that also featured (Navjot Singh) Sidhu and (Rahul) Dravid. We improved a lot because of these three countries, and if we could play against India, financially we would become stronger. We could also go to the next level.