Khaled Mahmud played 12 Tests and 77 ODIs for Bangladesh between 1998 and 2006 © Getty Images
Khaled Mahmud played 12 Tests and 77 ODIs for Bangladesh between 1998 and 2006 © Getty Images

One of the highlights of the year 2015 so far has been the dramatic rise of the Bangladesh cricket team in the One-Day International (ODI) format. In three consecutive bilateral series victories they beat Pakistan (3-0), India (2-1) and South Africa (2-1). The run followed their quarter-final finish in ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 — for the first time in the history of the tournament. Following the incredible victories, the Bangladesh fans had their share of disappointment when Australia refused to tour their country due to security concerns. Amit Banerjee speaks to former Bangladeshi captain Khaled Mahmud Sujon in an exclusive interview on the latter’s opinion on the ups and downs in Bangladeshi cricket as well as his cherished memories from his playing days.

CricketCountry (CC): The Australian team and the South African women’s team have pulled out. Do you think that is justified? Also what are the steps BCB is taking now?

Khaled Mahmud (KM): We had assured VVIP security arrangements for the Australians. Why they still chose not to turn up is something they can answer better. One behalf of my compatriots, I can assure people from other countries that there is no such situation in our country, given the fact that we have grown up here, and thus we were all perplexed at their decision of not turning up. Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) President Nazmul Hassan is currently in a meeting at ICC headquarters, from where we will get further directives on the issue. READ: Australia cancel Bangladesh tour; Steven Smith disappointed

Till then, I am fully confident that the upcoming Zimbabwe series at home will function normally. However, we will also match up to expectations of security arrangements for the visiting teams. That is also the assurance that I can give to the foreign staff for the upcoming Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).

Violence takes place everywhere, including developed countries such as Australia and Great Britain. In the subcontinent, incidents like these do take place in various corners every now and then, and yet we move on. The state of affairs in our country was not very good even during ICC World Cup 2011, despite which we managed to successfully host matches. READ: Australia should not have cancelled Bangladesh tour over minor issues, says Shahid Afridi

CC: Shahid Afridi had recently commented that South Asian boards should unite against the other teams boycotting our venues. What’s your take on it, and what are the steps being taken at the moment?

KM: The subcontinent nations, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, share good cricketing relations, enhanced by Asia Cup; that should always be preserved. While I’m not for any scenes of groupisms or blocs in the world of cricket, where group of nations is pitted against another, I feel that ICC should play a central role in gauging the security situation in a country, persuading other teams to tour the country should it find the situation acceptable, and even question teams that refuse to tour these nations. The loss, after all, is felt by both the board as well as by the fans, who desperately wait to fill the stadiums up to cheer for their team.

I don’t think teams are particularly against touring a country. Everyone wants to play in different conditions. However, they should elaborate on the reasons for them not coming over.

CC: Despite the pull-outs, do you think Bangladesh is fast becoming a top venue for international cricket, having hosted events such as the ICC World T20, multiple Asia Cups and and now the ICC Under-19 World Cup?

KM: Exactly. Bangladesh’s involvement in this sector is huge. While major credit would go to the vast infrastructural improvements we have undergone in terms of the new stadia, it is also the passion of the Bangladeshi cricket fans, who will turn up in large numbers not only to cheer their national side but even during neutral games — something which can be seen in India as well — is also a crucial factor. Cricket is both a religion as well as a recreation for us.

CC: BPL is back, and with some 200 foreign players. What are the steps taken by BCB to weed out match-fixing, one of the primary causes for tournament’s disruption after a couple of seasons? Also, do you think its success will help reassure the other team’s faiths?

KM: We will not let any such incident happen this time around. The ground security will be very high, especially with thorough checking and frisking taking place round the clock, in order to keep suspicious elements such as bookies out of contention, and prevent them from causing any harm to our brand of cricket.

CC: Shahadat Hossain has been arrested along with his wife for the maid controversy, with the BCB banning him from all forms until the charges are settled. Do you think the board should have a counselling centre in place in order to guide the cricketers in their personal problems, etc?

KM: Even if BCB sanctions counselling centres for the players, I personally feel cricketers are mature enough to handle such their personal lives, and any uncomfortable situations that may arise, by themselves. We are always there to support them whenever or wherever they may be in need, but other than that they should be able to look after themselves.

CC: One of the major differences between the Bangladesh of the yesteryear and the current Bangladesh side is that yesterday’s Bangladesh was mostly dependent on Shakib Al Hasan, while the current side is full of match-winners. What would you credit this transformation to?

KM: The credit for this transformation would mainly go to the junior-level tournaments conducted by BCB, which help in harnessing talent at the grassroots level. The senior players are also very helpful to the youngsters. Not to mention, Chandika Hathurasingha (Bangladesh head coach) as well as the rest of the team management have been working very hard with the boys for the last eight months or so.

This transformation did not happen suddenly. It was a gradual process. A lot of these match-winners had been discovered at Under-19 level, especially the likes of Soumya Sarkar. We have also matured as a team, and developed a positive team spirit, especially in our rapport off the field.

CC: Mustafizur Rahman has been a revelation in recent times, especially in the series against South Africa and India. How long before he becomes the replaces Mashrafe Mortaza as the pace spearhead? Also do you think the Bangladeshi conditions have become more pace-friendly in recent times, or do the pacers excel purely on talent?

KM: Mashrafe is a very important player to us, both as pacer as well as captain. Yes, there will come a time when Mashrafe will have to bid goodbye, during the time of which the likes of Mustafizur, Rubel Hossain, Taskin Ahmed, etc. will be in line to take over the mantle from him. Of course, Mustafizur is exceptionally talented, but one cannot rule out the budding talent that is yet to be tapped.

Bangladesh has not had pace-friendly wickets for most part in its cricketing history. I personally feel that rise of pace talent in our country has solely been the influence of Mashrafe. There was a time when budding cricketers idolised Mohammad Rafique, followed by Shakib. There weren’t any fast bowling idols till Mashrafe. But we are also improving the wickets in order to suit fast bowlers. Our pace battery is going to get stronger in the next couple of decades.

CC: Soumya Sarkar was absolutely fantastic in the South Africa series. How long until you see him smash the records one after another? Also, do you think Bangladesh now has a settled opening pair for Limited-overs in Sarkar and Tamim Iqbal?

KM: Definitely. Soumya is very young, and has a long, glorious path ahead of him. Players like Soumya, Sabbir Rahman, Liton Das, etc. will serve Bangladeshi cricket for a long period of time, and with authority might I add. We therefore have very high expectations from these players, and believe that they can scale heights even higher than what they have achieved so far.

Soumya will definitely get a chance to open in Tests as well after his exploits in ODIs, although I can’t say when. Right now Imrul Kayes fills in the slot due to his experience, and he is performing as well. Thus the decision to maintain different opening combinations across formats is the right thing to do at the moment.

CC: Bangladesh have recorded tremendous successes this year in ODI, but are yet to crack it in Tests. What do you think is the reason, and what are the solutions?

KM: Again, we have to go to the grassroots for that. Most of the national players have hardly had any exposure to the longer formats in youth-level cricket, which reflects in a way in Bangladesh’s dismal Test record so far. But over years, we have shifted our attention to Tests as well as First-Class cricket, which led to the advent of Bangladesh Cricket League (BCL), separate from the traditional National Cricket League (NCL), which instils the confidence of improving our record in the five-day format in the near future.

CC: Last but not the least. What do you think is Bangladesh’s greatest moment in its cricketing history? ICC Trophy 1997, win against Pakistan in 1999 or win against South Africa in 2015 to complete three-consecutive series wins?

KM: Every win has its own importance. The 1997 ICC Trophy win helped us qualify for the World Cup, during which the win historic win against Pakistan helped us present a strong case for gaining Test status. Also, the victory against South Africa helped change the perceptions that people across the world had about us. They now believe we can pull off series wins against top-ranked teams in the world! I therefore attach equal importance to all of Bangladesh’s wins.

(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, travelling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)