Photo Courtesy:
Raqibul Hasan Sr receiving the 1983-84 South-East Asian Championship Trophy. Picture Courtesy: Raqibul Hasan Sr’s Facebook page

Born January 15, 1953, Raqibul Hasan Sr (also spelled Roqibul, Raquibul, and Roquibul) was the first person to lead Bangladesh against an international side. Gritty with the bat, Raqibul also doubled up as a handy reserve wicketkeeper. Years before that, however, Raqibul Hasan, born in Dacca (now Dhaka) was the first Bangladeshi to play for a representative Pakistani team, and almost made it to the Pakistan Test team. He also took active part in Bangladesh’s freedom struggle in 1971. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the first significant name in Bangladesh cricket.

 Wartime cricket

Dark clouds of Civil War loomed over East Pakistan. Ayub Trophy was renamed after Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP), stamping a mark of authority by West Pakistan. However, Dacca University, East Pakistan Whites, and East Pakistan Greens all played in the tournament.

Playing for Dacca University were Raqibul (also spelled Roqibul, Raquibul, and Roquibul) Hasan and Syed Ashraful Haque, men who would etch their names in the annals of Bangladesh cricket forever. On this occasion, they lost to East Pakistan Whites on first innings.

Unfortunately, the chasm between the East Pakistan teams and their western counterparts was too big for the former to even compete. Both sides were knocked out by Hanif Mohammad’s Pakistan International Airlines A; the Greens were bowled out for 115 and 113 (Afaq Hussain took 10 for 56 in the match), while Whites were bowled out for 34 by Asif Iqbal and Pervez Sajjad. The gap in class was too big to ignore.

Shortly after the tournament, BCCP hastily arranged a 13-team Under-19s contest. Despite the huge difference in quality, once again the tournament involved three teams from East Pakistan — Dacca, Dacca Education Board, and East Pakistan Sports Federation (who featured both Raqibul and Ashraful, and lost to Lahore Under-19s in the final).

The message was clear. Yahya Khan was making a last-minute attempt to have control on East Pakistan, and cricket was going to be his tool.

At this point, an International XI, led by Micky Stewart and featuring several current and future Test cricketers (Norman Gifford, Neil Hawke, Robin Hobbs, Ron Headley, Bob Cottam, and John Murray) toured Pakistan. The side also had Younis Ahmed (who had made his debut for Pakistan the previous season) and that Hyderabad champion Waheed Yar Khan, who had moved to Pakistan from India the year before.

BCCP XI won the first match at Karachi, thanks to Intikhab Alam, who scored 52 and claimed 9 wickets. BCCP scheduled the next match at Dacca, and roped in Raqibul. The reason was obvious.

In Pakistan General Election 1970, Awami League (the party of Mujibur Rahman, popularly referred to as Sheikh Mujib) had won 160 seats out of 300. Despite the win, Awami League was not allowed to form the Government.

Peter Oborne wrote in Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan: “Roqibul [an alternate spelling] was a Bengali and the BCCP may have had some idea of using him as a poster boy. The previous year, on the evidence of a handful of First-Class appearances, the selectors had made him twelfth man in the final Test against New Zealand.”

Like all his team members, Raqibul was given a Gray-Nicolls bat. Unfortunately, it bore the symbol of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the opposition. There was no way Raqibul, staunch supporter of Awami League like most others in East Pakistan, would patronise the symbol.

According to Debbrata Mukherjee of Ittefaq, Raqibul sneaked out of Hotel Purbani, Dacca, that night to meet his friend Sheikh Kamal. A consensus was reached: the symbol would be covered with a sticker with the message Joy Bangla (Viva Bengal), the war cry of Mukti Bahini that became popular during the Bangladesh Liberation War later that year).

Intikhab won the toss and batted. Raqibul walked out to bat with Azmat Rana (a brother of Shakoor Rana, Azmat would later play for Pakistan). Dacca Stadium (later Bangabandhu Stadium) erupted. The chant of Joy Bangla reverberated across the ground.

Raqibul scored 1 in each innings. He was leg-before to Hawke in the first innings and caught-behind off Cottam in the second. It did not matter, for he had sent the message he wanted to. Thanks to the dailies across the world, Raqibul was on international news.

Meanwhile, terror had spread in Dacca, setting the city on fire, often literally. There were riots, sending ripples across the city. The marquees in the stadium were set on fire. As the students attacked the stadium, Stewart, probably not grasping the gravity of the situation, requested the rioters to wait till the match was over. He was probably fortunate to survive.

Sarfraz Nawaz, hanging on to save the match at that point of time, later told Oborne that he had urged a soldier to fire on the crowd before they attacked. The soldier aimed at Sarfraz.

Both teams were taken to a cantonment in a military vehicle, and later, to the Purbani. While the International XI players took the last flight to Lahore, the Pakistan cricketers were held back in the hotel. It was due to Intikhab’s frantic efforts and timely intervention of Brigadier Haider (former manager of Pakistan) that the team eventually managed to escape Dacca.

Also playing the match was Zaheer Abbas. Before they parted ways, Zaheer bade farewell to Raqibul, assuring they would meet again in Karachi. The response was prompt: “Zaheer, the next time I come to Pakistan, I might have to come with a new passport.” It turned out to be prophetic.

On March 7, a mere six days after the incident, Mujib delivered his famous speech, declaring Civil Disobedience. At this time Raqibul was a first-year student of political science. As unrest grew, he took active part of the movement, as did his friend and opening partner Abdul Haleem Chowdhury Jewel (usually referred to as Shaheed Jewel).

On March 25, Yahya Khan (in alliance with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of PPP) initiated Operation Searchlight to counter the movement. Asia Times quoted Yahya Khan saying “kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.”

The initial target was Dacca University, perceived as the epicentre of the revolution. A full-fledged military attack was launched. The atrocities that followed have been chronicled in details by historians, and this is not the place for it. This is about Raqibul.

By then, a shoot-at-sight order had been issued on Raqibul. As his family escaped to Gopalganj, Raqibul and his brother somehow acquired their father’s service revolver and joined the revolution.

Jewel had been killed in riots four days before Operation Searchlight. Raqibul lost six family members as well, along with Mushtaq, his cricket mentor. But Raqibul survived. Both Jewel and Raqibul later attained the status of national heroes, especially for cricketers.

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From left: Raqibul Hasan Sr, Basil D’Oliveira, and Shaheed Jewel. Picture Courtesy: Raqibul Hasan Sr’s Facebook page

The cap

Born in Dacca, Raqibul made his First-Class debut on his 16th birthday, for East Pakistan Whites against East Pakistan Railways in the Ayub Trophy. Keeping wickets and opening batting, Raqibul scored 9 and 50 and effected a stumping.

At this time he was in Class 10, and had already earned a name in table-tennis, athletics, and despite his small frame, basketball. Osman Samiuddin, in The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket, called Raqibul “a child prodigy of sorts”.

Raqibul modelled himself on his idol Hanif, taking up the role of the dour opener, playing perfect foil to the dynamic Jewel. He continued to play for East Pakistan, achieving moderate success. He also played for Pakistan Under-19s against an England Schools XI.

His most impressive performance came in 1969-70. After bowling out East Pakistan for 180, Karachi Whites declared on 356 for 2 with almost a day’s play left. Raqibul, with a gritty, unbeaten 34, saved his side from outright defeat.

When New Zealand toured Pakistan in 1969-70, Raqibul was included in the President’s XI. The match petered out to a draw. Batting at eight in the first innings, Raqibul was bowled by Bob Cunis for 1. Despite his failure, he was included in the 12-man squad for the third Test at Dacca.

Unfortunately, Raqibul was not included in the XI, but he was happy. In an interview with Sankhya Krishnan of ESPNCricinfo, Raqibul confessed: “That was a memorable day for me because I was officially handed over the Pakistan cap in the dressing room by the captain Hanif Mohammed. I still remember that day.”

Note: Raqibul seems to have erred here, for Intikhab led Pakistan in the Test in question. In fact, the first Test of the series was the last of Hanif’s career. Perhaps Hanif gave the cap despite Intikhab being the captain.

However, he was not happy when he eventually got to know that he was left out for Aftab Gul. He later told Samiuddin: “We were one-down in the New Zealand series. I was an opener. The team was struggling for openers. They picked Gul instead. These things hurt, even if they were small things, we could feel them…Yes, I felt there was a little conspiracy against me and it did hurt.”

The match for BCCP XI came just over a year later. It was Raqibul’s last First-Class match. His career read an unimpressive 244 runs at 17.42 from 9 matches. However, several things must be kept in mind: his career was over by the time he was 17; East Pakistan were not the best side in the nation; and the turmoil was already underway when he was playing his last First-Class matches.

It was heartbreaking that his only chance to play Test cricket had gone by the time he was 16. Recalling the BCCP XI match and its consequences, Roqibul told Oborne: “I knew it was the last day of my Test cricket career. During that period I was involved in freedom fighting. I was called up by the Government-in-exile to form a cricket team like a soccer team we had playing all over India and creating awareness for our cause.”

But cricket went on…

As the freedom struggle converged to an end, Raqibul moved to Calcutta to help organise cricket in Bangladesh. He applied to BCCI, but the offer was turned down. But Raqibul was keen, for he knew the role of sport in building a country from scratch.

It took time. Meanwhile, five years after Raqibul’s last First-Class appearance, another International XI toured Pakistan. Raqibul featured in the series — for the visitors. The last match was at Karachi, and it did feature both Raqibul and Zaheer.

MCC toured Bangladesh in 1976-77. Their first match of the tour was against North Zone at Rajshahi. When he walked out to toss with Middlesex all-rounder Ted Clark, Raqibul created history by becoming the first man to lead a match against an international cricket side on Bangladesh soil. Raqibul scored 15 and 73, and the match ended in a draw. He bettered this effort with 74 against the same opposition, this time at Jessore.

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Ted Clark (left) and Raqibul Hasan Sr, at the toss in the first match by a visiting team on Bangladesh soil. Picture Courtesy: Raqibul Hasan Sr’s Facebook page

Raqibul also led Bangladesh against the touring Sri Lankans the following seasons, but the tourists were too strong: the hosts were thrashed 0-3, every match resulting in an innings defeat. However, earlier that year, they had become ICC Associates.

ICC Trophies

Bangladesh were pitted in Group B of ICC Trophy 1979, in England. It was the first time they played international cricket, and who better to lead them than Raqibul to serve as their first captain?

Bangladesh won 2 league matches out of 4, the more famous of which was against Fiji. Bangladesh were left reeling at 54 for 8 before the last three batsmen took the score to 103. Then Ashraful took 7 for 23 to rout Fiji for 81.

They lost to Canada but easily overhauled Malaysia, and it all came down to the all-important match against Denmark. After Denmark put up 165 for 8, Bangladesh recovered initial hiccups to reach 63 for 3 before collapsing to 93 for 7. Once again the tail wagged, but they were eventually bowled out for 155.

Bangladesh did better in the 1982 edition, again in England. By this time the mantle had passed over to wicketkeeper Shafiqul Haque, and Raqibul had moved down the batting order. They came runners-up in Group B, which, unfortunately, meant they would clash against Zimbabwe, the eventual winners.

Raqibul top-scored with 35, but Bangladesh collapsed against Kevin Curran (4 for 31) and were bowled out for 124. Zimbabwe raced to an 8-wicket victory. They also lost the third-place decider to Papua New Guinea. Raqibul finished with 167 runs at 27.83 (it was a low-scoring tournament), only behind Yousuf Rahman’s 214.

Then followed the South-East Asian Championship of 1983-84, where Bangladesh beat Hong Kong in the final to win the Trophy under Raqibul.

Finally, the big break…

Bangladesh were invited for the John Player Gold Leaf Trophy in Sri Lanka. They did not have a realistic chance against Pakistan or Sri Lanka, but it was a historic moment in the nation. It was, after all, their first taste of cricket at the highest level.

Led by Gazi Ashraf Hossain Lipu, Bangladesh sank without a trace against Pakistan at Moratuwa, being bowled out for 94 and losing by 7 wickets. Taking first strike, Raqibul was caught-behind off Zakir Khan for 5.

They did slightly better against Sri Lanka, batting out the full 45 overs and scoring 131 for 8. Raqibul hung on for 51 balls for his 12 before Arjuna Ranatunga trapped him leg-before. Once again Bangladesh lost by 7 wickets, though not before Raqibul caught Roy Dias off Ashraf.

More cricket

Ashraf led Bangladesh to ICC Trophy 1986 — once again, hosted by England and won by Zimbabwe. Bangladesh had a terrible tournament, winning two and losing four matches, finishing sixth out of seven teams in Group A, above Argentina. Raqibul finished his ICC Trophy career with 340 runs at 22.67 from 17 matches.

He continued to play club cricket for Victoria Sporting Club and Mohammedan Sporting Club. He was Tournament Director of Under-19 World Cup 2004, and is an active match referee in domestic cricket as well as in Under-19 international matches.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)