For the audience this was a match etched in memory. The fielders were positioned, all eyes fixed on the batsman at the crease. Two runs needed from the last ball. In cricket, it does not get more nerve-wracking than this. Two teams, one hoping to win a trophy on foreign land, the other dogged in determination to keep the prize on home soil.
The crowd waited with bated breath; the ball was delivered and Rajon, the batsman, resplendent in his green and red attire, took the most memorable shot of his life.
A lusty strike and the ball went over the boundary for a six.
Memories of moments following the last hit can still send shivers of euphoria. Women waiting by the pitch danced in frenzy, the audience ran towards Rajon, the air was filled with one chant: Bangladesh.
We are talking about a very special group of cricketers, who, last August, made history when they beat the visiting Indian team in a three match series at the Dhaka University indoor court in three pulsating 20-over matches.
They call themselves the Bangladesh Wheelchair Cricket Team. Captained by the indomitable Mohammad Mohasin, these tigers are set to make a mark for Bangladesh cricket in the international stage just like their counterparts in the senior national team.
The dauntless shall show the day
Mohasin is what many would call “physically challenged.” He also feels that his body has some limitations but is unwilling to allow the impediments prevent him from living life.
And life for him is cricket. So, in 2014, along with other like-minded youths, he began the Bangladesh Wheelchair Cricket Welfare Association.
“The objective is simple: Instil courage among young people with certain limitations, allow them to be physically fit, and give them a chance to enjoy sport,” said Mohasin.
In Bangladesh, there was a long-standing feeling that if someone is less fortunate than others, life for that individual is over, expressed the cricketer, and then asserted: “I along with my team-mates wanted to challenge that idea.”
In reality, Mohasin and the brigade have demolished many blinkered beliefs.
In 2014, did these young men ever think that one day they would be donning the national T-shirt and play against another country?
“I had the dream -- setting up the association was the first step,” came Mohasin’s resolute response.
Talking about the challenges in setting up plus maintaining a full-fledged cricket team, Mohasin underlines the need for sustained sponsorship.
For the three-match series against India, local business conglomerate Walton provided support and many individuals have helped give a professional look to the outfit.
The initiative today is the face of a transforming Bangladesh where people with special needs are no longer liabilities but assets, playing their part in taking Bangladesh towards global recognition
Overwhelming public response
For Mohasin and his team-mates, the greatest achievement is not just winning an international series but playing before a boisterous, partisan crowd.
“This heart-felt support is our guiding force,” said Rajon the player hitting the winning shot against India.
“When I looked around before facing the last ball, I saw hope, expectation, and a desire for victory in people’s eyes and thought ‘yes, I can do this!’
“Looking at my captain I felt the strength.”
The days following the famous victory, news of the Wheelchair Bangladesh team was featured heavily in the media. National team players personally met and congratulated them.
For Mohasin and his team, this acknowledgment is the inspiration to achieve greater things.
A meeting with our honourable prime minister was followed by the ultimate social recognition: The Joy Bangla Youth Award 2017.
The future looks uplifting
Mohasin is not a struggling player anymore. What he started is now socially recognised, his efforts lauded by all.
While he wants to take the Bangladesh Wheelchair cricket team to the world stage, and possibly even the Olympics, he also has a plan to open an academy in Bangladesh to provide a sporting platform for young people with certain physical impediments.
“We have proven that if there is tenacity, a goal can be achieved,” says the cricketer, and adds, “once a large conglomerate decides to sponsor such an academy, many young people will not only get the chance to play and enjoy but it will also the pave the pathway to a confident life.”
The times ahead look very busy for his team as there is a tour to Nepal in November followed by the Asia Cup in India.
Just imagine, from a tentative, shaky start three years ago, the initiative today is the face of a transforming Bangladesh where people with special needs are no longer liabilities but assets, playing their part in taking Bangladesh towards global recognition.
The cricket team is now busy training -- they can dare to eye the Asia Cup.
Everything is possible, comes the unyielding line from the players and suddenly I remembered the famous lines by Sir Henry Newbolt from “Vitai Lampada”:
“There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
Well, all the best to the team -- our intrepid gladiators on wheels.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.