A tribute to the late KZ Islam -- one of the founding fathers of Bangladesh cricket
With the passing of KZ Islam, Bangladeshi cricket has lost one its founding fathers and I’ve lost a mentor and a friend. To many he was the most influential cheerleader of cricket in Bangladesh at a time when football still reigned supreme. But to me he will always be the person that encouraged and inspired me to write. From the age of 10 onwards he pushed, cajoled, and bribed me to write because he said that he saw something in me, for which I am eternally grateful.
For a cricket-obsessed young adult in the late 90s and early 2000s, the bribes were easy to succumb to: I was taken to countless cricket matches, given tickets to others, and met my sporting idols due to his largesse. All he wanted in return was that I should read and write about the sport that was the passion of his life and the centre of mine.
This belief in youth and a relentless faith in education led him to create the Nirman School Cricket Tournament. He often told me that he viewed the tournament as the very first step in any promising cricketer’s “sporting education.” His privately funded competition educated the first great generation of Bangladeshi cricketers and I would like to believe in a way that led to my own education as well.
My father has known KZ uncle for the better part of 40 years and I like to believe I’ve known him for 33, but that actually isn’t the case. While he was familiar face around our house, always impeccably dressed and followed bbye a trail of musky cologne, it wasn’t until I spoke with him about cricket that our paths crossed in meaningful way. That was at the age of 10.
By the time I was 12, every time my father went over to his house I’d beg to tag along. Within 30 minutes of arriving he and I would be talking about cricket, not just who was playing but also about the history of the game, because at the end of the day, history was his real passion.
He started giving me books on cricket and always made me promise to read them because he’d quiz me the next time we met. Soon, he started encouraging me to write about it because he said my knowledge had to be shared. Here was a man in his mid-60s treating me in my early teens as not just an adult but a peer. His constant encouragement to write and the fact that he wanted to read it gave me the confidence to find my voice.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, he championed the writing of a teenager and in the process helped carve out my career in writing, which has taken me from journalism to the mundane world of international development communications. Because of a recommendation from him I had a short-lived sports column in the Weekly Holiday when I was 17. He lied about my age and reputation to the sports editor of The Daily Star and convinced him to run an article by an 18-year-old me as the lead piece for their 15th year anniversary special edition. By the time I was 19, I was a full-time feature writer for The Daily Star.
As I pivoted away from sports journalism, I began to understand and interact with what seemed to me to be his next greatest passion, the history of the sub-continent. KZ uncle was incredibly well read and always had his nose in a book, it’s only when I was older that I realized for every book on cricket he read he devoured at least two on Partition and the history around it. He would take meticulous notes, often undertook original research, and for the longest time he was working on a book which would offer a fresh take on the events of August 1947. I know he started writing it and every time writer’s block struck, he would plough back into more research. This process continued till the point that he had more research and notes than he knew what to do with. I was flattered when he asked me to help him with his first draft and for reasons that I can’t remember now, I never took him up on the offer. Unfortunately, the book was never completed.
A few years later, I got busier with the inane monotony of life. University, work, friends, girlfriend; repeat it a few dozen times and before you know it a year has gone by. I started to see him less and less and I regret this now.
One of the last times I met KZ uncle he gave me a copy of Sir Donald Bradman’s Farewell to Cricket. The beautiful first edition was missing its dust jacket, but was still in immaculate condition with its green clothbound hardcover and foxed pages that smelt of an ancient library. For any cricket fan or historian, Bradman and everything surrounding him is cloaked in awe, and this book was no different. I was touched and slightly embarrassed that he would give it to me. I felt certain that I didn’t deserve it.
A few years later when I finally read the book, I found a small folded newspaper cutting from 1948 announcing Bradman’s retirement and just for a second and I felt as if I had travelled back in time to the very moment the world’s greatest batsman announced his retirement. The next time I’m back in Bangladesh, I’ll search through my father’s library and find the book again. I’ll save a newspaper cutting celebrating KZ uncle’s life, and slip it into the book in the hope that long after I’m gone, someone else finds it.
Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll forget about my little time capsule and in a few decades, I’ll pick up the book again, except this time I’ll be transported back to a time when KZ uncle was still with us. I wish that time was now.
I didn’t deserve the book, but now I understand its place in my life. A farewell to cricket is actually a farewell to him.
Nader Rahman is a journalist based in New York.