KZ Islam will be remembered as long as cricket lives in the country
The Bengali word "Nirman" means "to build", and it is normally associated with infrastructures, but in the cricketing parlance of the country, the word befitted perfectly as it reminds of one of the most significant tournaments, Nirman School Cricket, the primary and major building block of the game, and its creator, perhaps the most significant pioneer and visionary of a new era.
Kamal Ziaul Islam, who was better known as KZ Islam, scribed his name as a legend in the annals of Bangladesh cricket, and his demise at the age of 86 left the whole community in sheer loss and agony.
Islam passed away at his residence in Dhaka Monday afternoon.
Bangladesh Cricket Board in memory of its former chief and also the founder of school cricket in the form of Nirman School Cricket flew its flag at half-mast at its management office and other stadiums of the country, while the whole community bid adieu to the man who laid the foundation for the gentleman's game.
Islam served as the BCB president from January 30, 1983 to February 18, 1987, and alongside him he got current BCB director Ahmed Sajjadul Alam Bobby, who had served as a member in the then Bangladesh Cricket Control Board.
Dhaka Tribune in an effort to learn more about KZ Islam as an organizer and his impact on Bangladesh cricket reached out to Sajjadul and his first words were: “It is never possible to express KZ Islam and his contribution to the cricket of the country in a few lines."
Sajjadul continued, "He is a legendary figure in Bangladesh cricket. He was the right man at the right time to have led Bangladesh cricket. He got involved with cricket administration at a time when he had already earned name as a sponsor in the cricket circle (through Nirman School Cricket Tournament).
“His involvement had brought a breath of fresh air in the cricket circuit of the country. I consider myself honored and privileged to have worked with him. I had come into the board as the youngest board member the day he took over the helm (in 1983). It was a big challenge to run cricket back in the 80s and compete with other sports, including football that was very popular. There were resource constraints, especially with ground availability.
“There used to be sort of continuous battle with football with regards to the ground, particularly if a season of the two sports clashed. Football used to get the priority. KZ Islam had taken charge of cricket in such a scenario and he had done some wonderful work in the development of the game. He had an affable character, loved cricket and tried his best to develop the game under circumstances which were not favorable for the game to thrive upon. The government used to form the committee of all national sports bodies on an ad-hoc basis, there were systems for an election. KZ Islam had maintained fine relation with the policymakers of the country and thus was, in return, given the charge to administer the game of cricket, to which I was very much a part of."
Islam is widely credited for inspiring the age-group cricket structure in Bangladesh through the introduction of the Nirman School Cricket Tournament.
The tournament was a nationwide school cricket competition during his tenure as the president of the then BCCB.
Islam's company Nirman Constructions sponsored the tournament for 14 seasons at a stretch starting in 1982-83.
The tournament soon developed the image as the first step towards becoming a cricketer among the young schoolboys.
By its 14th year, the tournament turned big with the participation of around 400 schools from the journey that started with just 22 schools.
Such was the impact of the tournament, it became a household name for more than a decade.
If a schoolboy had played cricket, he would dream of becoming a part of this tournament which produced cricketers that went on to be national stars such as Javed Omar Belim, Khaled Mahmud, Mehrab Hossain and many others.
Junaid Rahman Rono was one such schoolboy who would take pride in participating from year 1991 to 1996, and was part of the Scholastica cricket team that won numerous titles in the 90s in the Nirman School Cricket Tournament.
“Participating in Nirman School Cricket was a life changing experience for us. Competitive sport teaches us about leadership, man-management, communication and team work. It was great to get such experiences which also include playing at the national stadium in front of crowd at an age of 15 or 16 years and against teams likes BKSP, Dhanmondi Boys and others,” said Junaid.
“The format of the tournament was knock-out and every player would feel the pressure. It was a fantastic experience. It was a magnificent facility that was provided at such an unbelievable time in our life. But I am saddened that the school goers now will not be able to experience something that Nirman Cricket was. It was truly life changing not only for me but for hundreds of people,” said Junaid, who was one of the the most capped player in Nirman School Cricket Tournament.
Islam’s effort would not end with just school cricket.
The performers from the school competition when in college would be part of an inter-college competition.
There was also a cricket team, Nirman XI, containing the best players of the system who would often participate in the Dhaka cricket league circuit.
Former Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar is undoubtedly one of the most significant finds of the system and he, till date, credits the impact of Nirman XI behind his growth as a legend in the country’s game.
“I will always remember KZ Islam because cricketer Habibul Bashar was a product of Nirman XI. The current generation has no idea of the contribution KZ Islam had in the country’s cricket,” said Bashar.
“It is unfortunate that very little have been spoken about him in recent times but in the 1980s and mid 90s KZ Islam was a big force in Bangladesh cricket, organizing school cricket and promoting the sport throughout the country through tournaments. His business Nirman International was not only the sponsor of the school tournament but it also ensured that the participating teams are well equipped. He would also go to the remotest of areas to find the hidden talents from schools and form a team called Nirman XI, and I was part of that team. That team first played the second division and gradually got promoted to premier league,” said Bashar, one of the most successful players in Bangladesh's history, and currently a member of the national selection panel.
“In 1989, KZ Islam had single-handedly financed a team to tour England involving majority of the players from Nirman XI. I was part of the team which also included Omar, Halim Shah, Anisur Rahman and many others. Mahmud was the captain of the team. Initially the team were set to tour England as Nirman XI but it involved a few players from BKSP and the name was changed to Bangladesh U-19 for the tour,” said Bashar.
Coach Sarwar Imran had worked as assistant coach of the team which had toured England in 1989.
Former cricketer Imran drawing his experience of working with the team and on the setup that KZ Islam had developed said, “I was the BKSP coach back then and (Moshiuddin) Montu bhai was the coach of Nirman XI. A U-19 team were set to tour England which had involved majority of players from Nirman team and three players from BKSP which included Naimur Rahman. So I had joined the team as assistant coach and it was an experience that I strongly remember. KZ Islam had heavy contribution because of the way he used to sponsor and also carry the system that he had developed. The list of players that have come from Nirman and went on to represent the country is big so you could tell the positive impact that it had,” said Imran, one of the most revered coaches in the country’s history.
Islam became almost an obscure figure over the last couple of decades but his contribution to the country’s cricket will never diminish.
As a successful real estate businessman, Islam knew how to build durable and lavish buildings but his everlasting legacy will be the building whose foundation he laid, and with his passion, vision and expertise, helped it thrive.
Today, that building, otherwise known as the country’s cricket, stands high and proud amidst the global skyscrapers.
Bangladesh cricket has become the cornerstone of the country’s sporting arena, a spectacle of glory and pride in global scale.
KZ Islam will be remembered as long as cricket lives in the country.