'Kamal Ziaul Islam, better known as KZ Islam, and his contribution to the cricket of the country cannot be described adequately with words'
These days words like legendary, pioneer, visionary and so forth are used so widely that they seem to lose appeal by becoming a cliché.
However for some, these words are inadequate as their legacy and contribution speak in such volume that is impossible to be depicted, even through the most ornamental words.
Kamal Ziaul Islam, better known as KZ Islam, and his contribution to the cricket of the country cannot be described adequately with words.
But here, I attempt to put up something that I believe will remain as a document of the legend of an administrator that Islam was for Bangladesh cricket.
Islam was the navigator of a ship that was unaware of its destiny and potential.
Bangladesh cricket was endowed with the right man at the right time to be led.
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).
Islam’s involvement with the board 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 cricket board as the youngest board member ever the day he took over the reign of the board (in 1983), which was then known as the Bangladesh Cricket Control Board.
He was backed with experience of playing the role of general secretary of the board for a short time prior to that.
Cricket is now the major sporting phenomena in the country, but it is almost impossible to envisage the erstwhile situation.
It was a big challenge to run cricket back in the 80s, and compete with other sports, including football that was far more popular.
There were resource constraints, especially ground availability, among many other issues.
There existed almost a perpetual battle with football with regards to the grounds, particularly if during a season the two sports would clash with their itineraries.
Football for all reasons used to get priority back then as it was popular, and had much more financial muscle compared to cricket, which was basically a game of a few passionate people.
There were times when cricket fixture would be done in windows when football was not played.
KZ Islam had come to take charge of cricket in this scenario, and thanks to his vision, the total landscape of the game was changed altogether.
KZ Islam was a successful businessman, and used to maintain good liaison with the political set-up of the country.
Thus in return he was given the charge to administer the game of cricket and to that committee I was very much a part of.
The government used to form the committee of all national sports federations on an ad-hoc basis, there were no system for an election back then.
Right after taking charge of the board, Islam had taken many initiatives which are mentionable.
During his term as the BCCB president, Bangladesh got to participate in ICC Trophy once, now officially known as ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Qualifier, in 1986.
During that era, Bangladesh also got the chance to play in the Asia Cup, and it was during that tournament our matches were officially recognized as ODI for the first time.
India did not participate that year but I remember the other opponents - Sri Lanka and Pakistan - had fielded formidable sides.
Imran Khan was in lead of Pakistan team, while Sri Lanka were led by Duleep Mendis.
It was not only those who are close to the board who were excited but the whole cricket fraternity felt a shiny new chapter in the annals of the country’s game was being opened.
This had come as a boost and confidence that even we can play a bit in top-level competition and that we were somewhat eligible to compete with the best of teams in the world.
These had triggered a belief in us that we can play at the top level if we can try.
There were also activities that were symbolic.
An organization pays respect to the martyrs on February 21, the Mother Language Day, it is very common now.
But back then and during KZ Islam’s term, we had, for the first time at BCCB went to pay homage to the martyrs at Shaheed Minar.
This in itself was a statement.
There were also initiatives to involve personals who could contribute in development and betterment of the game.
The list included administrators, former players and sponsors.
Nirman School Tournament is perhaps one of his doings that is widely spoken about and praised.
The system he had built was a proven model in many other countries and it had yielded benefits to Bangladesh cricket too.
Giving exposure to players at a young age is a major prerequisite for the progress of cricket.
I was made the secretary of the tournament in its second edition.
The first edition had created big excitement in the mind of the youngsters and in the sporting circuit.
And in the second edition, the tournament had turned massive in scale as around 1,100 schools participated in that season.
Gradually the number of participating schools had come down due to technicalities and resource constraints, and also on the willingness of the school managements.
Having put up a successful school cricket system, the challenge had come in as to where the players should go from here.
The performers from this tournament would drop-out if they did not have the next stage to go, and investment in school cricket would be wasted.
It was not possible for the schoolboys to play in the big leagues.
So under the leadership of KZ Islam initiative was taken to create the next platform for the school cricketers, and that had come in inter-college tournament, that was called Siraj Memorial College Tournament.
The tournament was then sponsored by Elite Paint from Chittagong.
The tournament however, was discontinued due to technical issues and sponsorship.
But the effort was a very good step in building a system, and had helped the young cricketers find their path to the next level.
Nirman School Tournament was so impactful that it had produced cricketers who went on to represent the country, and the list is big.
KZ Islam was also a big name when it came to sponsoring cricket, and this had made many big companies interested to come in support of a game at its developing stage.
Companies like Navana, Bangladesh Tobacco Company, Alpha Tobacco and many others were encouraged by Islam.
This was KZ Islam in a nutshell, and his biggest strength was in his quality to work along with a team.
He ensured the best person fitted for a job would get to do that particular job.
But there were also people he had to rely on who misguided him.
There were a few board members who had come because they used to work at KZ Islam’s business firm.
I do not want to name them but I strongly feel they did injustice to the man when it came to running cricket.
They did not advice him properly.
One incident I clearly remember was when England A team were scheduled to tour Bangladesh.
The cricket fraternity was excited about it, and all preparations were taken to host the visitors.
But here I would like to refresh everyone’s memory that South Africa at that time were still under apartheid and International Cricket Council had banned the country from world cricket.
However, since they had money and powerful administrators like former South Africa cricketer Dr Ali Bacher, who was the managing director of South African Cricket Union in the 80s, they could host tours by rebel teams from Sri Lanka, England, the West Indies and Australia, involving the big name cricketers.
The issue was so big that United Nations had put embargo on the players who were part of the rebel leagues in South Africa and for that, they were not allowed to play cricket in any other countries.
Incidentally, the captain of England A team which were to tour Bangladesh had one of the rebel cricketers, Mark Nicholas, who is now a famous commentator.
For the embargo placed by the UN he could not tour Bangladesh for cricket but this information was left uninformed to KZ Islam.
For this, KZ Islam had to face the embarrassment of cancelling the tour in the last minute, the government did not allow the tour to go ahead when they learnt it had involved a cricketer who is banned by the UN.
The England A team were at Heathrow Airport waiting to board the flight to Dhaka when they were told the tour was off, and they had to return home.
There was the awkwardness that the BCCB was about to host a player that was banned by the UN.
Islam unfortunately had to bear the unwanted blame and shame following the ordeal simply because some of the people around had misguided him.
There was the policy that the BCCB executive committee would involve the true stakeholders of the game like the Dhaka cricket clubs and people who had the passion, and would do the job for the betterment of the sport.
Representatives from the clubs were also part of the committee but as it happened, representatives of particular club had become prominent in the committee.
This made the majority of clubs discuss among themselves and come to the decision that in order for cricket to benefit as a game, things had to change.
This chapter and a few other issues made KZ Islam face challenges at the very initial stage as the board president.
There are of course many more stories of KZ Islam and Bangladesh cricket that is not possible for me to include in this one write-up.
I consider KZ Islam among the top five administrators of cricket in the country to have made a major impact.
For describing him, legend is a bare minimum word.
Ahmed Sajjadul Alam Bobby is a director of the Bangladesh Cricket Board