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You are not going to see fat men play cricket anymore: Former Bangladesh captain Akram Khan

Former Bangladesh captain Akram Khan talks about the importance of beating India, emotional fans and the rise of Sri Lankan copaches.

Written by Sriram Veera | Hyderabad |
February 13, 2017 1:02:10 am

Former Bangladesh captain Akram Khan is now the chairman of cricket operations in the BCB. In a chat with The Indian Express, Khan talks about the plans to revamp Bangladesh cricket, about emotional fans, and on the rise of Sri Lankan coaches. Excerpts:

Why Bangladesh have a fascination with India when it comes to cricket? There is the money, of course, but it seems almost an emotional issue for Bangladesh to play Tests in India.

Because if you do something good against India, you get a big exposure. Before we got the ODI status, we got a lot of help from India. There is a lot at stake. India supported our Test status also. India is our neighbour. If we can do good performances against India, we would get more opportunities elsewhere also. People tend to notice. We grew up watching cricket in India and Pakistan, and yes, it’s an emotional reason as well. Indian television is big in Bangladesh, its movies and we closely follow the country. We know that first of all we have to improve in Tests. How will we improve? We have to play more Test matches. We need support from ICC and countries like India.

Even by the standard of subcontinent, Bangladesh had some really emotional fans, and it has been said that in some ways it was an immature cricketing nation.

It still is. The fans get angry and emotional if we lose. And grow joyous when we win. Cricket is No.1 now. It used to be football in the 90s but that has changed. In cricket, we win, you see. There is nothing to feel proud about in other sports more often than not. So the emotional connect with cricket has only grown further. Players become superstars because they do well on field.

For a young cricket nation, handling fame would be tough for players. It can get to their heads?

It was a problem a few years back. It’s not easy to handle fame like that, but these days it has changed. The team is disciplined. They know what not to do, what to do. You would find one or two who might still be like that, but things are changing. We are strict in discipline. We suspended Mohamad Ashraful for fixing. We suspended Shakib for indiscipline. The message has got across that no indiscipline of any sorts will be tolerated. I think it’s working. This team is very disciplined. We have a few senior players who are performing well. Some of them are still there from the team that beat India in 2007 World Cup. We are doing well in ODIs and T20 because of opportunities. We have to improve in Tests, and that can come from more opportunities.

What’s the deal with Sri Lanka coaches? So many have been employed by Bangladesh in the recent years. The current head coach, Chandika Hathurasinghe, is also from Sri Lanka, and so is the batting coach, Thilan Samaraweera.

There is a reason. Initially we were bringing in a lot of coaches from Australia and we found that, after a year or so, they would cite some family problem or something and want to go back. Our cricket was getting affected. So we thought, ‘let us forget them, and bring some people from close to our culture’. We are now getting Sunil Joshi as a bowling coach.

The infrastructure is developing. Good players are coming through the ranks?

The structure is a lot better. We have age-group tournaments, ‘A’ teams, club cricket continues to be good, and our newly started first-class cricket is improving, but while we are getting more players, the quality can be better. In time that would happen. We also have changed the pitches in domestic cricket. It used to be flat in the past, now we are trying to get some bounce, pace and more sporting tracks. Of course, quality players are yet to come through, though.

We are giving more exposure to young players. For New Zealand, where we went recently, the usual squad is 15 but we took 22 players. We are doing our best to give them exposure. In the past, we would play twice — Asia cup with India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. We wouldn’t think about winning, we would just feel proud that we are playing with players from those countries. Now things have changed.

There are still lots of rumblings in the press about the way the BCB functions. Has it got better than in the past when Gordon Greenidge was snubbed?

Gordon Greenidge was our guardian. He guided us. And the board sacked him at lunch break! We were playing in the middle, and it was his last day of contract and farewell! We all got very sad. It was in the early 90s and that was how the board used to be those days. We are a lot more professional now.

We have done interviews with you before for this newspaper. So just one personal question, and it’s a pet theme. Why aren’t there rotund guys like you in cricket anymore? Is it the end of fat men?

(Laughs.) Cricket has changed. Overweight men can’t play cricket. Look at Kohli, how fit he is. If I see a fat kid in age-group level, and if he is good player, I would still pick him but tell him that he has to shed weight and get fit. Even Inzamam-ul-Haq was made to run around the grounds by Imran Khan. And these days, cricket has changed even more.

Fitness wasn’t important then. If you are a good batsman or a good bowler, you got a chance. Even after I had played five-six years of international cricket, we didn’t realise the importance of fitness. Only when Mohinder Amarnath came over as a coach did we realise what fitness meant. He helped us a lot in that. We started to get more professional.

In my younger days, I would feel very shy because I was fat. In the rainy season, I would play football and in the sun, cricket, but I was shy. Slowly, I realised people were coming to see me hit shots. That gave me confidence. Those days, mind you, there was no exposure for cricket. No recognition and here were some people coming to see me bat. That gave me confidence. But you are not going to see fat men play cricket anymore, anywhere now!

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