Imagine an opening batsman, getting out in both of his innings scoring just one run, yet the stadium is roaring and cheering his presence on-field. All that because of the Gunn and Moore bat he was holding that carried the slogan of Bangladesh, ‘Joy Bangla’.
The year was 1971, political turmoil at peak, when an unofficial Test match took place on 26 February in Dhaka where then Pakistan team was pitted against an International XI led by Mickey Stewart at then Dacca Stadium. Out of the 11 players of Pakistan, 10 were from West Pakistan and only one, an 18 year old teen hailed from East Pakistan.
Raqibul Hasan, the ‘Poster-boy’ of Cricket in East Pakistan took the match as an international platform to express solidarity with the freedom-loving, rebellious people of his country. He, despite being the only East Pakistani cricketer in the team, opened the innings with a sticker on his bat stating ‘Joy Bangla’.
“Originally it was my idea, my own way of expressing silent revolt and it was Sheikh Kamal who put that sticker,” Raqibul Hasan said.
Raqibul Hasan mentioned that Pakistan team was given a set of brand new kits that included Grey Nicholson bats bearing swords, the electoral logo of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
“I decided not to carry the marks of the tyrants and wanted to let the world know about the righteous struggle of Bengalis,” said Raqibul Hasan.
The night before the match, on February 25, friends of Raqibul Hasan including the eldest son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Sheikh Kamal alongside Dr. Mustafa Jalal Mohiuddin visited him to congratulate.
“It was that night when I shared the idea with him (Sheikh Kamal). He was fascinated by it and quickly sent out to find a car sticker, yellow in red and green and 'Joy Bangla' written above. He put that on my Gunn and Moore bat,” Raqibul Hasan said.
The next day, February 26, Raqibul walked out to bat with Azmat Rana carrying that bat and the whole stadium went haywire. Bengalis present at the stadium roared and kept shouting ‘Joy Bangla’.
His feat gained the world's attention as a number of international media representatives covered the match.
Raqibul recalled memories about the final day of the match, March 1, the very day Yahya Khan dissolved the parliament denying power to the winning side, Awami League.
“It felt like the whole city exploded and the fire had reached the stadium. The match was abandoned and we were told to stay in the dressing room until Army convoy arrives to take the cricketers to cantonment and later to team hotel,” Raqibul said.
However, Raqibul Hasan and the only other Bengali in the dressing room, the 12th man in squad, Tanvir Mazhar Islam Tanna (who was elected as BCB General Secretary later) decided to leave for the team hotel.
“I and Tanna left the stadium in plain clothes after convincing the team manager...We could not access the hotel (Purbani) because of the crowd and had to use the service entrance in the backside...We had to stay there till March 6,” he said.
However, the International XI including cricketers like Norman Gifford, Neil Hawke, Robin Hobbs, Ron Headley, Bob Cottam, and John Murray took the flight to Lahore on March 1.
Right before the cricketers from West Pakistan left the city amid chaos, Raqibul Hasan had a historic conversation with cricketer Zaheer Abbas.
“The Pakistan team was scheduled to play another series against England in May that year and Zaheer naturally thought that I’d be included in the squad...before leaving he bade farewell and said ‘I’ll see you in Karachi’. I don’t know what took over me and I replied ‘Zaheer, the next time I visit Karachi or Lahore, I’m afraid I might have to come with a new passport’. He was just standing there looking at me hearing this,” said Raqibul Hasan.
However, Raqibul’s valor was treated as treason by the Pakistani Junta.
“Pakistan Army Intelligence noted the incident with the bat and brought charges of treason against me after war erupted late March…They were searching for me and I had to stay underground to evade arrest,” Raqibul said.
He set out for his native home in Hatul village of Kashiani Upazila in Gopalganj on March 28 and days later joined training to take part in the liberation war. But destiny tasked him with something else.
It was Sheikh Shahidul Islam, nephew of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who asked Raqibul Islam to fight the war in a different way by forming a cricket team with Bengalis taking refuge in India and form ‘Shadhin Bangla Cricket Team’.
“It was in the month of June or July…Shadhin Bangla Football team was already playing in different areas of West Bengal and it was decided that a cricket team will be formed to do the same, raise fund for the liberation war and let the outside world know about Bangladesh and its struggle for independence…I started to collect players soon,” Raqibul Islam said.
Raqibul after sometimes reached Kolkata with his team and there they stayed with the Shadhin Bangla football team.
“Our games were expected to start in the winter season, month of December. But before we could play we attained freedom, Bangladesh was born. We didn’t know beforehand how long it might take to gain independence but it was a historic moment for all of us,” Raqibul said.
Raqibul Hasan also described about the cricket culture in the oppressed East Pakistan.
“We had many talented players hailing from then East Pakistan. However, they were not given any chance to play for the national side. To put it straight, they were nipped in buds and was always excluded from the national team,” Raqibul said.
Raqibul Hasan himself was picked for a test against New Zealand in 1970 albeit as the 12th man and first Bengali cricketer of Pakistan cricket team.
“It too was an act of discrimination by the Pakistan authority although I performed well in first class matches and there was a crisis of good opening batsmen in Pakistan team…It was the general picture everywhere including Military, government jobs and sports as well,” Raqibul Hasan said.
In the long conversation with the correspondent the legendary cricketer recalled the martyred cricketer-freedom fighter Abdul Haleem Chowdhury Jewel.
“Jewel and I were close friends. We were roommates for sometimes and we always opened for the then East Pakistan side in first class cricket,” he said.
The tragic loss of heroes like Jewel and other freedom fighters was all for the liberation of country. On the eve of 48th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence Raqibul Hasan feels that without the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the valiant effort of freedom loving Bengalis, Bangladesh would not have been born.
For his epic entrance and revolt with his bat, Raqibul Hasan remains one of the most phenomenal cricketer despite playing no Test matches for Bangladesh and only two ODIs and he is content with it.
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