For more than a decade,he had remained the embodiment of inconsistency,his career littered with sparks of brilliance in between spells of abysmal form. But in March,when Mohammad Ashraful scored a dramatic 190 against Sri Lanka at Galle,he seemed to have discovered the virtues of patience and fortitude. It was by far his longest innings,spanning 417 deliveries and over eight hours at the crease,and helped Bangladesh take the first innings lead after conceding 570 to the hosts. It was hailed as the return of a fallen hero. Bangladesh cricket’s prodigal son had finally matured into a dependable lynchpin.
On Tuesday,just three months later,Ashraful addressed the local media at his house in Dhaka,looking like an errant child owning up to a grave misdemeanour as he apologised on national television to all his fans and a country that thought the world of him.
Earlier that day,the 28-year-old had been suspended from all levels of cricket by the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) for his alleged involvement in match fixing during the last edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). According to BCB officials,he had confessed to the ACSU about fixing matches while representing Dhaka Gladiators in the T20 tournament.
I apologise to the entire nation,to all my fans and friends. I am guilty about everything. I have disappointed my fans. This was the first time in my career that the ICC anti-corruption unit called on me. I did some bad things and I admitted to doing them. I am trying to help them for the sake of cricket, he told reporters.
In many ways,the baby-faced right-hander was Bangladesh cricket’s first ever superstar. Touted to be a potential great from the first time he picked up a bat,he showed his prodigious talent even as a ball-boy during one of the senior team’s practice sessions in the mid-nineties.
He burst onto the scene,all of 17,scoring a century on debut against a Sri Lankan attack that included Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas in 2000. He still remains the youngest batsman to have scored a Test ton. Affable and easy-going off the field and a treat to watch on it whenever he had his mojo,Ashraful was the darling of Bangladesh cricket fans and enjoyed Tendulkar-like demigod status back home.
And despite his frustrating troughs of form,the enigmatic Ashraful played the lead role in a number of Bangladesh’s memorable moments in international cricket,most strikingly the century he scored off Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie while leading Bangladesh to the unlikeliest of ODI wins over a full-strength Australia at Cardiff in 2005. And the 87 off 83 balls to record an upset win over South Africa in the 2007 World Cup at Guyana. At 22,Ashraful was Bangladesh captain .
His overall form with the bat though remained capricious as ever. Bangladesh soon discovered other heroes in Shakib Al Hasan,Mashrafe Mortaza and Tamim Iqbal,and Ashraful was no longer the solitary poster-boy. He now had company when it came to adorning billboards and featuring in television commercials. Young cricketers in the budding Test nation now had other idols.