©bdnews24.com/Muhammad Mostafigur Rahman
The popularity of football was sky-high when you were a cricketer, and it stayed on even after you retired. Did you ever think cricket would beat football in popularity?
Raqibul Hasan: There wasn’t much difference in the popularity of football and cricket before our Independence. Both were very much loved. Cricket culture in our region goes back a long way. There were many popular tournaments on the local cricket scene … several Test matches were played in Dhaka before 1971.
After Liberation, there was a feeling that cricket was expensive and bureaucratic … Bangladesh didn’t need such a game. Back then, we didn’t even have the proper gear, let alone the infrastructure. We protested when a certain community tried to do away with cricket. Bangabandhu (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) was a sports lover; he understood us and, instead of stopping the game, he formed the Bangladesh Cricket Control Board. That was a turning point.
We then applied for ICC membership. In 1976, ICC sent an MCC team here … they came and saw us play. By the grace of the Almighty, we played especially well that day. That was another turning point. After that, in 1979, we started playing for the ICC Trophy. Cricket was on the rise and clubs became interested. Then it just kept growing.
Where would you say the turning point was? When exactly did cricket beat football in popularity?
Raqibul Hasan: I always believed cricket would be our future. Cricket requires courage, merit and skill. It’s not a physical game like football. I believed that with proper patronage and performance, we would strike gold in cricket.
With popularity came our infrastructure, and everyone started to believe that cricket would be our big identity on the global stage. For many reasons, football could not hold out but cricket was making steady progress. I think the 1997 ICC Trophy was the biggest turning point. We became eligible to play in the World Cup after winning the semifinals. The thought that we were going to play in the World Cup as champions caught the public imagination. That was what took cricket to the top.
What was the most basic reason for football to fall behind?
Raqibul Hasan: Success is a big thing. There was none in football, especially in the international arena. Thousands of people were watching football every year but there was no success. Cricket and football had the same fans. They became more interested in cricket when they saw their team play on the international stage … foreign cricketers…a promising future.
Then there was a lack of planning. Those in charge of cricket made plans. The football organisers didn’t. They failed to see the future. They were not ready to face challenges that came with time. We can’t expect Pele, Maradona, Messi or Neymar to be born in our country. We’ll never get that far. But we could have gone some distance. The people behind football didn’t make that happen.
Today, cricket is more than a game, it’s our national spirit … our symbol. I believe one day we will be the world’s best, only in cricket.