The school cricket, named after Prime Bank School Cricket Tournament, is going on all over the country and in terms of number of participating schools it is the biggest cricketing carnival for young schoolgoing children. But many former cricketers will tell you that the halcyon days are past because the tournament has lost its main component -- the rivalries among participating schools.
One of the most important components behind the rise of cricket in Bangladesh in the pre-Test era was the Nirman School Cricket Championships popularly known as 'Nirman Cricket'. The rivalries between schools and the neighbourhoods where those schools were situated
It all started in the early 1980s and gradually became a household name for more than a decade over which Nirman Cricket produced many future stars like Javed Omar Belim, Khaled Mahmud, and Mehrab Hossain.
Till the late '90s when the number of participating schools rose to over 400, Nirman Cricket emerged as the first step for cricketers chasing the dream of one day representing the national team. But just when school cricket in Bangladesh and the talent it generated needed the big push after the country received Test status in early 2000, focus drastically shifted from grassroots level to the national team.
"Interestingly, I didn't play Nirman Cricket but I was the only player who got a chance in the best Nirman School players list for direct entry into first division cricket. But I can still remember the craze surrounding this tournament and the fierce rivalries among schools. Now, the number of participating school has increased but that excitement, those rivalries and the festivity is missing," said former Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar.
BCB director and chairman of the age-level committee Tanjil Chowdhury, who is also the director of Prime Bank, however was optimistic about the revival of the school tournament.
“BCB has already identified many promising stars from its age level programmes and brought them under the national development programmes. We [BCB] will continue to scout and coach prospects from what is our only and most vital talent pipeline,” said Tanjil.
With not much glitz and glamour at the Zahurul Haque Hall ground in Dhaka yesterday, South Point School and College were facing Mirpur Bangla Higher Secondary School in the ongoing national school cricket competition, with the young cricketers' eyes alive with the dream of making it big.
The focus on school cricket may have seemed to diminish over the years, but one would not know that from watching the youngsters give their all to one-up their rivals. The most encouraging aspect of the new generation was their knowledge of cricket and their remarkable urge to learn.
At a time when a majority of modern-day cricketers and even youngsters tend to prefer limited-overs cricket, it was a surprise when Rahat Hossain Rakib -- the left-arm spinner of Mirpur Bangla School -- said that he enjoyed Test cricket and wanted to bowl long spells.
“My favourite cricketer is Rangana Herath of Sri Lanka as he is one of the best bowlers in Test cricket. I enjoy watching Test cricket and dream of playing Tests for Bangladesh one day. In Test cricket, you get the opportunity to bowl a lot and I just enjoy bowling,” Rakib said with a smile on his face.
While Rakib was waiting in the dressing room his teammate Yusuf Rahman Khan was hitting sixes all over the park. His father Ataur Rahman Khan was out of town for business purposes, but had returned to Dhaka just to watch his son doing the thing he loves most.
“I was out of town when my son told me that he has a game today [Thursday] and I couldn't resist coming to watch him play. Obviously, his mother is worried about his studies but I took a commitment from Yusuf -- cricket cannot hamper his studies and only if he can manage both will he be allowed to continue playing. He agreed to the deal and I am happy to see my son chasing his dreams. I would also like to thank Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who lives in the same apartment building and he encouraged my wife to let him play,” said Ataur.
In an example of how school cricket, beyond a platform to showcase young talent, is also a melting pot for youngsters of different backgrounds, Yusuf was playing against Mahfuzur Rahman -- the son of a tea stall owner from the outskirts of Dhaka in Tongi.
Mahfuzur -- an all-rounder who idolises Mehedi Hasan Miraz and is harbouring dreams of playing for the country -- was picked by the South Point School coach for his talent as one of three guest players each school is allowed.
But due to his financial disadvantage Mahfuzur could not travel by himself to take part in yesterdays' game, so one of his cousins helped out by providing the bus fare.
“I used to playing tennis-ball cricket in my locality and my father, who runs a tea stall in Tongi, encouraged me to play with a cricket ball. Due to our financial situation, our coach allowed me to practise without any monthly fees and my father tries his best to provide me all the support,” Mahfuzur said.
The eagerness of the young kids and the general outlook among parents seemed to be a positive one as they encouraged their children to chase their dreams and become professional cricketers.
However, among all the positives there were some drawbacks. There have been allegations that some schools tend to break the age-limit of cricketers and do not adhere to the bylaws that state that cricketers born before September 2002 are not allowed to take part.
Sri Lanka is possibly the best example of the tradition of school cricket taking on national importance. The famous 'Big Match' -- a school rivalry between Royal College Colombo and S Thomas' College Mount Lavinia that is older than the Ashes -- is a cause of annual celebration and festival in Sri Lanka. Also called the Battle of the Blues -- a three-day game whereas most other school matches are two-day affairs -- the rivalry will mark its 140th year in 2019.
After the fading of a once-rich tradition, it is vital that school cricket once again take its rightful place in Bangladesh cricket's supply chain because a well-rounded cricketing culture is based on providing meaningful opportunities to all available influxes of talent, and school cricket remains a vital component in that picture.