Widely respected and loved cricket coach Syed Altaf Hossain, credited as being the first cricket coach of independent Bangladesh, breathed his last on Tuesday evening at the age of 81 at his residence in Dhaka. Born in 1938 in Hooghly, Altaf was a National Sports Award recipient in 1999 and also served as the Bangladesh national team's coach. He was also certified as a first-class umpire by the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan in 1970, and before that he was the first cricketer from then East Pakistan to get a call-up to a 14-man squad for the Pakistan national team in 1965 against New Zealand. After Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, cricketing activities were stalled in the new nation till 1973, and it was Altaf who spearheaded its revival by joining the Bangladesh Krira Parishad as the first cricket coach of Bangladesh. Well-known cricket writer and coach Jalal Ahmed Chowdhury shared his memories of the great man yesterday over their 50-year friendship. The following are excerpts of Jalal's reminiscences:
For someone like myself, who had a long 50-year association with the man, it is very difficult to organise my thoughts on this day as my memories of Syed Altaf Hossain come pouring down like rain.
The country's cricket fraternity is mourning a death of a true giant who has blessed this nation and indeed the people in sporting sphere with his majestic personality, great skills and his signature gentleman attitude -- a true star that we have had the privilege of calling our very own.
He defined an era with passion, sincerity and commitment.
I can still remember a delivery from a bowler of his height looked like it was coming from a two-storied building, his first entry into the field as our first international umpire, his towering sixes at the outdoor stadium and his transformation into a batsman from a pace bowler and much more. Above all, I remember the wholesomeness of his presence.
WHY HE WAS SPECIAL?
He was the first cricketer from erstwhile East Pakistan to get selected for a Test squad when he was named in the Pakistan side for the first Test against New Zealand in 1965, he was also a top-rated umpire with the experience of officiating in first-class matches. He had played a pioneering role in the re-emergence of the game in Bangladesh in the period following the Liberation War and one cannot imagine these days the struggle he had to go through to shape the game in this country after independence.
In an illustrious career Syed Altaf Hossain was most famed for his role as a coach as he became the first licensed cricket coach. Apart from his role as the head coach of the Bangladesh male national cricket team, his role in creating a base for women's cricket in the country is unmatched because there were not too many people around who believed that women's cricket could take off in this conservative society. He received the National Sports Award in 1999 and the Prothom-Alo Lifetime Award in 2011.
If we want to describe him in one word, it would be 'versatile'. All this information is good enough to understand why he was special but it will not come close to describing him as an entity if we only focus on mere facts.
For me there is more to say.
He was a superstar when I was a beginner in cricket but I never saw a star-like vanity. He never used any harsh words towards anybody but still, the ever-smiling great man encouraged many like me to come to cricket, come to coaching and come to umpiring. He had a high profile but as a human being he maintained a low profile.
He was a legend on all levels and to top it off, an absolute gentleman. For me it was an honour and a privilege to get the opportunity to spend time with such a legend.
Why do we remember him and why does the new generation need to remember him? The answer is very simple -- the lessons we need to learn from the life of this great legend is for us to rally our young people behind art, education and the spirit of the game. His values should cut across all generations
I cannot remember if anyone ever had any bad word to say about him or whether he uttered anything like that; you may think that's a fairytale these days.
Whatever he has achieved and contributed, no undertaker will be able to bury those under the earth.