Some highs, but much frustration


AHM Mustafa Kamal’s elevation from the position of Bangladesh Cricket Board chief to the ICC vice-presidency is an unprecedented rise for a Bangladesh sports administrator. It also means his time as the head of the country’s cricket is up. During Kamal’s three-year tenure as BCB chief, the senior team won series and matches against top teams and the country co-hosted the 2011 World Cup. Kamal can also take credit for the creation of the Bangladesh Premier League, being one of the few board chiefs in the country trying to take a step towards the decentralisation of the game, and helping the board’s coffers multiply four times than what they were worth at the time he took over, ESPNcricinfo reported.
These should be enough for a cricket-board president to be hailed, not merely be described as successful, especially in a country in which the game is highly popular and such achievements are necessary. But there are negatives. A scenario of frustration and confusion, the by-products of Kamal’s leadership, could take years to mend.
Kamal’s style of functioning was to assume total control of all matters concerning the board. From matters as minor as the type of grass to use on the Mirpur outfield, to something as crucial as handling Bangladesh’s cricket diplomacy, nothing went past Kamal during his tenure. While he would readily accept his “failure” to bring professionalism to the administration side of the game, his assertive nature did not drive change.
That change could have started with the governance structure of the BCB, an archaic one that empowers sub-committees comprising councilors from different parts of the country. Professional executives as councilors, not merely those who’ve qualified on the basis of being attached to a club or an institution, could have been the answer. But it became clear fairly early that Kamal was not going to reform the system.
In fact, he went a step further than letting sub-committees or executives function: he did everything himself. The 65-year-old apparel businessman, during these three years, became the most powerful man in Bangladesh cricket.
This hands-on approach from a board president may have won some admirers, but it lost its charm when, in only his fourth month in charge, he criticised the team in front of the media with both parties sitting next to each other. Kamal took a swipe at the national team at an award ceremony during the series against India in 2010, taking everyone by surprise. He asked for the team to be “habituated with triumph” saying it would “not be acceptable” if a victory was followed by defeat the following day and asked players to “fine tune their own expectations.” So much so that it gave Shakib Al Hasan, then stand-in captain, an opportunity to stand up and reply to Kamal’s criticism on behalf of the players.
The other issue concerned selection which before Kamal took over, had already been a grey area with national selectors being questioned by a working committee. But well into 2010, there were murmurs about the president himself asking for team changes. The selectors were found holding at least three meetings before the team would be approved, and would themselves be unsure when it would be announced. It soon became clear the selectors would reluctantly let the working committee and Kamal have a say in what choices they were making; the Rafiqul Alam-led selection committee had, by then, it was feared, become pliant.
Shakib, too, became disenchanted after being only named captain for a single series, asked to lead the side in the absence of the injured Mashrafe Mortaza. At the start of 2011, however, Shakib had his way but soon enough, Kamal struck back. The battle for one name in the World Cup squad went on for several days leading up to the announcement on January 19. When it was time for the press conference, Alam was still in Kamal’s room fighting over the inclusion of a senior batsman, who would end up not playing to expectations.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Kamal explained his style of functioning: “I never thought that my job was to only complete formalities. I wanted to be involved with matters that would help the BCB. I didn’t meddle with internal issues like team selection, selection of playing eleven or even coach selection.”
Immediately after Akram Khan replaced Alam as the new chief selector, the former national captain called for greater independence in selecting teams. The practice of meddling with the selectors’ choices, however, it seemed, had been put in place and allowed to proceed.
Kamal, one of the most powerful cricket financiers in the country and a successful businessman, apart from being influential among the powers that be, didn’t give his all when it came to correcting institutional wrongs.
There were questions raised about the squad picked for the 2011 tour of Zimbabwe, as it was announced two days after the selectors had submitted to the president. It was suggested by a number of board directors that an influential, politically-connected board director had pushed for a player, though Shakib later complained that he wasn’t consulted before the naming of the team. Two weeks after the team returned from Harare, Shakib and his deputy Tamim Iqbal were unceremoniously sacked. Kamal maintains he never took the decision on his own. “It was not my own decision, I can’t sack a captain on my own,” he said.
The issue over selection came to a head before this year’s Asia Cup, when the chairman of selectors Khan snapped as soon as he saw a team-sheet without Tamim’s name after he had submitted one with it. His resignation was prompt, but Kamal insisted Tamim wasn’t dropped and that he only wanted to question the player’s fitness at the time.
“I think these issues were for the board president to deal with,” Kamal said. “For instance, when they sent me a team for approval, I had to consider their recent performance and fitness. But I discussed with the selectors before they made the team, not after.
“I am telling you, Tamim Iqbal (before the Asia Cup) was never dropped. I just wanted to give him a message: ‘Behave yourself’. It always seemed as if I was interfering but I never did.”
On the cricket diplomacy front, tours to India and Pakistan eluded Kamal. His handling of the proposed tour of Pakistan, which ultimately didn’t happen, hurt many, in both Bangladesh and Pakistan. Kamal maintained the Bangladesh government knew about his intention to see the proposal materialise, but when the tour was ultimately blocked by a petition placed in the Dhaka High Court, it was an embarrassment that could have been avoided.
Kamal also drew criticism over the appointment of a national coach, as Vincent Barnes from South Africa turned down an offer, before the board finally chose Stuart Law. In areas where the president’s attention was most required, however, Kamal’s assertiveness was found wanting. He did appoint Manzur Ahmed as the permanent CEO less than a year after he took over, but since Manzur’s death, the board went back to Nizamuddin Chowdhury, who is currently the acting CEO, a post he’d also held in the past.
Kamal is willing to admit to some failures: “There’s no professionalism in the cricket board. I have failed in this regard. We are running cricket the way we have in the past. We needed a CEO and a CFO, we should have involved more professional people.
“The directors will direct and the executives will execute, only this can bring professionalism. It is not possible according to our constitution; the functional activities is decided by committees, that’s what it says now.”
Kamal, one of the most powerful cricket financiers in the country and a successful businessman, apart from being influential among the powers-that-be, didn’t give his all when it came to correcting institutional wrongs. Instead, he tried to be, as much as he could, in the media glare (naming candidates for coaching appointments, and off-the-cuff quotes). After the series against Pakistan last year, Kamal was lucky to not be quoted as he poked fun at one of the Bangladesh players’ fitness issues in front of a group of journalists in his office at the BCB headquarters. Though, one could wonder if he’d be pleased to have his “bold opinion” come out in public.
Nazmul Hassan, the new BCB president, would do himself much good if he avoids such brinksmanship, and opt for a more pragmatic, calmer approach. His immediate issues would be to handle the senior team’s head-coach appointment, (if Richard Pybus can’t be convinced to stay for long) the investigation of a Bangladeshi umpire’s involvement in a sting operation for which he was subsequently suspended by the BCB, and find a new broadcaster after the West Indies series in December. Kamal has said he’ll try to solve the coach issue before he leaves.
Not many would argue over Kamal’s his influence in starting a new Twenty20 competition, taking strides in regional cricket and ultimately moving to a greater higher position in cricket administration. But some precedents he has set will be hard for Hassan to remove. He would have to be diplomatic, sensible and exercise self-control, something his predecessor fell significantly short of doing.