Abandoned cricket match sparked Bengalis decision for ultimate revolt

Publish: 5:22 PM, March 25, 2019 | Update: 5:22:PM, March 25, 2019

DHAKA,  – An abandoned international cricket match in Dhaka Stadium in the morning of March 25, 1971 appeared to be a landmark event to ignite the Bengalis sentiments to take their decision for ultimate revolt against Pakistani rule.

Later in the day evening Pakistan army launched genocide attacking Dhaka University and Rajarbagh Police headquarter which left Bengalis no other choice but to fight for their survival and liberate the country from Pakistani army.

As the country looks back to the 1971 episode on the eve of the 49th Independence Day, history pages suggest the match between the then Pakistan Team and an International Eleven was abandoned on that day reflecting the fuming Bengali mind.

An announcement by military ruler General Yahiya Khan postponing the much expected National Assembly session, which would have installed Awami League of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to power, angered the entire nation. And it was immediately reflected in the then Dhaka Stadium.

Many present at the stadium recalled that on that day the cricket loving spectators, many of them being premier Dhaka University students, could not remain quiet after hearing the General Yahiya Khan’s postponing of the National Assembly.

The match was abandoned as spectators torched the shamiana in the stand and throwing rubbish on the field forcing the match to be called off.

The outbreak of their anger spread like a wild fire as spectators vent their anguish screaming “Joy Bangla”.

The cricket in independent Bangladesh, however, witnessed its rebirth and subsequently earned the nation a global repute with the cricketers’ performance.

But the sport is indeed indebted to two promising cricketers — Halim Chowdhury Jewel and Mushtaq Ahmed, who made supreme sacrifice for the independence.

Jewel could be a real jewel of cricket had he not been deprived by the West Pakistan selectors who never valued his elegance and skill.

Mushtaq couldn’t be cricketer like Jewel but showed his majesty in honing the young talents, amongst which Jewel is the one.

Former Bangladesh captain Roquibul Hassan termed Mushtaq as his cricketing Godfather as he was nursed by him in his early cricketing days.

While Bangladesh Cricket holds its head high in the world cricket now, one man surely is watching them from the heaven with broad smile on his innocuous face. He is none other than Halim Chowdhury, whose passion for cricket was palpable, as described by his elder sister Suraiya Khan.

“He never gave any indication that he was going to take part in liberation war but we understood, someday somehow he would leave the house.The only thing he shared about Liberation war with us that he wants to play cricket in a free country.”

Halim Chowdhury, popularly known as Shaheed Jewel sadly didn’t have the chance to witness the liberation of Bangladesh as he died fighting occupied Pakistani Armies. But his supreme sacrifice let other players to fulfill the ambition for what he was craving for.

“People love us and term us as hero but true hero is Halim Chowdhury Jewel, true heroes are the freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives to pave the way for us to play cricket in Independent Bangladesh,” said national captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza.

“It would not be possible for us to roar in the cricket field all around the world if they didn’t sacrifice their life for this nation.

Jewel fought to clinch the right of Bangladesh red-green kit, threw grenades instead of balls to make Bangladesh free.

A right-handed opener who made his first class debut for Dacca (present Dhaka) against Public Works Department in 1966, Halim Chowdhury Jewel had played seven first class matches and also fixed his place in the then East Pakistan province team.

Roquibul Hassan, his opening partner of East Pakistan Province team termed him as elegant batsman who had also highly qualified skills with red cherry. He actually was an orthodox off break bowler.

He was also called for the first class game against Commonwealth XI in the Pakistan squad but eventually didn’t get the opportunity to play. A dashing and smart, as described by Roquibul, Jewel was finding his way to be the first person playing Test cricket from this region. However, the fate didn’t allow him to do so.

“We are indeed a middle class family and knew little about cricket. When Jewel said he would play Test cricket someday, we didn’t actually understand it. He even found no interest in study only due to the cricket and somehow managed a BA degree from Jagannath College (now the Jagannath University),” Suraiya Khan recalled his sister.

“We never thought that a young man who worships cricket all day long would join liberation war. Deep inside him, he had true patriotism which we could not unearth until we saw him on the dreadful night of 25th March. He looked messy, jaded and out-of-sort. He even started talking so little while he was little talkative.”

The reason behind his massive change was the death of his cricketing Godfather Mushtaq Ahmed, who actually brought Jewel to the cricket.

Mushtaq Ahmed was a generous man and dedicated his entire life to Azad Boys Club in which Jewel was one of the dazzling stalwarts. He was a devoted organizing member of this club and made the club tent his permanent resident to provide support and encouragement to the players.

This humble man was reluctant to leave his beloved club premise even for a bit and ultimately breathed his last gasp in the club tent as he was shot down at that horrifying night of 25 March in 1971.

Watching his dead body Jewel became numb. The family members then could understand, Jewel will flee from the house at any day.

“My mother started crying even though Jewel never said that he would join the Liberation war. One day he framed a picture of himself and gave it to our mother and said: ‘When I am not here just look at this picture.’”

In that night he left the house, unknown to the family members. He could flee to Calcutta and took part to raise international awareness for the independence of Bangladesh by playing Cricket but instead of playing, he had decided to fight back with sten-gun.

He was the one with Bodi, Azad, and Rumi who thought different and formed the first guerilla platoon called ‘Crack Platoon.’ These fearless and brazen lads led several successful operations in Dacca to become the eyesore of Pakistani Armies. And eventually everything came to an end as they all got caught on a black night of late August.

They were tortured severely. Army personnel knew Jewel as a promising cricketer and offered him to become an approver. In return he would get the offer to go to Karachi along with the opportunity of playing first class cricket again.

His audacious rejection to this proposal incented the torturers and they broke his fingers so that he couldn’t play cricket anymore. Jewel was not concerned with his approaching death; rather he was concerned with his fingers as he wouldn’t be able to spin the ball anymore!

He wanted to lead independent Bangladesh cricket team as a captain. All he wanted to play international cricket wearing red-green kits, he just wanted to wave Bangladesh flag with enormous joy.

“He used to come to house when he was in Dhaka but never shared his operation plan with us. We were four sisters and three brothers. Our one brother who was younger than Jewel was died before the liberation war, so my mother was unable to bear the loss of another son.

“Unfortunately Jewel got caught and never returned to us. Our younger brother later died after the Liberation war and my father was paralyzed after hearing the news of Jewel. My mother then single-handedly looked after us with lot of hardship-the story of hardship of the family of a freedom fighter will never be unearthed and we were not comfortable to share with anybody else.

“My brother didn’t take part in Liberation war to get something or achieve something. He only wants an Independent Bangladesh in which he will play cricket and he will represent the country at the International level through cricket.” Jewel couldn’t play cricket for Independent Bangladesh but left his legacy as the Jewel of the cricket.

Like him Mushtaq Ahmed didn’t get the chance to be more majestic in honing the young talents from Independent Bangladesh but his sacrifice was instrumental in Bangladesh’s cricketing renaissance after many days.

Many spectators may overlook the fact that two of the stands at the Sher-e-Bangla National stadium are named after Jewel and Mushtaque. Spectators hardly notice, every year during 26ht March or 16th December Suraiya Khan comes here and with tears rolling down the face, she looks to where her brother’s name is inscribed with tremendous pride.

“My only desire is for the name on the stand to be a bit larger so that it is more visible to spectators,” Suriaya Khan urged. Her only desire is an extremely trivial plea for a supreme sacrifice of his brother.