Exclusive Interview with Soumya Sarkar: “The defeat against india was a major setback for us’’: The recent progress of Bangladesh in international cricket has sowed the seeds of hope in the hearts of 15 million Bangladeshi inhabitants who have been vociferously supporting their beloved team through thick and thin over the years. Having bared the brunt of apparent laxity for the past two decades, the newfound resurgence of the team in the realms of global cricket has rekindled the ardour of passion among the sports-frenzied fans of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has indeed been in ascendance of late, having scored upsets over Sri Lanka and Pakistan to finish as runners-up in the recently concluded Asia Cup on home soil. Thus, many were hopeful of witnessing an extended honeymoon for the team in the ICC World T20. But, a substandard show in the Super Ten matches and a chocking defeat against India at Bangalore left their fans shell-shocked and their campaign shattered. The Bangladeshi team arrived in Kolkata a few days ago to play their last game of the Super Ten round against New Zealand at the Eden Gardens. CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu took the opportunity to catch up with one of the future flag bearers of Bangladesh cricket, Soumya Sarkar. The left handed top order batsman has been showing a lot of promise since bursting onto the international scene two years ago. Sarkar has accumulated 107 runs from 3 Tests (at an average of 21.40), 692 runs from 15 ODIs (at an average of 49.43) and 299 runs from 19 T20Is (at an average of 15.74) in his brief spell in the international circuit so far. The 23 year old opened up on a wide array of topics ranging from his childhood ambitions, his cricketing idols, his ODI debut and their key to success in the international arena lately. Coincidentally, it was Bangladesh’s 46th Independence Day and the occasion was worth having a conversation with him.
Q: So the Bangladeshi team has visited India after a span of 26 years. This is the first Indian tour of all the players of the current generation. How has the experience ben so far?
Sarkar: The overall experience has been quite good. To play on Indian grounds in front of heaps of Indian spectators has been exciting as well. I think we played reasonably well in the game against India at Bangalore. It was a game we should have won but nonetheless, it was a thrilling game to be a part of and the atmosphere at the Chinnaswamy was electrifying too.
Q: Have you people done any shopping in India as of yet?
Sarkar: Yeah, a few of my teammates have done some shopping in your country but unfortunately I haven’t been able to buy anything here till now (Leers). Ideally, I would like to buy something from Kolkata. Let’s see. We still have a day in hand. Some of my teammates actually went to offer Namaz at the Mohammedan Ground yesterday and they are all praise for the rousing reception they have been getting from the people of Kolkata.
Q: You and Mustafizur (Rahman) hail from Satkhira which is in the Khulna district of Bangladesh. What’s the cricketing infrastructure in Satkhira like and is there any sense of enthusiasm regarding cricket among the general public over there?
Sarkar: At one point in time, there used to be a lot of cricket in Satkhira. It had been so before I stepped into cricket. Nowadays you won’t find that many games being played over there. Before I and Mustafiz progressed onto the international level, Shiplu da (Robiul Islam) was the sole representative from Satkhira in the national team. However, our induction into the national set-up has revitalised a sense of passion for cricket among the inhabitants of Satkhira. The signs of infrastructural improvement have been positive though in the past two years or so.
Q: Kindly talk us through your childhood. How did cricket begin for you?
Sarkar: I started playing cricket in 2005 after joining a cricket academy named BKSP (Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan) which happens to be Bangladesh’s biggest sports organisation. I graduated through the age-groups at BKSP before making my international debut for the senior team two years ago. So, my six years at BKSP have actually helped me reach this far.
Q: You have played for Bangladesh across various age-group levels. You are still fairly young. How did you manage your academics while playing cricket simultaneously?
Sarkar: To be frank, it has been a bit challenging for me to balance the scales. Academics are accorded special significance in my family as my father was himself a Bengali teacher in a government school at Satkhira. At BKSP, both sports and education are concurrently imparted to the residential students. I would be busy playing cricket for a major part of the year and thereby, my institute made a special provision to conduct my annual examinations during my season breaks. That flexibility was necessary for me to keep my cricketing ambitions going and I would like to take the honour of thanking BKSP sincerely and wholeheartedly for their support.
Q: Who were your cricketing role models while growing up?
Sarkar: When I actively used to watch cricket in my childhood days, I was a keen admirer of Sourav Ganguly, Adam Gilchrist and Brian Lara as all three of them were left-handed batsmen. Then as I was growing up, I began to develop veneration for Shakib-Al-Hasan who had evolved into a potent match winner for Bangladesh by 2009. It’s feels amazing to share the dressing room with people you have grown up worshipping. But if you ask me about any particular cricketer whom I followed ardently as a child, I would say it’s Yuvraj Singh. He was my favourite cricketer in my childhood.
Q: And, you also had the opportunity to play against your idol on a couple of occasions earlier this year. We have learnt from our sources that Yuvraj Singh presented you with an autographed jersey of his at Le Meridien hotel, where both the Bangladeshi and Indian teams were residing during the Asia Cup. Tell us about that experience.
Sarkar: It was obviously a remarkable experience for me. I asked Shakib da (Shakib-Al-Hasan) to convince Yuvraj to have a small conversation with us. I am an introverted person by nature and as a result I was finding it difficult to approach Yuvraj. As I was about to leave the restaurant of the hotel where Team India was also having its lunch, I heard Yuvraj call my name from behind. I walked up to him and he congratulated me on my match winning knock of 48 against Pakistan which had come a day before. Then he flippantly warned me not to go after his bowling in the final. I can’t explain to you how elated I was when I received the autographed jersey from him. It is clearly one of the distinct highlights of my brief career so far.
Q: One of our followers from Kolkata has a question for you. His name is Suman Chakravorty. His question is, ‘’Your cover drives often remind us of Sourav Ganguly. Are you anxious of breaking the jinx of the tag ‘Brilliant 35’ which has become associated with your name in recent times’’?
Sarkar: Haha (Guffaws), this tag has indeed been linked to my name in recent times. I have got out cheaply on plenty of occasions in the past after having chiselled my way to twenties and thirties with apparent ease. I aim to turn the tables as quickly as I can. Our coach, Chandika Hathurasingha has personally urged me to work on my weak spots and formulate a strategy of converting my starts into big scores. I have been concentrating on that. I hope I will be able to bounce back stronger when we play our next international series against India later this year. Talking about my cover drives, it does feel heartening at times at hearing that people see a reflection of Sourav Ganguly’s famous cover drives in my shot. As I mentioned before, I was an ardent admirer of Dada in my childhood and compliments such as this inspire me to perform more consistently.
Q: You represented Bangladesh in two Under-19 World Cups in 2010 and 2012. There was this match between Australia and Bangladesh in the 2012 edition in which you dismissed Australia’s Jimmy Peirson by way of mankading. You felt it was necessary at that moment?
Sarkar: To be honest, I didn’t do it intentionally. I just wanted to give him a warning. The match situation demanded me to make that move. But I think the media took it too seriously. However later I realized that such tactics eventually hamper the spirit of cricket and I would like to convey through your website that I will ensure I don’t repeat such mistakes in the future. I can vouch for that.
Q: It was the final ODI of Bangladesh’s 3-match series against Zimbabwe in 2014 where a 21 year old Soumya Sarkar made his international debut. Who handed over your ODI cap to you before the start of the game and what kind of a state of mind were you at that particular stage?
Sarkar: It was Mushfiq bhai (Mushfiqur Rahim) who presented me with my ODI cap. Representing Bangladesh on the international scene is a great honour and I was naturally giddy with excitement after being informed that I was going to make my international debut in that game. Moreover, the fact that I made my debut on home soil (at Dhaka) in front of local spectators came as the icing on the cake.
(For the sake of statistics, Sarkar scored an 18-ball 20 in his ODI debut in 2014)
Q: When you made your way into the international circuit, the Bangladeshi dressing room had an amazing blend of experience and youth with the amalgamation of seniors like Mashrafe Mortza, Tamim Iqbal, Shakib-Al-Hasan and youngsters like you and Sabbir Rahman. How did the seniors motivate you during the germinal stage of your career?
Sarkar: They still encourage us. Actually, I joined the team for one solitary game of that series and so naturally, I couldn’t build rapport with the senior members at that point in time. I had butterflies in my stomach before taking to the field but once the match got underway, I settled down and was able to focus on the game which was in our hands.
Q: You also happen to be a part time seam bowler. How’s the other aspect of your game progressing?
Sarkar: It is going alright. I would definitely like to assist the team with my bowling prowess as and when the Captain requires me to bowl. I seek Heath Streak’s advice at times and he has recommended a few things to me.
Q: The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup was your first major tournament. Was any specific role assigned to youngsters like you and Sabbir Rahman for that tournament?
Sarkar: There was no specific assignment as such. My domestic performances had earned me a place in the squad for the World Cup. I remember I scored some ninety odd runs (97 to be precise) for my club in the Dhaka Premier League which perhaps fetched me a place in the 15 member squad which travelled to Australia. The team management backed me to play my natural game and I was granted the freedom to play all my shots in that tournament. I was not required to do anything ‘out of the box’. I am grateful to the team management for entrusting me with that freedom.
Q: Bangladesh had a reasonably good campaign in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 barring the Quarter-Final loss against India. You people defeated England to make it to the knockout round of a World Cup for the first time. Then, in the Quarter-Final you squared off against a sturdy Indian side in front of around 70,000 at the MCG. Kindly narrate your team’s journey in the 2015 World Cup.
Sarkar: It was an incredible journey. I had the gut feeling that I would be picked for the World Cup squad and it so happened. But to be given the breakthrough so early in my career came as a surprise for me. The match against England was a crucial one. Mahmud bhai (Mahmudullah Riyad) scored a wonderful century in that game which enabled us to put up a solid first innings total on the board. Then our pack of fast bowlers led by Rubel Hossain bowled beautifully to ensure a victory for us.
The Quarter-Final was indeed a special occasion for us. To play in front of those many spectators at an iconic ground like the MCG and that too against opponents as India was more like a fantasy for youngsters like me and Sabbir. But the seniors were experienced enough to guide us through that anxious phase.
Q: The Quarter-Final loss had generated an outrage among the fans over umpiring row for many thought that it was a conspiracy on the part of ICC to deprive Bangladesh of a certain victory. In an act of protest against the issue, the then ICC President Mustafa Kamal resigned from his position. What were the reactions of the team to that incident?
Sarkar: The decisions of the umpires are not our in our hands and we can’t alter them. We have been told by the team management not to speak about this particular issue.
Q: You mean to say there is no agitation within the camp regarding that episode?
Sarkar: Not any longer. We have left that far behind.
Q: It is said in the realms of Bangladesh cricket that the credit for the enhancement of the team’s performance at the international level should be given to three people in particular- your Captain Mashrafe Mortaza, your bowling coach Heath Streak and your manager Khaled Mahmud Sujon. What sort of collective influence have they had on the team?
Sarkar: The three names that you have just mentioned are the principal people behind Bangladesh’s enhanced performance in recent times. They have always extended their support to us and encouraged us, especially the youngsters to play fearless cricket on the field irrespective of who the opposition is. Then, we keep having plenty of interactions with them from time to time pertaining to how we can enrich our game and those discussions are helping us big time now. So, all three of them can be referred to as the three pillars of Bangladeshi cricket.
Q: You got to your maiden ODI ton (127 off 110 balls) against Pakistan at the Sher-e-Bangla National stadium in 2015. What was the experience of scoring your first international century like?
Sarkar: Scoring the first century in international cricket is a moment of pride for any batsman. That’s what one dreams of as a cricketer. To play that knock against a strong team like Pakistan made the occasion even more splendid. I was aided by Tamim Iqbal from the other end who eased the pressure off me significantly and because of that I could pace my knock in that fashion. After Tamim bhai was dismissed, Mushfiq bhai came in and we notched up a good partnership between us. So, it was a team effort. I rotated the strike and when got the opportunity, I hit the loose balls for boundaries. The day went well for me as we clinched the series 3-0.
Q: The next series was against India where a revelation in the form of Mustafizur Rahman announced his arrival in style by wreaking havoc in the famous batting line-up of the visitors. Did your team make any specific blueprint for that series?
Sarkar: We did some homework about the strengths and weaknesses of their top order and emphasised those. We went about our business accordingly and it paid off. We all knew Mustafiz was a special bowler but we didn’t expect him to find his groove straightaway. That was an added bonus for us and it was he who eventually won us the series.
Q: You have been observing Mustafizur closely over the years. What is it that makes him so special? You reckon he can move into the Top 5 bowlers of World Cricket in the near future?
Sarkar: Look, the media has made a lot of analysis about his off-cutters but in order to execute them properly, you need oodles of practice. In this respect, he is no different from any other fast bowler. He toils hard in the nets in pursuit of mastering his skills. At one point in time, he used to travel around 25 miles every day just to play cricket. His performance actually reflects his perseverance. I think that he will not only break into the Top 5 bowlers in the future but can also become the No. 1 bowler in World Cricket. He has got every chance to do so if he keeps his level of dedication towards the game intact.
Q: In the first ODI of the series against India, there was a collision between Mustafizur and M.S Dhoni while Dhoni was scampering for a run. Later, both of them were fined for that incident. As a witness to the event, could you share with our readers what exactly had happened at that moment?
Sarkar: (Takes time to answer), Staying in the field doesn’t always imply that you are in a position to observe all the proceedings visibly. What I could notice was both of them collided in the middle of the pitch. Obviously, when you watch the same picture from different angles on Television, you are in a better position to judge what exactly has happened. I believe none of them did it deliberately and I can’t comment on anything else.
Q: You won the Man of the Series award in the ODI series against South Africa in July last year. Did you prepare any differently before facing the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada?
Sarkar: I backed my natural instincts and tried to play my normal game. I generally like to play a lot of strokes and I was successful in doing so in that series. I focussed on capitalizing on my starts and building my innings. A while ago we were talking about that ‘Brilliant 35’ tag and my primary emphasis in that series had been to convert my starts into significant scores. I came back a lot stronger from my World Cup experience and counting on that experience, I started practising with tennis balls on concrete pitches after returning back home. That kind of helped me prepare for the South Africa series.
Q: One of the most vibrant supporters of Bangladesh has been your Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Do you people have frequent interactions with her? How does she boost the morale of the team?
Sarkar: (Smiles) We don’t have frequent interactions with her but whenever we play any major game or any major tournament, she sends a mail or passes a voice message onto us. Even in our game against Pakistan in the Asia Cup, she was present throughout the match. She is a very sporting person.
Q: OK then. One of Bengal’s First Class cricketers, Sudip Chatterjee has put a question for you. He wants to know what has been Bangladesh’s success recipe on the international scene in the past 18 months or so.
Sarkar: Every individual in the team likes to play with freedom. We made every possible effort to deliver our level best on the field every time we step on it. But the most important reason behind our resurgence has been the fact that we have subordinated our individual interests to the team’s interest as a whole. We play for one another in the team and this has evidently seeped into our on-field display. So playing for the cause of every other member has benefited us in a big way.
Q: Is the BPL (Bangladesh Premier League) helping cricket grow in Bangladesh? Will it come in handy in the long run?
Sarkar: Yes. It is a good platform for us to showcase our talent and gives us a chance to rub shoulders with several overseas players and legends of the game. The BPL might not be as prominent as the Big Bash or the IPL on the global map, but it is certainly heading towards the right direction. It was because of playing for the Rangpur Riders in the BPL last time around, that I got to share the dressing room with people like Misbah-ul-Haq, Darren Sammy, Lendl Simmons and Thisara Perera. Although, we get to play against them in the international circuit, sharing the dressing room with them is a completely different proposition. Moreover, the youngsters are taking this league seriously and in a way it’s bolstering a sense of competitiveness among the domestic players of Bangladesh.
Q: Let’s now discuss Bangladesh’s performance in the Asia Cup this year. Did you people have the belief that you could reach the final before the tournament actually kicked off?
Sarkar: Yes, certainly. We knew that if we could play to our potential, we would definitely reach the final.
Q: So, would you call the current Bangladeshi team the ‘second best team’ in Asia at the moment behind India?
Sarkar: Well, that’s for the media to decide. But our performance in the recently concluded Asia Cup indicates so.
Q: Your Test average (22.24) is lower as compared to your ODI average (49.32). How do you think you could improve that?
Sarkar: I think more practice in First Class cricket can help me improve my Test average. I am working hard on it in the net sessions.
Q: The ICC World T20 hasn’t been a satisfactory tournament for you people. Besides, the suspension of Arafat Sunny and Taskin Ahmed made things worse. Where else do you think you went wrong in that tournament?
Sarkar: I think it was lack of overall experience in the squad that hindered our performance in the World T20 this time around. Guys like me, Sabbir and Al-Amin haven’t played any major tournament hitherto apart from the 2015 Cricket World Cup. So, this is one area where we need improvement. Then, the defeat against India came as a setback. Obviously we will all gain more international experience under our belts by the time the next ICC event commences and hopefully you will be able to see a better display from us at that time.
Q: You reckon the inclusion of both Sunny and Taskin could have boosted Bangladesh’s chances?
Sarkar: I think so. Taskin has been a vital cog in the wheel for us in recent times. He and Mustafiz could have formed a formidable new ball pair. He was among the wickets before being placed under suspended and was thereby an important part of our plans. So yes, it was a big blow to our World T20 fortunes.
Q: Soumya, the rapid fire round is up next. Shall we begin?
Sarkar: Hmmm, yes, absolutely.
Q: Your nickname.
Q: Your favourite cuisine.
Sarkar: Mutton curry cooked in Bengali style.
Q: Your favourite holiday destination.
Sarkar: New Zealand.
Q: Your favourite cricket stadium.
Sarkar: The Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.
Q: Your favourite movie.
Sarkar: Aamir Khan’s ‘Lagaan’.
Q: Your hobbies.
Sarkar: Chatting with friends, which in Bengali we call ‘adda deoa’ and watching TV.
Q: Any particular superstition that you practise before going for a match?
Sarkar: Ah (Pauses for a while and continues), I speak to my mother over the phone before the start of every game. I don’t know whether it’s a superstition or otherwise, but it helps bolster a sense of self-confidence in me.
Q: Which one appeals to you more? Test cricket or limited-overs cricket?
Sarkar: Test matches.
Q: If not a cricketer, then what?
Sarkar: Perhaps, a full-time teacher in some school (Leers).
Q: Best compliment you have received in your brief cricketing career so far.
Sarkar: I remember Jonty Rhodes had tweeted about the catch which I took against Pakistan in our Super Ten match in the World T20 at Eden after covering around 15 metres in the outfield. He lauded me for that effort on Twitter.
Q: Your favourite cricketing moment as of yet.
Sarkar: When I made my international debut for Bangladesh against Zimbabwe a couple of years ago.
Q: Your message to Bangladeshi fans on Bangladesh’s 46th Independence Day.
Sarkar: First of all, I would like to wish all my fellow citizens of Bangladesh a Happy Independence Day. Keep supporting us the way you have been backing us over the years. The Tigers are absolutely nothing without the support we receive from you people. Every time we step on the field, we try to deliver hundred per cent of our effort. They do not translate into results sometimes. But we enjoy representing our country. India’r biruddhe haar’ta bedonadayok chhilo botey, kintu amra ghure daarabo. Kothha dilaam (The loss against India was disappointing but I promise we will recuperate soon enough).
Q: Is the defeat against India at Bangalore the biggest disappointment for the Bangladeshi team of late?
Sarkar: Personally speaking, it was. The game had been in our grasp until 19.3 overs. However, commenting from the dug-out and facing the music on the 22 yards are two different things altogether. Luck swayed their way in the final over and they eventually emerged victorious in that game. It wouldn’t have felt so distressing had we been off-colour and had the match not been so closely contested. We fought hard though and gave all that we had on that particular day at Bangalore.
Q: The final question. Once the senior pros like Mashrafe, Tamim and Mushfiqur retire, the baton of guiding Bangladesh cricket to new heights will be passed on to youngsters like you, Mustafizur and Mominul. Where do you intend to see the Bangladeshi team in five years from now?
Sarkar: We aim to break into the Top Five teams in the ICC rankings across all three formats. We are already placed seventh in the ICC ODI Rankings and we will crave for development in Tests and T20Is. Prior to the Asia Cup, cynics believed that we don’t have the firepower to succeed in T20Is but we proved them wrong by reaching the final. Also, we need to win more Test matches from hereon and it will be imperative for us to win more Test matches overseas. The BCB has been very cooperative to us in terms of providing adequate facilities and infrastructure. If we play more international matches against the top sides more often, I am sure we will get better in the near future.