Ashraful’s fall from grace and a few unanswered questions

Mohammad AshrafulFile photo

6 June, 2013. Mohammad Ashraful appeared in front of the media in an impromptu press conference. Ashraful is no stranger to facing the media, he has been doing it since he was a teenager. But this press meet was unlike any he had done before.

A guilt-ridden and exhausted Ashraful stood in front of the media as tears rolled down his cheeks. Board president Nazmul Hassan had already told the press a few hours back about Ashraful’s confession. The speculations were true. Mohammad Ashraful, the youngest Test centurion in history, had admitted to being involved in match fixing in the Bangladesh Premier League and international cricket.

The press gathered below Ashraful’s residence in Banasree that day to ask him a simple question that was running through the minds of every Bangladesh cricket fan that day, “Why”?

After getting the green light from ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACSU) to speak with the media, the former Bangladesh captain came downstairs, stood in front of the reporters and somehow got a few words out of his mouths.

“I will just say one thing, please forgive me.”

Mohammad Ashraful
File photo

Through the media, Ashraful asked for forgiveness from the fans who had stood by him during failures and made him the country’s first ever cricketing superstar. He pleaded for forgiveness from his coaches and teammates who helped him ascend to the pinnacle of Bangladesh cricket. He also asked for forgiveness from the country which he had the great honour of representing for years and who he had betrayed in the most heinous manner possible for a cricketer.

The tears rolling down the cheeks of Ashraful were of guilt, repentance or of plain embarrassment. It might’ve softened the hearts of some fans, but wasn’t enough to save him from a heavy sentencing.

After a year-long investigation, Ashraful was banned for eight years by the BPL anti-corruption tribunal in 14 June, 2014, for his involvement in fixing matches in the BPL. Sri Lankan all-rounder Kaushal Lukarachchi, former New Zealand international Lou Vincent and the chairman and one of the owners of Dhaka Gladiators, the franchise Ashraful played for, were handed bans of different durations. After an appeal, Ashraful’s ban got reduced to five years, with two years suspended.

Mohammad Ashraful raises his bat after notching up a century on debut
File photo

Ashraful’s exodus ended in 2016 and he has since returned to the cricket field, played in different domestic competitions and has even played lower grade cricket in the US and UK.

But the doors of the Bangladesh team have remained closed for him since the incident. The right-hander is trying his hardest and is still hoping to play at the highest level for at least one more time, but with every passing day the chances of that happening is going down.

The match-fixing scandal virtually ended Ashraful’s international career at just 29 years of age. From the biggest star in the country’s cricket, he now has become an afterthought and is held responsible for the most disgraceful chapter in the history of Bangladesh cricket.

But an important aspect of Ashraful’s punishment and that of others goes unnoticed. The punishments were doled out only for fixing games in BPL. Ashraful’s admission of being involved in match-fixing while playing for Bangladesh was swept under the rug.

The investigation started when Bangladesh Cricket Board called upon ACSU to investigate some matches of the second edition of the BPL for corruption. Three matches of the Dhaka franchise were marked as suspicious.

In all three of those games, Ashraful led the team in place of regular skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. The ACSU officials interrogated Ashraful about those matches. He agreed to being involved in match-fixing and also said who else were involved.

Mohammad Ashraful
File photo

But Ashraful didn’t stop there. He also revealed that he has been involved in spot-fixing since 2004. Ashraful reportedly gave three names, which were later revealed by the media to be Khaled Mahmud, Khaled Mashud and Mohammad Rafique, who introduced him to Indian bookmakers.

This was an explosive revelation, one which the board or ACSU were not expecting. The board had the chance to dig deeper into Ashraful’s statement, to find out how deep the root of corruption goes in Bangladesh cricket.

But the BCB decided to turn a blind eye to that part of Ashraful’s confession. Perhaps the board was scared what they would find if they kept digging. Or worse, they already knew who would get exposed and didn’t want their names to come out.

The people Ashraful reportedly said first introduced him to the dark world of match-fixing, are still active in the country’s cricket scene. Some of them are holding positions in the board, are coaching in top clubs and are even involved with the national team.

It has been nine years since Ashraful’s tearful admission. His admission to guilt could’ve been a turning point in Bangladesh cricket. It was a chance to eradicate every ounce of the match-fixing virus from the country’s cricket. Instead, we see Ashraful still paying the price for his misdoings while the string-pullers go scot-free.