Akram Khan served Bangladesh with great distinction, both as player and captain. It was under his captaincy that the country took its first strides towards international cricket, when he led the team to the ICC Trophy triumph in 1997, thereby ensuring qualification for the 1999 World Cup.
Akram then became the first Bangladesh captain to taste victory in One-Day Internationals when his team beat Kenya in a triangular series in Hyderabad in 1998. He also played a key role in Bangladesh's first big victory in international cricket, scoring a valuable 42 in the upset victory over Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup.
In his 15 years of international cricket, he played 44 ODIs and eight Tests, captaining Bangladesh in 15 one-dayers. He announced his retirement in 2004, but continued to play club cricket till recently.
In an exclusive chat with Special Correspondent Harish Kotian, Akram, who will don the role of national selector from June, reflects on Bangladesh's slow but steady rise on the world stage.
Did you expect Bangladesh to produce such a good result at the just-concluded World Cup?
No. Before the World Cup I told the chairman of selectors that I have played in the West Indies and the conditions are similar to Asian countries. So, I thought teams like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would do well at the World Cup. But in the first match against India, Bangladesh did really well. Their batting, bowling and fielding was excellent because of which we won against India.
Against Sri Lanka, we did not perform that well and in the matches that followed, except against South Africa.
It was a good achievement for Bangladesh. If we would have beaten Ireland, then it would have been even better. Losing to Ireland was a bit sad for us.
You had criticised the selectors after the team was selected for the World Cup. Now after such a good showing, do you think you were wrong in doing so?
I didn't say anything about the selection of the team. All I said was about [coach Dav] Whatmore. I had expected that the team would improve a lot under Whatmore, but I don't think we improved as much as we should have.
Even in the first one-dayer against India, our batting order was not correct. Javed Omar didn't play before for around five months before the World Cup and, at the last moment, he was included for the World Cup. That was what I had told the journalists then.
You don't seem to be satisfied with Whatmore. Do you think Whatmore could have done more as the coach of Bangladesh?
Yes, Whatmore could have done more for Bangladesh.
What more do you think he could have done?
As you saw in the last match of the World Cup against Ireland, we did not get a good opening partnership. Javed Omar got a chance and after two matches Shahriar Nafees came into the team. This thing is not good and I did not like it.
Even Whatmore had said in 2003 that his target is the 2011 World Cup, but I don't think we did well in the last match. I think we need to improve.
What is your take on Tamim Iqbal, who seems to have become a big hit in Bangladesh? He is also your nephew, so you might have seen him closely.
Our family was always involved in sport. My elder brother played both cricket and football. Then I played cricket for my country. One of my nephews, Nafees Iqbal, he played for a couple of years for Bangladesh. He is injured now.
As far as Tamim is concerned, from the beginning I knew that he would be a fantastic player. He is a stroke-maker and he always plays positively. I think in two to three years time he will become one of the best players in our country.
When did you realize that he has the potential to make it big?
I was busy during my cricket days. He used to stay in Chittagong with my family and he used to play at lot of school cricket and the Under-13 and Under-15 level. I had read in the newspapers that he was doing well. It was only last year that I played with him in a club match, and he scored 188 in a one-day match. I was just surprised.
Habibul Bashar may not take part in ODIs in future. Do you think Mohammad Ashraful should be given the captaincy after Bashar?
I think he is the right person to lead the side. After all, he has the experience of having played more than 100 one-day internationals.
But at 22, isn't he too young to lead a side?
But he has played so much international cricket. There is no other player in the side with that much of experience. He has got a lot of experience as a captain in domestic cricket.
Looking back at your days with Bangladesh, when they were starting out in international cricket and now when they are no longer considered minnows, are you happy with the progress, especially in the last two seasons?
Yes, I am very happy with our performance, because winning or losing is not a factor for Bangladesh cricket now. Our body language, our approach and our mental strength is very much positive now.
I think we have to improve our domestic strength. If we manage to do that, Inshallah, in two or three years we will get a few more talented players and we will perform better than now.
Bangladesh won the ICC Trophy in 1997 under your captaincy. Would you rate that as a greater achievement for Bangladesh than making it to the Super Eights at the 2007 World Cup?
Winning is always good for the team. In 1997, the times were different. Then cricket was not popular like now. The facilities were not as good as now. Winning the ICC Trophy was special, and even this World Cup performance too is special.
In many ways was the 1997 ICC Trophy victory a kick-start for Bangladesh cricket?
Before 1997, everybody was crazy about football. But after 1997, cricket became the number one sport in our country.
Do you think the next Bangladesh coach will be a foreign one or someone from the country?
I think they will definitely go for a foreign coach. I heard they will get a coach from Australia or South Africa.