At seven, Shiekh Mohammad Shafiqul Islam lost one of his legs in a road accident. His father, a madrassah teacher, could not afford to pay for his expensive rehabilitation, as he barely managed to maintain a growing family of eight children. Shafiqul had nothing but a crutch to help him walk.
There was however one thing that kept him moving forward, and perhaps, helped him dream of a future: cricket.
Shafiqul, now 32, recalled, "I used to play cricket quite well with my friends who were not physically disabled. Then one day, I got to know there was scope to play in the national cricket team for the physically disabled. This motivated me to push forward."
Recently, we found Shafiqul engaged in net practice at Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan (BKSP) in Savar. He, along with around 100 cricketers, was camped here to participate in the ICRC T20 Tournament for People with Disabilities.
To realise his dreams of playing cricket, Shafiqul joined a Brahmanbaria-based organisation called Dream for Disability Foundation (DDF), which supports a team of physically challenged cricketers. He is currently the team's vice-captain. DDF was one of the six teams participating in the tournament.
His journey was not easy. He regularly watched live cricket matches and practised on the playground after school. He follows the batting style of all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan.
"Being a cricketer with a physical disability, do you not follow sportsmen like you?" we asked him.
"The techniques are the same for everyone. Physical fitness matters to all sportspeople,"
During on-and-off-field activities, Shafiqul walks with a crutch. But while batting, he stands on one leg. He jogs in the morning and occasionally goes to the gym to maintain fitness. He also regularly practices batting at home.
Like Shafiqul, hundreds of sports enthusiasts with physical disabilities are now dreaming big, defying all odds. And the credit goes to the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"Motivation is the main thing. We encourage patients to engage in sports to regain their confidence, mentally and physically," said CRP's sports teacher Mustafiz Rahman Bulbul.
Founded in 1979, CRP started working with ICRC in 2003 when the latter extended support for rehabilitation of people with disabilities by providing prosthesis and orthosis. The support still continues. ICRC also arranges vocational training for CRP patients.
"The patients were enthusiastic about sports. Sports help them minimise their disabilities. So, ICRC extended its support," said Mahfuzur Rahman, disability inclusion advisor to the Physical Rehabilitation Programme of ICRC, Bangladesh.
In 2012, ICRC collaborated with CRP in putting together a wheelchair basketball team. The next year, steps to build a cricket team for people with disabilities were initiated.
Representatives of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) were invited and a seminar was held with collaboration of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB).
With the technical support from ECB, in 2015, Bangladesh formed its first national team of cricketers with disabilities. That very year on 2 September, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the first ever international cricket tournament for people with physical disabilities. Five national teams including Bangladesh participated.
Shariful Islam, now a dependable batsman and wicketkeeper, was among the 16 cricketers selected for the Bangladesh team in the 2015 tournament. Since then, he has played in a number of tournaments in domestic and international grounds including Nepal and Indonesia.
Hailing from Chattogram, Shariful lost his right leg in a rail accident in 2010 when he was 14. He was a novice cricketer before the incident. After the accident, he did not give up. He kept playing cricket with his cousins.
During rehabilitation at CRP, he often played cricket under the supervision of Mustafiz Rahman Bulbul, the sports teacher. But his parents discouraged him, fearing further accidents.
"I did not listen to my parents and often played with friends at the Furqania Madrassah playground in Chattogram. My friends always encouraged me. That is why I was able to secure a place in the national team," Shariful said.
In the recent ICRC T20 Tournament, Shariful played for the Gopalganj Sporting Club. During a practice session at BKSP, which we were glad to witness, his batting and wicket keeping performances were so strong that it was hard to believe he was playing with a prosthetic leg.
Grooming cricketers to play at the national level is a tough job for any coach. And this job becomes especially challenging if the players are physically challenged. M Moniruzzaman and Raju Ahmed are among the proud coaches working with such cricketers.
Raju Ahmed said, "Training modules are similar to that of a regular team. But the practice sessions are a bit different because disabled players need more time to get used to them."
Moniruzzaman said, "Initially, we try to understand the players' physique and identify their specific disabilities - someone has lost a leg or a forearm and so on. Then we work on strengthening the rest of the limbs by fitness training," adding, "if possible, we help the players get artificial limbs. Step by step, their sporting skills grow."
Moniruzzaman believes players with physical disabilities deserve more training and camping facilities.
"The camps are tournament-based. Only during the camps do the players get nutritious food. Otherwise, they do not, because of financial insolvency. If the gap between two camps widens, players' performances drop," he said, adding that more investment is required to develop the skills of these special players.
Moniruzzaman also cited some physically challenged cricketers like Tanvir, Mahfuz and Tirtho who are now playing in mainstream cricket leagues after getting high-quality physiotherapy and sponsors.
ICRC, Bangladesh's Mahfuzur Rahman urges support from BCB, sports federations and clubs. He said, "I think we have passed the participation phase. Now we want the players to participate more in competitive tournaments, both locally and abroad."
Shafiqul has completed his graduation in social science under National University and is now waiting for a white-colour job.
"A steady income from playing cricket is not possible. But I will play cricket as long as my body allows. My continuous participation will create awareness among sports enthusiasts that nothing is impossible," he concluded.