When Afif Hossain walked into the pitch against Zimbabwe on September 13, 2019, Bangladesh still required 85 off 52 balls to win. It was not something impossible considering the current T20 standards but the problem was that the Tigers had already lost six wickets. All the stalwarts – Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah Riyad – were back in the hut.
The fans in the gallery and millions in front of TV screens were looking in horror at the match. They had to deal with a disastrous World Cup campaign just a few months ago where Bangladesh had finished eighth and was followed by an even more horrid series at Sri Lanka where the Tigers were clean swept by the hosts. And now, they were on the verge of an ignominious defeat at home to Zimbabwe who did not even qualify for the World Cup.
But the 19-year old teenager who got out for a duck on his international debut more than a year ago had other ideas. It looked like a plot from a cinema that when the damsel was in distress, the hero arrived. It looked like that destiny had got him out on zero on his debut, because he was to be baptised by fire.
Afif walked in to bat and his calmness made it look like his team were in no danger at all. His composure transpired to the whole crowd and soon, Afif started to blast the opponent bowlers and took his side nearer to the target. But what Afif was made of was seen after he notched up his first fifty in an international cricket match off only 24 deliveries.
Everyone is expected to celebrate their maiden achievement in international cricket, right? Well, Afif was not like others. Even though the win was a certainty – only five runs away – he did not celebrate.
"I did not even notice that my fifty had come up. My target was to finish the match and then celebrate. But I could not do so because I got out," grief was resolute in his voice.
Afif claimed plaudits for his man of the match performance. But expectations from him were always high since he picked up a five-wicket haul on his debut in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). After he had been the best performer for Bangladesh in the 2018 U-19 World Cup, the hopes got even higher. His attitude, accurate off-spin and exquisite batting have often seen him being considered as the next big thing of Bangladesh cricket. Like many of the Bangladeshi superstars, Afif also came through the ranks at Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan (BKSP).
Talking to The Business Standard, Afif looked back on his early days – how he got the inspiration to become a cricketer and how he got into the BKSP.
"I have been enjoying watching cricket on television from a very young age. And because of it, I started playing. And simply because I enjoyed playing the game so much, I decided to take it up as my profession," Afif reminisced.
Considering Bangladesh's socioeconomic status, it is tough for any parent to let their child take up a sport as a profession, no matter how good he/she is at that. Sport is considered to be a luxury in this country, but thankfully, Afif's parents never refused to let him go to the BKSP, rather encouraged him to go through with it.
"Since my childhood, whatever I wanted to do, they gave their approval. So, when I learned about the BKSP and told them that I wanted to get admitted there, they told me to go ahead with it."
But the BKSP was not easy for Afif at the beginning. He had never lived alone without his parents. And the ragging culture did not help either.
Afif said, "I had never experienced living in a hostel without my parents and also there was ragging from the seniors. These things were a tad painful for me and I had some difficulties to adjust there [at the BKSP] at the beginning."
Like many Bangladeshi cricketers growing up this century, Afif's idol is also this land's prodigal son Shakib Al Hasan. The left-handed batsman idolised Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist at an early age too.
"When I started watching cricket, my idol was Adam Gilchrist. Later on, when Bangladesh started doing well, it was Shakib Bhai."
Afif's debut had ended in despair as he was gone for a second-ball duck against Sri Lanka. After that, he had to come back to the national team performing everywhere he played. Afif said it was his bad luck not to get runs on his debut match and then he tried to do his best to return to the national side.
"When I got my first opportunity, unluckily I was dismissed without scoring. Then I was dropped but it was not in my hands. What was in my hands was to perform in the matches I played. So, wherever I got the chance - be it in the A team or the High Performance team, I tried to play my best to make a comeback to the national side. So when I performed, I got the opportunity to return to the national side," the 20-year old added.
The recently concluded the Bangabandhu Bangladesh Premier League T20 2019 saw Afif feature for the Rajshahi Royals. While talking about the BPL, he said there were many star players in his team and he was trying to learn from them. He was especially focusing on learning power-hitting better.
He said, "I am trying to learn from the senior players that we have in our team [Rajshahi Royals] like how they play on the field and what they do. I am looking forward to learning these things and use this experience in the future."
Afif in his leisure time likes to play games on his PlayStation4. He also takes interest in football, and his favourite teams are Brazil, Barcelona, Manchester City and Liverpool. His favourite player is Lionel Messi, and he joked about it a bit saying, "This is quite weird that Brazil is my favourite team and my favourite player is Messi, generally that does not happen."
Even though Afif came under the limelight after he picked up a five-wicket haul for Rajshahi Kings in the 2016 edition of BPL, he loves batting more than his bowling. His favourite batting positions vary from format to format as he prefers to bat at no 3 in T20s, at no 4 in ODIs and at no 5 in the longer version.
Afif was the vice-captain for the Bangladesh U-19 side in the 2018 U-19 World Cup and many have viewed him as a future captain of Bangladesh national team.
But Afif has no interest in captaincy and does not see himself as the future captain of Bangladesh.
While asked about captaincy, Afif's reply was straightforward, "No, I have no interest in captaincy at all."
As one of the biggest prospects of Bangladesh cricket, hopes are held very high for Afif. Where does Afif see himself in 10 years? Well, he hopes to give Bangladesh something good.
"I want to see myself as an established member of the Bangladesh team. I hope to provide Bangladesh with something good in the next ten years," the youngster said.
Fans of Bangladesh team though hope that Afif not only meets his objective but surpasses it by a long distance. His nickname "Dhrubo" means constant. And what Bangladesh fans hope is he will not only be a constant in Bangladesh cricket, but also in the history books of the game.