Akbar Ali-led Bangladesh Under-19 side have become the hero of the nation overnight after they beat India in the final of the ICC U-19 World Cup and became the World Champions.
Akbar, the skipper of the side, was the hero of the hour for Bangladesh as he played a crucial knock of 43 runs to ensure a win for Bangladesh. His calculated innings steered Bangladesh home to a tricky target of 178. And as expected, the celebrations were wild once Bangladesh surpassed India and Akbar finally breathed with happiness.
Their victory meant that the night turned into a festive night. The whole of Bangladesh was celebrating and there were processions in Akbar's hometown Rangpur. And Akbar smiled when he was handed the World Cup trophy.
Akbar smiled throughout the post-match presentation and the press conference. But what does not come out in the spotlight is the sadness that was hovering in his mind since the 22nd of January.
Akbar had left for South Africa to play the World Cup, leaving his healthy sister behind. But before he could return with the trophy, his sister left the world for eternity.
Akbar's sister Khadiza Khatun will not have the joy of seeing her brother return home with the glory of a hero. Khadiza, a speech-disabled, died on January 22 while giving birth to a twin. But the news could not break Akbar. He turned grief into strength as he steered his team to the crown.
Khadiza was Akbar's only sister. She had unbounded interest in her brother's cricket. Whenever Akbar went to play cricket, she would sit on her prayer mat and seek divine blessings for his team's success. Akbar conquered the world with his superb play but Khadiza was no more to celebrate.
Khadiza enjoyed the match of Akbar's team against Zimbabwe. Khadiza was eagerly waiting to see the next match, but could not win her own fight. At first, Akbar was not given the news of her death. But it could not be suppressed and Akbar somehow got the heartbreaking news.
After the match against Pakistan was abandoned for rain, Akbar called his brother. He asked why he was not given the news on time.
His father Mohammad Mostafa was unable to describe the situation created by that phone call.
In a choked voice Akbar's father told The Business Standard, "What can I say about this now! We are not lucky enough to celebrate such a happy moment. You know the news about my only daughter. This is a very big jolt for us. I express gratitude to Allah because Akbar could play, putting aside this shock."
Akbar's elder brother, Murad Hossain also could not put the situation into words. His voice became moist when the issue of his only sister Khadiza came up. Murad said, "We four brothers had only one sister. My sister could not speak but she was very affectionate towards us. We did not inform Akbar about such a tragic incident. When he got the news he made a phone call. He asked why we did not inform him."
Akbar brought the World Cup home on the 19th day of his beloved sister's death. He set an example of how to combat grief and still play his part.
Akbar's story is one of going through hardship since childhood. His parents would not let him play but he persisted. And once he showed his prowess, his family was on his side.
He at first got admitted to a cricket academy in Rangpur before getting into Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishthan (BKSP) in 2012. And from there on, there was no looking back.
His inspiration was his elder brother Murad Hossain who was also a professional cricketer. Murad, who left cricket in 2017, played in the Dhaka League and the Khulna Premier League. Akbar's interest in cricket was boosted seeing Murad.
Murad, excited at his younger brother's success, said, "It cannot be put into words. Akbar's achievement is the whole country's attainment. I got him admitted to BKSP. I also played cricket. I played with Elias Sunny, (Shamsur Rahman) Shuvo in the Dhaka League, Khulna Premier League. My brother achieved what I could not."
And now Akbar has won the World Cup coming from a small town in Rangpur. And his mother, Shahida Begum, was also unable to express her feelings about her son's triumph properly. She only said, "It is the victory of all people. Akbar has reached this stage through much hardship. I request you all to pray for him."
Akbar has come a long way from his days when he played cricket behind his parents' backs. And this is just the beginning. If he goes on like he has till now, Bangladesh are surely to have an asset in the wicketkeeper-batsman, who the fans are already proclaiming as 'Akbar the great'.