Former national team fast bowler Robiul Islam has always been one of the lesser celebrated cricketers in the Bangladesh national team.
Robiul was a solid customer with the ball, having good line and length and also being able to swing it properly.
But despite some good showings in Test cricket, especially away from home where he has a bowling average of 31.87, he only played nine Tests.
His international career came to a close in 2019 when he announced his retirement quietly and without much fanfare.
His bowling numbers away from home still remain the best for any Bangladeshi fast bowler and he is the last fast bowler who managed to take a five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
The Business Standard caught up with the 33-year-old to know more about his career, whether he felt he deserved more chances, and what his future plans are in the third part of the 'Where are they now?' series.
TBS: How are you spending your time during the pandemic?
Robiul: If I talk about the earlier part of the lockdown, I used to stay home mostly. Since Eid Al Adha, I have been spending time with friends in the afternoons. Often I visit the ground and spend time with the players who are in Satkhira now.
TBS: You made a good start in domestic cricket. Tell us about the infrastructure back then.
Robiul: I reckon the quality of cricket has improved in Bangladesh a lot over the years. When I made my first-class debut, there was only one first-class competition which is the National Cricket League (NCL). The number of matches in NCL has decreased now compared to 2005, but the number of tournaments has gone up. Bangladesh Cricket League (BCL), Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) have been launched, Dhaka Premier League (DPL) is there. More importance has been put in age-level cricket. Overall, the quality has increased remarkably.
TBS: You did not have a good start in international cricket and your run-up was an issue. How did you overcome that?
Robiul: I made my Test debut at the Lord's, the Mecca of cricket. I was called up to the team based on my good performances in first-class cricket and the three practice matches in England ahead of the Test series. But the match didn't go as well as I would've liked.
Yes, I had issues with my run-up. Actually, I was not picked by any team in the first-ever BPL. So there was no cricket at that time for me and I went back to my hometown. Shane Jurgensen, at that time, was the head coach, taking over from Jamie Siddons. He called and asked me to return to Dhaka. I spent 40 days in the academy and practised under Richard (Halsall). I worked on my bowling, fielding and fitness. That's when I worked on the run-up as well and it paid dividends in the next tours.
TBS: How did it feel to do so well once you made it back to the national side a year later?
Robiul: I toured Zimbabwe with the team after the comeback to the team. I bowled well on day one of the first Test. Imrul (Kayes) dropped a catch off my bowling. After the end of day's play, Imrul came to me and said, "Don't be said. You'll definitely get wickets tomorrow."
Shakib (Al Hasan) was the captain then. He supported me a lot, so did all the teammates. The next day, I dismissed Hamilton Masakadza. He was my first international wicket. A couple of hours later, I sent back (Brendan) Taylor. That's when my confidence went up. I had got a bagful of wickets in domestic cricket, but the feeling of the first international wicket was completely different.
TBS: You were a Test specialist, but do you feel you deserved a spot in the limited-overs side too?
Robiul: There are a lot of bowlers who like to prefer white-ball cricket over red-ball cricket. But I was someone who enjoyed longer version cricket a lot. It requires a higher level of concentration but I used to enjoy that. Also, if you look at teams, there is at least one bowler who is considered to be a specialist bowler in Tests. Given my performances in red-ball cricket, probably the team management considered me as someone like that. But that doesn't mean that I couldn't play other formats. I performed well in the one-day competition as well. I could've played more in limited-overs cricket for Bangladesh. But I don't have any regrets really.
TBS: Your bowling numbers are the best among Bangladeshi fast bowlers away from home. Do you feel you deserved more chances in Tests too?
Robiul: I had a dream of taking lots and lots of wickets for Bangladesh. Since I was known to be a Test specialist, I desired to make it big in this format.
I guess (Chandika) Hathurusingha didn't like me much. We had a home series against Zimbabwe after the West Indies tour in 2014. I was adjudged player of the series in the previous series against Zimbabwe. But this time I was announced 'unfit'. Then Sumon Bhai (Habibul Bashar), one of the selectors, told me to play the practice match. The squad for the first two matches was announced. He told me that I could still make my way back into the team if I did well there. Sumon Bhai was my captain when I made my first-class debut. So I did what he told me to do.
I bowled really well in the practice match and thought that I would be picked for the third Test. I was playing a DPL match. The squad was about to be announced. I was fielding at short midwicket. I dived to stop the ball from going far, but in the process dislocated my shoulder. I couldn't make a proper comeback after that injury. I couldn't perform well in domestic cricket after my return. There were so many cricketers performing better than me. That's why probably I couldn't get a chance again.
TBS: Why do you think there was not enough hype about you among the cricketing fraternity, despite your solid performances? Are fast bowlers not appreciated enough here?
Robiul: If I talk about the current scenario, now people in Bangladesh watch all forms of cricket, more or less. That's because our team is performing. But when I played for the team, there was less team performance, more individual performances. I might have done well on some occasions, but the team didn't perform that well. That may be a reason why I didn't enjoy the spotlight.
Also, as far as cricket is concerned now, batsmen are more celebrated than the bowlers. But it didn't upset me at all. I was mentally satisfied to perform at the highest level and that's what mattered to me.
TBS: What do you think needs to be done to improve our fast bowling in Test cricket?
Robiul: As a bowler, the first thing you need to do is to enjoy Test cricket. You have to save your energy for the appropriate time. You have to bowl two-three spells a day in a Test match. So to save the energy and utilise that at the right time is very important.
The most important thing is to practice more and more. The more you practice, the more you can upgrade your skills. Yes, I can't say that I was a very fit cricketer. But I had good enough bowling fitness. I used to bowl more number of overs than the coaches told me to bowl a day at the nets so that I could improve the bowling fitness.
(Abu Jayed) Rahi has been bowling very well. His stats now are quite identical to mine. In fact, I was the last fast bowler to claim a five-wicket haul in Tests. Rahi got four recently. I hope he and other fast bowlers will pick up fifers and do very well in future.
TBS: You retired from professional cricket in February 2019. What do you plan to do in future?
Robiul: When I retired last year, I immediately made up my mind to take up coaching as a profession. I completed level-1 as well. I haven't been involved with anything professional so far, but I've been working with the kids in Satkhira. If I get an opportunity or BCB gives me an opportunity, I would definitely like to share my experiences.