After sweating it out during a three-hour practice session, Mohammad Ashraful is a satisfied man. He makes himself comfortable on the couch of his Banasree residence to watch the Asia Cup opener between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Fatullah.
The satisfaction, however, is merely superficial - of hope and of prayer. The contentment has nothing to do with his practice. Because his session was at Gulshan, not at the Sher-e-Bangla, where Bangladesh are preparing for their Asia Cup opener against India.
The 29-year-old practices six days a week. But the Bangladesh Cricket Board suspended him from playing any cricket, after he admitted to his involvement in match-fixing and spot-fixing while playing for the Dhaka Gladiators in the 2013 Bangladesh Premier League. The BPL tribunal's verdict deciding the punishment for Ashraful and the eight others involved is expected this week.
While the former Bangladesh captain expects to be back playing for the national team one day, there is a sudden dip in his voice when he talks about having let down Sachin Tendulkar. “He is my role model. The day he selected me for Mumbai Indians (IPL 2010, South Africa), it was the happiest moment of my life,” Ashraful narrates, in a chat with HT. “When I got involved in this corrupt practice, it pricked my conscience. I did not even have the courage to think about Sachin. I was ashamed of myself. I will never forgive myself for letting him down.”
Only after Tendulkar had announced his retirement did Ashraful muster feeble courage to send his best wishes over a text message to the cricket legend. “I wished him best of luck for the future. But I think he was too busy so did not reply,” Bangladesh's youngest Test centurion says, talking becoming increasingly difficult. “I have made a mistake and so I feel extremely uncomfortable when I even think of talking to Sachin.”
For now, Ashraful is searching for that one opportunity to redeem himself, his reputation and his game. “There is mitigation tomorrow (Wednesday). Those who are further guilty will be called on Thursday,” he explains. “But I have not given to Bangladesh cricket as much as it has given me. Whatever the ICC, BCB and the tribunal decide will be fine. But I beg to them to give me one final chance.”
Just as the Pakistan captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, appears on screen, Ashraful's hopes rise. “See, Misbah plays so well at 39. I am just 29. So whatever the punishment, if I stay fit I can play for my country again.”
Once a Bangladesh boy wonder, now the bad boy, Ashraful does not know what led him to do this but has a message for youngsters. “I apologise to my family, team, country and the cricket world,” he pauses. “The youngsters should remember that no matter what you must stay honest to the game. If it is your life, do not ruin it like I did.”
In a world of denial, Ashraful is one of the rare cricketers to have accepted the wrongdoing. How much room cricket still reserves for him will be known soon.