For a cricket-mad nation still finding its feet on the world stage, you could hardly imagine a more stunning blow to its aspirations. For a good five years or so now, Bangladesh's self-image as a nation has become inextricably tied to the fortunes of its beloved Tigers on the cricket field, ebbing and flowing with their triumphs and tragedies enacted on the game's great stages. Overall, the team's upward trajectory seemed to match that of the nation it represented on a wider scale.
Coming as it did on the back-end of a period of particular turbulence, during which the players had taken a stance for the long-term welfare of the sport in the country, it came as a double-blow, holding the power to confuse millions of followers and throw all the best-made plans into complete disarray.
The inauspicious start to Tuesday, October 29, was encapsulated in Bangla daily Samakal, which in its front page lead item reported that Bangladesh cricket's lone superstar, as well as the most accomplished cricketer the country has produced and captain of the Test and T20I teams to boot, Shakib Al Hasan, was on the verge of being banned from all forms of the game by the International Cricket Council for a period of 18 months. His crime? Not reporting an approach from a bookmaker dating back to 2017 to engage in unlawful activities to the authorities. It was made clear that there was no allegation of foul play - Shakib had not engaged in any sort of matchfixing or spot-fixing. But under the stringent rules brought in to deal with the virus of fixing that threatened to overrun the game at one stage, not reporting an approach from shady characters who hang around cricketers' haunts and try to lure them into their illegal designs is also a punishable offence.
A disbelieving nation could hardly contain its indignation. It was the day before the team was set to leave for a daunting, yet also exciting tour of India. There was immediate suspicion of foul play, and it stemmed from the particularly acrimonious week that had preceded it. On October 21, Bangladesh cricketers including the likes of Shakib, Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim had gathered at the BCB Academy ground in Mirpur to put forward an 11-point demand and announced an unprecedented strike boycotting all cricket-related activities.
The basic thrust of the demands was an increased say for the players in cricketing matters and improvement of the pay packages of domestic cricketers. The demands were also not restricted to cricketers -- they also urged an improvement of pay packages for groundsmen, as well as for more respect and remuneration for local coaches. All in all, it struck onlookers as a move in good faith, if not cleverly executed, that sought to envision an overhaul of how the sport was not only played but administered in the country, in order to ensure Bangladesh's elevation to the next level.
The BCB was clearly blindsided by the move, with President and supremo Nazmul Hasan Papon appearing particularly rattled. Eventually though, the BCB reportedly retracted their hard-line stance of not coming on board with the players' demands after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina intervened in the matter, and summoned Mashrafe Mortaza - who was strangely not part of the move but voiced his support - to act as mediator in the matter. The players agreed to call off the strike just two days later, as the BCB agreed to fulfill all of the 11 original demands made by the cricketers, although it remained non-committal on the two that were added when the players addressed a press conference (the BCB sharing a percentage of their revenue with them and ensuring equal pay for women cricketers) just prior to a meeting with the board. The players would return to normal activities starting on October 25, with the international squad reporting for the pre-India tour conditioning camp, and domestic players resuming the National Cricket League the day after.
However, it soon became clear that all was not well when Shakib was absent on day 1 of the India tour camp, and then day 2 as well, with no clear reason given for his absence. At the same time, the Board started sounding out that Shakib would not be able to make it to the Indian tour, again with no clear reason given as to why, and that the squad announced for the T20Is that would kick off the India series would need to be rehashed. The local media meanwhile, kept reporting that Papon continued to be livid with the star all-rounder for the 'leading role' he had played in the players' revolt. During the week, he continued to lash out at Shakib on the pretext of a contract he had signed as brand ambassador for Grameenphone, in violation of the BCB's rules regarding sponsorships for players.
Then came the report in Samakal. There's no point wondering who might have leaked it to the one outlet, but what is certain is that it must have come from pretty high on - only a few at the very top will have been aware of the ICC investigators' imminent move, and the reported directive to keep Shakib away from practise and possibly out of consideration for the India tour, as the missing pieces fell excruciatingly, almost painfully, into place.
Still as the day gave way to the chilly October evening, the country held out hope, and held its breath. Cricinfo reported the ICC hadn't pressed charges yet. Fans tried to dig up previous instances of players being banned for what sounded like such a flimsy offence, and admittedly previous examples were vanishingly few. Then came the ICC's statement, that in one gushing wave conquered all doubt and devoured every last vestige of hope.
A shattering blow
According to the statement, Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan has been banned from all forms of cricket for two years, with one year of that suspended, after he accepted three charges of breaching the ICC Anti-Corruption Code The charges are as follows:
Article 2.4.4 - Failure to disclose to the ACU full details of any approaches or invitations he received to engage in Corrupt Conduct - in relation to the Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe Tri-Series in January 2018 and / or the 2018 IPL
Article 2.4.4 - Failure to disclose to the ACU full details of any approaches or invitations he received to engage in Corrupt Conduct - in relation to a second approach in respect of the Tri-Series in January 2018
Article 2.4.4 - Failure to disclose to the ACU full details of any approaches or invitations he received to engage in Corrupt Conduct - in relation to an IPL 2018 match between Sunrisers Hyderabad v Kings XI Punjab on 26 April 2018.
Under the provisions of the Code, Shakib chose to admit the charges and agreed the sanction with the ICC in lieu of an Anti-Corruption Tribunal hearing. Subject to him satisfying the conditions in respect of the suspended part of the sanction, he will be free to resume international cricket on 29 October 2020.
As part of the ICC statement, Shakib said: "I am obviously extremely sad to have been banned from the game I love, but I completely accept my sanction for not reporting the approaches. The ICC ACU is reliant on players to play a central part in the fight against corruption and I didn't do my duty in this instance.
"Like the majority of players and fans around the world, I want cricket to be a corruption free sport and I am looking forward to working with the ICC ACU team to support their education programme and ensure young players don't make the same mistake I did."
Alex Marshall, ICC General Manager - Integrity said: "Shakib Al Hasan is a highly experienced international cricketer. He has attended many education sessions and knows his obligations under the Code. He should have reported each of these approaches.
"Shakib has accepted his errors and cooperated fully with the investigation. He has offered to assist the Integrity Unit in future education, to help younger players to learn from his mistakes. I am happy to accept this offer."
The ICC confirmed if Shakib satisfied the conditions of the suspended part of the sanction, he would be free to resume international cricket on October 29, 2020. Assuming Shakib satisfies the suspended period criteria, his ban will end midway through next year's T20 World Cup. The tournament in Australia begins on October 18 2020, with Shakib set to miss the first round matches as well as the opening games of the Super 12 round - if Bangladesh qualify from their group.
A nation mourns
"The way that the cricket fans, the people of Bangladesh, the BCB, the government during my good and bad times, I wish that your support will always remain. If I have that support, I will be able to return to cricket very soon and be able to fulfill my duties stronger than before and with more responsibility," Shakib later added at a press conference for the local media.
During Shakib's interaction with the media, BCB President Nazmul Hassan was beside him and he said BCB will provide full support to the all-rounder.
"Shakib is the best cricketer that Bangladesh has ever produced. We don't know when we'll get another one like him. We'll provide full support to Shakib whatever and whenever he needs us. He's our asset. I got angry at him because he didn't report the approaches to the respective authorities. But yes, it shocked us that Shakib is banned now," Nazmul told the media.
"It's a big blow for us. We're losing him just before a big series against India. However, we'll provide all support to him. Shakib admitted his wrongdoings. ICC ACU worked closely with Shakib and they now came with their verdict. We had nothing to do with them. They're totally independent," he added.
Shakib's downfall left three former Bangladeshi captains -- Akram Khan, Minhajul Abedin and Habibul Bashar -- shattered.
"He is the biggest asset for us. We're going to play a full series in India. But we won't get the service of our best cricketer in the series, which is really disappointing for us. He did well in the World Cup. I'm really feeling bad for him and Bangladesh cricket. I want future players to be free from this sort of incident. I hope he'll be back stronger," Akram told the media.
"It's a setback for Bangladesh cricket. It'll be tough for us to play without him during the next 12 months. At the same time, it'll be difficult for us to find a replacement for him," Minhajul said.
Habibul Bashar, another former captain, said: "Today is the saddest day of Bangladesh cricket. I just hope Shakib will be back stronger."
And who knows of the millions of dreams shattered, on the patches of green in thousands of villages, in the gullies of unforgiving cities, of little unassuming souls with a game they love and a role model they could look up to?
'Dodgy': The incriminating conversations
Following is a summary of conversations Shakib Al Hasan had with ICC-blacklisted bookie Deepak Aggarwal over a period of 6 months from mid-November 2017 to late-April 2018, as provided to the ICC's Anti Corruption Unit investigators.
The ACU conducted extensive interviews with the Bangladesh all-rounder - first on January 23, 2019 and then on August 27, 2019 in relation to an investigation into potential corrupt conduct under the ICC code and in suspicion of involvement of an individual named Deepak Aggarwal.
In November 2017, Shakib was a member of the Dhaka Dynamites team, a team which participated in the Bangladesh Premier League, played between November 4 and December 12, 2017.
He was aware that his telephone number had been provided to Aggarwal by another person who was known to Shakib. Aggarwal had asked this other person to provide him with contacts for players playing in the Bangladesh Premier League.
In mid-November 2017, at the instigation of Aggarwal, he exchanged various WhatsApp messages with Aggarwal in which Aggarwal sought to meet him.
In January 2018, Shakib was selected as part of the Bangladesh team participating in a TriSeries between Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. During this series, he and Aggarwal engaged in further WhatsApp conversations.
On 19 January 2018, he received a WhatsApp message from Aggarwal congratulating him for being named man of the match in that day's game. Aggarwal followed this message with a message saying "do we work in this or I wait til the IPL".
The reference to "work" in this message was a reference to him providing Inside Information to Aggarwal. He did not report this contact from Aggarwal to the ACU or any other anti-corruption authority.
On 23 January 2018, he received another WhatsApp message from Aggarwal in which Aggarwal made another approach to him to provide him with Inside Information, saying "Bro anything in this series?"
Shakib confirmed to the ACU that this message related to Aggarwal's request to him to provide Aggarwal with Inside Information in relation to the ongoing Tri-Series. He did not report this request for Inside Information from Aggarwal to the ACU or any other anti-corruption authority.
On 26 April 2018, Shakib played for the Sunrisers Hyderabad team in its IPL match against Kings XI Punjab. He received a WhatsApp message from Aggarwal that day asking him whether a particular player was going to be playing in the game that day, i.e. again asking for Inside Information.
Aggarwal continued this conversation with him by talking about bitcoins, dollar accounts and asked him for his dollar account details. During this conversation, he told Aggarwal that he wanted to meet him "first".
These messages on 26 April 2018 included a number of deleted messages. He confirmed to investigators that these deleted messages contained requests from Aggarwal for Inside Information.
He also confirmed to the investigators that he had concerns over Aggarwal, feeling he was a bit "dodgy", and that, following their conversations, he had the feeling that Aggarwal was a bookie. However he did not report any of the contact and approaches received from Aggarwal on 26 April 2018 to the ACU or any other anti-corruption authority.
Shakib also told the ACU that he did not accept or act upon any of the approaches he received from Aggarwal, in particular, he did not provide him with any of the information requested, nor did he accept or receive any money or other reward from Aggarwal. However, as stated before, he did not at any time report any of the approaches to the ACU or any other relevant authority, and that proved to be his downfall.
Based on these findings, Shakib was banned by the ICC from all cricket for two years, with one year of that sentence suspended, after he accepted three charges of breaching the ICC anti-corruption code.
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