The Christchurch mosque shootings is considered to be one of the greatest tragedies in New Zealand’s history. The entire situation was particularly frantic for cricket fans due to the presence of the Bangladesh National Cricket Team at the scene. While the world stood still in desperation, it was Mohammad Isam’s bravery and curiosity that offered us the first bit of closure. The esteemed sports journalist was among the first individuals to cover the incident. His video that got a million views and his numerous interviews helped shed some much needed light on the event. Undoubtedly one of Bangladesh’s finest, he has been serving as the voice of our nation in the global cricketing realms for the past 8 years and ICE Today got the chance to catch up with him and get to know more about the man who brings us the scoops.

TWO PASSIONS MERGED INTO ONE

Cricket is a pseudo-religion for Bangladeshi’s and Isam is one of the select few individuals who got to experience all aspects of the game. His journey began as a cricketer who played professionally for nine years including a season in the Dhaka Premier League. He has played against the likes of Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan as well. However, his passion for cricket stretched beyond the pitch. He was a true aficionado who used to spend his time reading the likes of Rahul Bhattacharya, Harsha Bhogle and Mukul Kesavan to dissect the ins and outs of the game. He also was an avid collector of magazines. “Back then there were only a handful of magazines that we had access to. The likes of Sportstar and Sports World are all we could manage and even they were hard to come by. It wasn’t until ETC. came to Bangladesh that you could fully enjoy the luxury of buying the books you wanted,” he elaborated. Isam credits a 2005 book titled “Pundits of Pakistan” by Rahul Bhattacharya as his biggest inspiration to start writing.

Mohammad Isam receiving an award from the State Minister for Sports and Youth Zahid Ahsan Rasel

And as fate would have it, he soon landed a job at Daily Star as a desk sub editor. Alas, began his journey into the world of journalism. In a career that spanned six years and was divided into two spells, Mohammad met great writers and journalists through whom he learned more about the trade and got drawn towards it more as the days went by. “I got the opportunity to work under Mahfuz bhai who taught me the most valuable philosophy of pursuing journalism without fear or favour, something I still practice today”, he added. He started enjoying all aspects of journalism from editing pieces, doing agency news and even the occasional magazine feature. “I was playing cricket, studying at North South University and then working from 5pm to 10pm”, Mohammad revealed. In 2010, he decided to quit cricket and dedicate all of his time to journalism. “My playing career helped me a lot to adjust to journalism”, he stated. As a cricketer himself, he could offer readers insights that a regular journalist wouldn’t be able to do so normally. He interviewed the likes of Wasim Akram, Dale Steyn and Michael Hussey for The Daily Star but something even bigger was waiting for him. In 2011, he did some freelancing for writer Sumana Mukherjee, whose husband, Jayaditya Gupta, worked for ESPNcricinfo, after getting to know about his passion for cricket she recommended Isam to her husband who ended up becoming his current boss. In 2012, he joined ESPNcricinfo and he hasn’t looked back since. His passions had taken him to the epitome of modern day cricket (and journalism).

GROWING WITH THE GAME

Isam has been at the center of Bangladesh cricket ever since its inception. He started his playing career around the time cricket was gaining popularity, so he experienced the growth and the struggle first-hand. There can be none better suited than him to give us a comprehensive picture of Bangladesh cricket. “I saw our nation win the 1997 ICC trophy to gain Test status. I remember having to watch our team struggle during the early days and being called out by a rickshawala for losing so much as a player. But as a journalist, I also witnessed our meteoric rise during the mid-2010s when we started winning series against the big teams and reached the Champions Trophy semifinals”, he added. He has seen cricket become a national obsession. “This obsession is something I am very proud of, while we may view it as something silly, the world actually appreciates us for it and the fact that ESPN and Disney hired me because of this love for cricket is testament to the fact”, he articulated.

His role as a journalist also allowed him to broaden the horizon of his knowledge of cricket. “Undoubtedly my favourite part is getting to pick on the brains of cricketers and gain insight into their headspace and mindset. I get to learn why they bowl in a certain way when they do and why they play a certain shot when they do. I get to apply my own experience as a cricketer and the knowledge I’ve gained from books to delve into things as much as possible and cover them as deeply as possible,” explained Isam. He also had heaps of praise for the commercial growth of cricket in Bangladesh but also conceded and lamented the fact that most players (who are the bedrock on which the sector is built on) don’t get to enjoy an adequate portion of that growth. “The players bring so much money for the BCB, yet only a handful of players get to enjoy it. Local and domestic players don’t get the treatment they deserve which was the basis of their protest last year. This area of the game needs massive improvement”, he expressed. Even though the game has experienced considerable growth, it still has ways to go.

“THIS OBSESSION IS SOMETHING I AM VERY PROUD OF, WHILE WE MAY VIEW IT AS SOMETHING SILLY, THE WORLD ACTUALLY APPRECIATES US FOR IT AND THE FACT THAT ESPN AND DISNEY HIRED ME BECAUSE OF THIS LOVE FOR CRICKET IS TESTAMENT TO THE FACT”

CRICKET IN THE TIME OF CORONA

The Covid pandemic has taken a toll in the world and cricket is no exception. Isam shared his concern over how the cricket scene will face some setbacks given how things are panning out. “I fear that Bangladesh will be among the last countries to be back. England and Australia are already resuming things and countries like India will soon follow. It might take a while for us to open up like the others”, he exclaimed. Obviously cricket itself will be very different in general than what it used to be even after the dust settles. There will be possible crowd restrictions which will nullify home team advantages which is especially important for Bangladesh because we thrive off of it. The use of saliva has been banned and furthermore there will not be anymore neutral umpiring which will most likely have a massive impact on the game. Another struggle that Bangladesh will face would be maintaining a biosecure bubble because there aren’t any hotels near the stadiums so running training camps might not be the easiest thing. “You know, life itself won’t be the same so we will need to adjust to things”, he added. Things in cricket will eventually reach a new state of “normal” but much like life itself at the moment, that might take a while.

Irfan Aziz is a Sub Editor of ICE Today magazine. He is a pug enthusiast who loves looking at memes, writing and sketching.