Shoriful Islam, the Panchagarh pacer who dreamed for the stars

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Patience is key for a fast bowler. The less you think about the outcome, the more likely will your processes yield results. For Shoriful Islam, Bangladesh’s left-arm pacer, patience is bred within him.

In Panchagarh, the village where Shoriful grew up in, he would sit by the pond, often for hours with his fishing rod waiting for a catch. The longer it took him to rein in a fish, the more rewarding it was. Now, as the leader of Bangladesh pace attack at the 2020 U-19 World Cup, Shoriful looks back at those days with a sense of nostalgia and pride. Sometimes, he doesn’t even believe how far he’s come.

He remembers the day he first took the steps to become a professional cricketer. The year was 2016, and he had gained a bit of fame in his locality for being a top bowler in tape-tennis tournaments. Alamgir Kabir, the former Bangladesh pacer, spotted Shoriful’s potential and called him over to Rajshahi.

“A lot of credit goes to Alamgir Kabir sir,” Shoriful tells ESPNcricinfo. “He brought me from Dinajpur to his cricket academy in Rajshahi.

“But I didn’t have any equipment. So he brought me a pair of new Nike spikes from India. He would take one-on-one practice sessions with me on the mornings. And in the evenings, he would take care of me like his kid.

“My skills got developed in his academy, and soon I was playing in the Rajshahi junior team. A spot in the Dhaka third division then came, and by 2017, I was in the Dhaka Premier League.”

Shoriful first gained national attention at that 2017 DPL season, where he took 17 wickets in eight matches to finish as the highest wicket-taker of the tournament. Since then, he has been part of the Khulna Titans in the Bangladesh Premier League while also representing Bangladesh A on numerous occasions. In the BPL and with the ‘A’ side, he has rubbed shoulders with international stars, some of whom have even given him valuable life advice.

“My favourite wicket ever came while playing for Bangladesh A,” Shoriful says. “We were playing against Sri Lanka A, and Thisara Perera was smashing it to all parts. Then I delivered a cutter, and got him bowled. We ended up winning that match.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Carlos Brathwaite and Dawid Malan at Khulna Titans. I try to talk to them as much as possible. I asked Brathwaite how to maximise my potential. He said something I’ll never forget: ‘self-confidence’ is the key.

“He said, ‘you will be able to read the solidest of batsmen if you are self-confident. If you have any fear, however good you are, you won’t succeed.'”

But life hasn’t been all hunky-dory for Shoriful, who grew up in very difficult circumstances. For the longest time, his village did not have electricity, so all the cricket he watched was in the neighbouring village – a 12-minute cycle ride away.

Whatever little money came to the household was from his father’s farming. In the summers, they grew rice. In the winters, they cultivated peanuts. In the early days, when Shoriful was still finding his feet in the world of cricket, he would spend the whole day on one meal of panta-bhaat, a crude dish of soaked rice with some onion and chilli on the side, during training days.

There was plenty of opposition from his family too. In a cricket crazy country, only a handful in Bangladesh make it big as a sportsperson. But Shoriful didn’t let his dream fade away.

“At first, my parents said you won’t make it – it’s not easy,” Shoriful says. “They didn’t support me for 2-3 months but my brother intervened.

“He told me, ‘I will sell all the blood in my body to make you play. Don’t you worry.’ After that, when I took a four-wicket haul against Abahani, my parents first saw me on a TV interview. That’s when they realised I can go big.

“Now, however, life has changed. I have bought my father a cow farm, which he now oversees. I have also prepared a new home for us in Panchagarh. They are proud of me.”

Shoriful, who has a first-class average and List-A average of 22.50 and 24.93 respectively, developed his slingy left-arm bowling action thanks to the time he spent playing district-level volleyball. Although he’s an avid fan of Mitchell Starc, it’s Mustafizur Rahman who is his biggest influence.

“Because of my volleyball experience, my jump and delivery stride has more zip,” Shoriful says. “The power generated from my shoulder, that’s all volleyball.

“After seeing Mustafizur bhai at first, I thought ‘if a lanky fellow like him can do it, then why can’t I?’ When I finally met him, I asked him about how to deal with tough times. His advice was ‘people will say many things when the going gets tough, but what will pull you through are the conversations you have with the man you see in the mirror.'”

Quality pacers in Bangladesh are few and far in between. It’s a revolving door where, barring Mustafizur and long-time captain Mashrafe Mortaza, there’s nobody else permanent.

Shoriful has already made headlines for his bowling performances for East Zone and Bangladesh A. If you are wondering when he’ll do the same for the national side, you can be assured that day’s not too far out.

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