Mohammad Akbar Ali
Akbar Ali Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: Even at his acceptance speech after leading Bangladesh to their first Under-19 World Cup cricket title on Sunday, skipper Akbar Ali didn’t make a single reference about playing through the pain of losing his beloved sister during the tournament. Rather, he played a true ambassador of the game by apologising to the Indian camp for any excess that his teammates may have indulged in due to adrenalin rush in a tense final.

A local website in Dhaka broke the news on Sunday that Akbar’s elder sister, Khadija Khatun, passed away while giving birth to twins. A staunch supporter of Akbar, the youngest of four brothers and a sister, she had watched her brother lead Bangladesh to a nine-wicket victory against Zimbabwe on January 18 in a Group C game of the World Cup.

Akbar was not informed about his sister’s death initially as his family did not want him to lose focus. However, he got to know somehow and then questioned one his brothers why he was not informed on January 24 after Bangladesh’s match against Pakistan was abandoned due to rain.

“Akbar was closest to his sister. She loved Akbar a lot,” Akbar’s father was quoted as saying. “We did not want to inform him at first. He then called after the Pakistan match and questioned his brother why he was not kept in the loop. I did not have the courage to talk to him. I don’t know what to say,” he added.

If the sport of cricket brings out strength of character in a performer on the field, there are any number of examples which has seen fortitude at it’s best off it in times of such personal loss - and the list includes no less than the likes of a Virat Kohli, then only 18, Sachin Tendulkar, Pakistan batsman Asif Ali or Naseem Shah - the tearaway who became the youngest bowler to claim a Test hat-trick against Bangladesh on Sunday.

During the tour of Australia last May, debutant Naseem lost his mother in Pakistan but he fought through the emotions and said he was ready to play the Test match against the ‘Baggy Green.’

Nothing, of course, was as heart-rending that Asif Ali, the low profile Pakistan batsman who lost his two-year-old daughter to blood cancer after a prolonged treatment in the US last year. Asif, who left midway in the England tour, rejoined the squad once again - seeking solace in the other passion of his life to get over this unbearable tragedy.

Islamabad United, the team for which Asif plays in Pakistan Super League (PSL), said on the social media: “ISLU family pays its deepest condolences to @AasifAli2018 on the tragic loss of his daughter. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Asif & his family. Asif is a great example of strength & courage. He is an inspiration to us.”

The story of Kohli, the master batsman and Indian skipper, and Tendulkar are too well documented for any cricket fan. A teenager Kohli was the overnight unbeaten batsman for New Delhi in a Ranji Trophy match when his father Prem Kohli - then only 54 - had a massive heart attack and passed away. It was on his mother’s insistence that ‘Chiku,’ as Kohli was nicknamed, went back to resume his innings and played a match-saving innings of 90 against Karnataka.

“Now I feel it was the most impactful thing to have happened in my life. I came back from the game for the last rites and promised my brother that I will play for India,” Kohli said in an interview last year.

The image of Tendulkar looking towards the sky - soon after scoring a century against Kenya in 1999 ICC World Cup in England after his father’s death also remains etched in the cricket fan’s memory. The ‘Master Blaster’ had to rush back in India after receiving the news of his father and was too crestfallen to take part further in the showpiece - till his mother coaxed him back to the ‘call of the nation.’

The rest, as they say, is history...