Cricket in the Subcontinent: Reflections of an Aussie in the crowd at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh
I recently had the chance to go and watch the 3rd ODI of a five match series between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. This is arguably ‘the forgotten series’ with most of the cricketing world focusing on The Ashes, but that still did not stop the Bangladeshis coming out in vast numbers to support their beloved Bangladesh Tigers.
Cricket here in Bangladesh is more than a game; it is like a religion. You go outside anywhere, at any time and you will see people playing cricket with cheaply made bats, or pieces of broken wood. You go into shops, people are watching cricket, and strangers in the street will come up to you and ask if you know Ricky Ponting or Adam Gilchrist just because you happen to be white. Bangladesh is mad about cricket.
So I grabbed the chance with two hands to go to the match. First, some background on how I started to follow Bangladesh cricket. I had the honour of Mohammed Ashraful visiting my house in Bangladesh in 2004 when I was visiting Dhaka on my annual holidays. Nowadays Ashraful is known more for his inconsistency but during 2005 he was on song and, one of the most damaging batsman in the world. At the time, it was just after he scored a match winning knock against Australia which gave Bangladesh their maiden win over the Aussies. So it was a real honour to have him at my house. He was a top bloke and he was really friendly. He even invited me to his house for Korbani Eid, one of the most important Muslim celebrations, but I was heading back to Australia the next day and so I had to decline. For many years I have bought paid subscriptions and watched streams online of Bangladesh cricket in the wee hours of the night in Australia. I just love Bangladesh cricket. I could watch it for days, each and every ball and not get bored.
I have been to other Bangladesh matches before: once against Zimbabwe a few years back and another against India earlier this year. It is always a highlight for me when I travel to Bangladesh. Just for this match against Zimbabwe, my Dad and I, along with a few of our Bangladeshi friends, got ready and jammed into a baby taxi and headed to the ground early in the morning. The match was supposed to be a day-nighter but as the floodlights were not working, the start time had to be changed to early morning with fans being notified at the last minute. We got to the ground a bit late but that was alright. Last time, we had to sit on the gravel steps; this time we were able to watch the game in chairs. The ground had changed dramatically since the last time I had visited, as the World Cup was fast approaching and Bangladesh was to be one of the countries hosting it.
We sat in our seats and Bangladesh was batting. They were put in to bat by Zimbabwe. Tamim Iqbal, the attacking left hand opener, was out LBW in the first over after receiving a dubious decision. Not a good start. We were sitting in the clubhouse section which had a great view of the whole ground. The ground had a DJ who played upbeat Bangla songs after every over, revving up the crowd. The music sure kept everyone’s blood pumping. As Bangladesh hit 4s, the crowd went wild, with people jumping up and down, others dancing in their seats. Bangladesh flags were being waved proudly in the air, banners paraded, and people in unison were chanting 'Bangladesh! Bangladesh! Bangladesh!' During the break for tea we were entertained by a brass band performance, adding to the carnival atmosphere.
As a Bangladesh wicket fell, the player turned from hero to zero with a hushed silence from the crowd. Then one or two Bangladeshi supporters would call out in derision: ‘chagol er bachcha’, accusing the batsman of being the ‘son of a goat’!
Bangladesh had slumped to 4/71 after 21 overs. Captain Shakib and Mushfiqur, the wicketkeeper, then developed a nice partnership and built the score, which was then complemented by some fine batting from ‘Chokka' (colloquial Bangla for ‘six ’) Naeem and Mashrafe. This helped the home team reach a respectable score of 246.
Other typical Bangladeshi ‘in game entertainment’ included the big screen regularly flashing images of women at the game, much to the delight of the crowd. Typically women do not attend the cricket in Bangladesh nor occupy much public space at all. Of the twenty thousand people in attendance at the game there were probably less than two hundred women. Bangladesh supporters would also start the Mexican wave between overs which was fun and infectious and got the whole crowd going. It’s a shame that it is banned in Australia.
Many different groups of supporter were also in attendance. We were sitting near a group called “Run...The Tigers Are Coming” who had a banner and members were wearing specially designed Bangladeshi t-shirts. This group was also particularly vocal in leading the chants and even has it’s own Facebook page:
“'Doura Bagh Ailo - Run...The Tigers Are Coming' is a group of young and enthusiastic people who are die hard fans of cricket and the Bangladesh national cricket team. They attend every match when Bangladesh plays at home. The aim of this group is to be at the stadium on each occasion when the Tigers are out on the field. We are trying hard to expand this group with more people so that we can all cheer our team together and show the spirit we have for cricket and our national team to the cricketing world.”
They did a very good job and it was a quite good experience sitting near them. Another characteristic of Bangladeshi supporters was their love of vuvuzelas (the horns which became infamous at the Soccer World Cup). I was annoyed by those initially but soon got used to it as many of the supporters played in unison to create some funky beats.
It was the lunch break and our Bangladeshi friends organized lunch for us. I had a chicken sandwich and drink with an ‘Igloo’ ice cream afterwards. Most of the Bangladeshi fans, who were sitting near us, were having rice and chicken with dahl ( lentils ), which is a very typical Bangladeshi meal. Many people came up to us during the lunch break to talk, expecting us to be related to Australian cricketers!
After lunch the Bangladeshi players arrived back onto the field with a massive roar from the crowd. (There was hardly a Zimbabwean fan in the entire ground). The crowd was hoping for an early Bangladeshi breakthrough and a collapse of the Zimbabwean batting. Mashrafe, a right-arm quick bowler, who had been struggling with line and length in the previous matches, took the new ball and bowled superbly. Each dot ball was cheered and when he got a wicket, the crowd erupted. Razzak, a left-handed spinner, bowled outstandingly as well and took 4 wickets for 14 off 10 overs. He was the pick of the bowlers. Every time Bangladesh took a wicket the crowd spontaneously erupted in 'Bangladesh! Bangladesh! Bangladesh!' chants. Bangladeshis sure do love their cricket and it is obvious that there are no boring moments when attending a match in Bangladesh whether they win, lose or draw.
The bowlers did their job and it soon became obvious that Bangladesh was going to win.
We left early as our friends thought it would be easier to get a bus or baby taxi before the rush at the end of the innings. I normally don’t leave early at any sporting event but our friends had a point about the huge rush and in a country with population of over 150 million and being 2/3rds the size of Victoria, it is easy to get lost. It was a great experience and I loved every minute of it. A sour point was that I left my Bangladesh jersey in Australia and it would have been good to wear it to the game but there will always be times in the future. As an Aussie with a Bangladeshi mother I am proud to support the fledgling Bangladesh Tigers.
Ex-Australian cricketer Jamie Siddons, Bangladesh’s coach, is doing an outstanding job with this young group of boys. Since Siddons has been at the helm, Bangladesh has beaten England for the first time ever. Bangladesh has also just recently ‘Banglawashed’ the Kiwis in a four- nil whitewash which left the Kiwi nation in shock.
There are bright times ahead for Bangladesh cricket and hopefully they can go far in the upcoming home World Cup. They knocked India out of the World Cup in 2007 and I have no doubt they could do it again this World Cup. Carn the Tigers. 'Bangladesh! Bangladesh! Bangladesh! Bangladesh!'