Dhaka reconnects with the Bangabandhu
Bangabandhu Stadium was once the soul of Bangladesh cricket, and sport in general. By extension, the soul of the nation itself. It gave not only Bangladesh, but also Pakistan, their Test debuts, in 1955 and in 2000. It staged successfully the Champions Trophy in 1998-99. Being situated in the Gulistan area, it is in the heart of Dhaka, easy for people to access, for them to make cricket part of their lives. Right next to it is the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque.
Old-timers talk wistfully of the days when the stadium was the home of Bangladesh cricket. When college kids could bunk classes and catch domestic cricket, when office-goers could watch evening sessions, when life merged with cricket and cricket merged with life. Most missed is the adda (when Bengali people either side of the border sit and chat, they like to call the arrangement an adda) outside the stadium around the various small restaurants that served cheap food. Tea, food, smoke, sport, and endless debates and discussions on sport. Meerpoor keno jabo amra was the common cry when it was announced that the Shere Bangla National Stadium would be the new home of Bangladesh cricket. Why must we go to Mirpur?
Ambitious and modern, Shere Bangla is an impressive ground. Drainage, seating, dressing rooms are top class, and the practice facilities are perhaps the best in the subcontinent. Four teams can train there simultaneously without bumping into each other. The crowd is cared for better too. Long will the tradition-v-modernity debate carry on at the addas in the rest of Dhaka, but fact remains that the locals miss their old iconic ground, their original adda. Gone with cricket are the restaurants, and the Outer Stadium. They have been replaced by other sports association offices. One of them is delightfully named “Mohammad Ali Boxing Stadium”.
On Wednesday, though, there was cricketing life at the Bangabandhu Stadium. Not sure how the old-timers would compare it to their days of enjoying cricket here, but the sheer number of people waiting at the gates to get a chance to see the rehearsal of the opening ceremony of the World Cup was overwhelming. Yes, just the rehearsal.
Only those with tickets could get in, though, and the tickets were distributed only among the various administrative and security staffs of the country. The idea was for them to enjoy the event today, so that they can get back to their job of making the real thing possible on Thursday. Just watching the number of people outside the stadium when there was no promise of any action suggested it was a good move to hold the opening ceremony at this historic venue. As we tried to make our way in, one man came to distribute copies of the schedule of the World Cup, and it caused a near-stampede there. Everybody wanted one. Who knows if there were restaurants there, they could have sat down, ordered tea and lit cigarettes, and would have started discussing the schedule.
Inside, the stadium looks ready for the occasion. Swanky new hospitality suites have been brought up. About 25,000 seats have been added to the stands. Giant screens have come up, floodlights have been renovated. The facelift has cost about 350 million takas (approx. US$ 5 million). The tall Industrial Bank Building at one end and the mosque at the other bring back memories of cricket at Bangabandhu. Almost a full house for the rehearsal is a testament to the interest that cricket, Bangabandhu and the World Cup (all combined in this case) generate in this country.
For the ceremony itself, a circular stage has been erected in the middle of the ground. The turf and the athletics tracks have been covered in cloth black and white. Cricket and inauguration ceremonies generally haven’t been good bedfellows. Who can forget the epic fail that the laser show in 1996 was, or Saeed Jaffrey, otherwise a good actor and the host of the evening, calling the South African team “Emirates”? Wisden called the low-key affair at Lord’s in 1999 pathetic, and 2003 was too long and boring. This time around too, the ICC has done its best to keep the proud tradition going, with its selection of artists – Bryan Adams, really? – but that is unlikely to stop Dhaka from selling out the event, from making one last cricketing connection with their beloved stadium.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo