World Cup 2011 February 19, 2011

A first experience of cricket in Asia

For a cocooned Englishman who has seen little of the world but has loved cricket since a chance boyhood encounter with it on his parents’ television, this was a deeply inspiring day.

My first full day in Dhaka began with a fortuitously-timed rickshaw ride (my debut on the transport mode of choice for all right-thinking international cricket captains these days), which dropped me at the Shere Bangla National Stadium just as the Bangladesh squad was arriving in its team bus. I have never seen a bus earn such a rousing reception just for turning up somewhere, not even an unusually delayed N159 night bus from Trafalgar Square to Streatham. I just hope the Tigers’ team bus can cope with the levels of expectation on its journey to the stadium on the big day today. It would be an enormous shame if, when the pressure of a nation is on it, and with the powerful Indian bus looming in its wing-mirror, the Bangladesh bus takes a wrong turn and ends up taking the team to a cinema or furniture shop instead.

I imagine all cricket fans are hoping that Shakib Al Hasan and his team are inspired rather than intimidated by the frenzy of hopeful excitement in their nation. Personally, I usually wilt under the pressure if my wife is watching me boil an egg, so I cannot imagine what it must be like for a young, emerging team to shoulder the aspirations of their country. Even the scoreboard looked excited on Friday morning.

If Bangladesh perform well against India, even in defeat, I think they will have a strong tournament. India should be too strong.

From the Shere Bangla, I took an autorickshaw south through Dhaka to Fatullah, a journey in which the driver displayed an almost supernatural eye for a gap, the nimble fleet-wheeledness of a young Margot Fonteyn (had she been the motor vehicle she always dreamed of being, rather than a woman), and an ability to conduct a heated discussion with a fellow autorickshaw pilot which lasting, in distance terms, at least two miles. I have no idea exactly what they were discussing ‒ perhaps it was whether Shakib should bat or field on winning the toss, or whether Bangladesh’s spinners will be able to restrain India’s ominously thwack-heavy middle-order; in tone it sounded as if they may well have been exchanging heartfelt and detailed criticisms of each other’s driving techniques.

An eye-opening hour later, through the colourful commotion of Dhaka, I arrived in Fatullah 90 minutes before the start of play in the England v Pakistan warm-up. A decent-sized crowd was already in the stadium. That crowd continued to grow throughout the afternoon, until by the later stages of the England innings, the ground was packed, increasingly noisy and rippling with a vibrant and vocal enthusiasm, which swelled to a cacophonous crescendo of foot-stomping, hand-clapping excitement as Pakistan briefly looked like making a close game of it in the latter stages of their reply.

It was all eerily and potently reminiscent of the fourth afternoon of a county championship match. The only discernible difference was that the average age of the crowd was between 50 and 75 years younger, and the Mexican wave was, consequently, much faster – I timed one circuit of the ground at 12.5 seconds, which by my rough estimation equates to approximately 96mph. (The last recorded attempted county championship Mexican wave at Tunbridge Wells, during a lull in a Mark Benson-Neil Taylor opening partnership in the late 1980s, resulted in five dislocated hips and an irretrievably snapped deckchair.)

I spent a couple of hours sitting in the Fatullah stands amongst some local cricket fans, whose pride in this event is palpable and uplifting, an outburst of that increasingly rare commodity, pure sporting emotion. I spoke to one supporter, Ashuk, an engaging and thoughtful young graduate from Dhaka, about his team and his country – I will include the interview in my first World Cup Cricket Podcast on Sunday ‒ and he said that the World Cup was Bangladesh’s chance to display itself to the world, “to show that we can do anything”. He added: “I am proud of my Bangladesh, of my country, of my team.”

His sentiments seem to be widespread, and the Bangladeshis’ hopes for, and faith in, their team have been given full rein, mercifully free from the overweening, myopic official control that scarred and squandered the 2007 tournament in the West Indies.

Whilst the game may be struggling and compromised for various reasons in some of the older cricketing nations, Bangladesh now seems to represent cricket’s hopeful future, as far from Allen Stanford’s bogus helicopter, fondling hands and hate-hate relationship with the US justice system as it is possible to be. A strong showing against India, and a quarter-final or better, could accelerate that future, and ensure this tournament leaves an enduring legacy, in the way that its predecessor four years ago chose not to.

For a cocooned Englishman who has seen little of the world but has loved cricket since a chance boyhood encounter with it on his parents’ television, this was a deeply inspiring day. Saturday could inspire a nation, and a sport. So inspiring, in fact, that he still has not written his tournament preview. So here it is, in brief:

India should win but might not, Sri Lanka could win and may well do so, Australia, South Africa and England could win but probably won’t, Pakistan won’t win but could have done, New Zealand won’t win unless they stick Richard Hadlee in a time machine as soon as possible, West Indies won’t win and will wish this tournament was taking place in 1979, Bangladesh won’t win but will make the quarter-finals, and will wish it was all taking place in 2019. The rest won’t win and won’t mind not winning.


● ICC chief Haroon Lorgat was asked at his press conference this morning what plans the ICC had in the event of the Mumbai final bringing India and Pakistan together. Mr Lorgat did not entirely answer the question ‒ he gave the impression that the ICC did have a plan for crossing that bridge when and if they are forced to come to it, but that they are hoping and praying to all available gods that the bridge is dismantled and incinerated before they reach it.

● England were excellent in all departments in their comprehensive win over Pakistan. Stuart Broad was in magnificent form, perhaps presaging an era in which the next piece of modern cricketing technology developed will be the Injuring Machine, into which teams will shove their key players a couple of months before a major series or tournament, the machine will twist and bash them about until they have received a non-major but rest-requiring physical mishap, ensuring that the player is fully revitalised by Crunch O’Clock.

You can follow my Twitter feed, with live updates from the grounds where possible, as well as general musings, stats and wild fabrications, at @ZaltzCricket.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer