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December 27, 2004
If the fairy godmother was to grant Bangladeshis one wish this very moment, you can bet your last dollar that they will want the night of December 26 to never end.
Bangladesh's sensational triumph on Sunday was a significant achievement for a number of factors. This was their 100th one-dayer and that occasion itself demanded something memorable. In recent times their reputation and credentials have been challenged and their cricketing talent has been brushed aside as laughable not so much by opposing teams as by the international media. So it was extremely important to prove a couple of things and there were no better prey than India considering the immense commercial and media interest that Sourav Ganguly's team arouses.
There was nothing in the build-up to the game to suggest that something extraordinary was in the offing. Although the morning's calm due to a 12-hour strike called by the main opposition party in parliament, had been disturbed by the news of the killer tides that had devastated large portions of south and south-east Asia. Normally, Dhaka residents prefer to stay at home during strikes, but 15 minutes before the match was scheduled to begin it appeared as if the whole city had gathered around the Bangabandhu National Stadium. Just looking at the crowd you could sense that it had anticipated something which no cricket expert had the courage to predict.
To enter the Bangabandhu, one had to walk under the cover of tiny green and red Bangladesh flags left untouched since the Victory Day celebrations at the venue on December 16. Inside, the Bangladesh colours were once again very much prominent and to call the fans partisan would have been an understatement as barely a minute passed without a spontaneous 'Bang-ladesh Bang-ladesh' roar encircling the oval. This was mass passion unshackled and how well their team responded to it.
Apart from their normal top-order jitters, the home team did not put a foot wrong and gave world cricket an idea of the how exciting an outfit they can become if everything clicked for them. With the mercury dipping slowly on a smoky evening, news spread fast that Bangladesh were playing like a team possessed. By the time the seventh Indian wicket had fallen, groups of motorbike-riding youths had already assembled near the Bangabandhu Stadium to escort the heroes to their hotel.
Meantime, a party was brewing on the Dhaka University campus, the unofficial celebration centre of every Bangladeshi sporting achievement. Young people were pouring out of their houses and rushing either towards the stadium or the university singing, dancing, screaming to the top of their voices they were now fully warmed up despite the firs coming of the winter chill.
When that moment of all moments finally arrived with Aftab Ahmed hitting the bullseye at the non-striker's end from point, the night's mist seemed to have nested in the eyes of the grateful millions. Complete strangers embraced each other, tears rolled uncontrollably and everyone was congratulating everyone.
Dav Whatmore, the Bangladesh coach, who had continuously pleaded and then angrily demanded patience from the rest of the cricket world when his charges were being ridiculed, decided it was time to let his guard down as he sported the biggest grin since taking over one-and-a-half years ago and was engulfed by the ecstatic team near the boundary line.
The team then went on a victory lap and with the photographers and television cameramen struggling to keep pace with the youthful legs, 20-year-olds Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed challenged each other to a round of somersaults like crazy schoolboys while Habibul Bashar, 12 years their senior, jumped up and down with the zest of a chimpanzee and who could blame them because it was that kind of a night.
At a corner of the stands, a gentleman in his mid-40s was being hobnobbed by the press while he tried without luck to stave off attention. This was the proudest father on the planet that day.
'We never thought he could return to cricket after all that he had to endure. Mashrafee [Mortaza] is not only my child anymore, he is the son of the entire Bangladesh,' said Mortaza's father after his son had marked his return to ODIs, after a gap of 15 months, with a sensational allround show. Around this time last year Mortaza was walking on crutches and waiting to go under the knife for a potentially career-threatening knee surgery in Australia.
'I didn¹t know he had that much brains,' said Bashar during the post-match media conference to a ripple of laughter while reflecting on the matured batting (31 not out of 39) of the man who is affectionately called "Pagla" (the crazy one) by mates.
In that cheery, chirpy mood the Bangladesh team boarded their bus which just could not make way through the sea of proud faces. But no one cared about the delay as they sucked in the elusive feeling. Within an hour of reaching the hotel, they were back on the bus again headed for the Prime Minister's residence as she wanted to felicitate them personally. The night was still young for the Tigers.
Rabeed Imam is a sportswriter for the Daily Star in Dhaka.
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