No cheer for Bangladesh Bangabandhu (24 October 1998)

24 October 1998

No cheer for Bangladesh Bangabandhu

Nizamuddin Ahmed

Most people with any interest in sport would say that Dhaka was a blessed city. A massive ensemble of cricket stars, all gravitationally interacting as well as opposing in other energy forms, are now orbiting about a common nucleus - the Bangabandhu Stadium.

For the first time in the history of mankind, nine (meaning all) Test-playing teams will be playing in a tournament, unique as it is, on one single ground. Never before has the stars of a galaxy been so localised. Never before perhaps was the view of a galaxy so threatened by mundane clouds and the after-effects. Despite the looming menace, the nation waits in anticipation, praying for the driest October since the Persian astronomer, al-Sufi, discovered the first galaxy.

I should have been elated, not so for the rains. Rather I should have been dancing in the rain. But I am thoroughly dejected, overtly disappointed. For to me the happenings at the Bangabandhu will be no more than watching another cricket tournament on television. Like any another big tournament, we shall only be watching. Like in the past, we shall have to remain content with being bystanders to the hopes and aspirations, successes and failures of others. It is hardly painful on television; it could be heartbreaking when the carnival is on your own backyard.

I feel bitter deep inside wondering what could have been. Another star in the Milky Way would not have spoilt the party. Nor would it possibly have mattered to the International Cricket Council (ICC), the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) or their international sponsors, but to every Bangladeshi the participation of Bangladesh would have made a world of difference.

Globally, the inclusion of Bangladesh would have had a tremendous impact. It would have encouraged smaller cricketing nations to organise such events in their countries and regions. What better way to globalise cricket? Isn't that ICC's sworn objective?

Whereas we are more accustomed to assuming that such international meets are naturally between teams representing countries and hence the fervour, all the nine participating teams in the Wills International Cup, a one-chance challenge, do not fit the definition of a 'country'. By definition, a country is a nation or state, a territory or people of a nation or state, a large tract of land distinguishable by features of topography, biology, or culture; a rural area.

Adam Hollioake's England is a political division of the island of Great Britain and with Wales, constitutes the principal division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is a member of the United Nations, not England.

Brian Lara's West Indies, contrary to popular belief, is not a single country. It is more like a region of several countries and many colonies, dependencies and territories. It is an archipelago of about 1,200 islands in the northern part of the Western Hemisphere, dividing the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Steve Waugh's Australia, Mohammad Azharuddin's India, Stephen Fleming's New Zealand, Aamir Sohail's Pakistan, Hansie Cronje's South Africa, Arjuna Ranatunga's Sri Lanka, and Alistair Campbell's Zimbabwe are states by political definition.

So is Bangladesh and it is largely rural, too.

Save this manner of statehood, in which we differ with two of the participating teams but share with the other seven; there are several more pertinent factors that we have in common with all the nine.

All the nine participating teams have one-day international (ODI) status, so does Bangladesh. In fact, we are the only ODI team who shall bear witness to the proceedings in person but whose sweat shall NOT moisten the verdant carpet at Bangabandhu.

All the nine participating teams will be featuring in the 1999 World Cup in England; so shall Bangladesh. In fact, we are the only World Cup team who shall be listening to the cheer and the applause in person at the Bangabandhu, but there shall be no cheer for Bangladesh at Bangabandhu. I have no doubt that the Father would not have approved of such a cruel irony.

Each of the nine participating teams, except the eventual champions, risks being eliminated after the first defeat. In fact, five of the nine will make their exit after their first match. Given all the uncertainties of the glorious game that is cricket so perhaps would Bangladesh. But, it would not have cost the ICC or the BCB as much as bringing any of the other nine. In fact, we would have been relatively cheaper to accommodate. No air fare.

None of the nine participating teams are hosting the Wills Cup, we are. As famous hosts since the first Arab Muslims began to arrive on our shores in the 8-9th C., the enthusiasm of our crowd is unmatched in the annals of the big and the famous, the noisy and the fervent. Allow me to translate an excerpt from Muntassir Mamoon's Bangla article "Dhakay cricket-er shooru" (The beginning of cricket in Dhaka):

Once (in 1876) a match was being played between the home players and the English living in Dhaka. The spectators were supporting the local players. An English newspaper wrote: "The place was densely crowded by Native Spectators who caused great annoyance to the players while the game was going on, by shouting and clapping at any mishap of the opposite party in a most rude and unbecoming way, while they rather too vociferously applauded any piece of good luck that attended their own countrymen. But what was even worse, they often managed to obstruct the ball from going as far as it would have gone, had it not been stopped on its way by a number of noisy Natives".

While unable to shrug off our genetic trait of being noisy, the difference today is that we would applaud any good shot, any spectacular catch, any piece of devastating bowling, by anybody in the world; of course, with a lot of noise. And, that Sir, is the very charisma of one-day cricket.

We haven't done very well in recent months. True, very true. But everyone deserves a second chance or even a third and a fourth. Mark that man Taylor. He was so down under that even a five-year old was looking down on him. At one stage, he was on the verge of losing his captaincy as well as his team slot. And, last week he could afford to let a beckoning World Record pass by seductively close. Magnanimity has its virtues.

If the downs and ups of an illustrious Aussie individual are not considered an apt analogy, let us discuss team. Should anyone consider our 63 total against Northern Ireland with seriousness? Of course not! It is not the smallest total in international cricket. Some from the participating nine have much lower scores than that.

We now have a fantastic lighting system; some of the great have been quoted, as saying it was 'the best'. We have a very modern electronic scoreboard; some of the experts have been heard saying it was 'the latest'. Our organisation capabilities have been tested before and our men have come out with distinction. The world knows today that BCB does not stand for bravo, cricket bravo.

So, where was the problem? Sale of tickets? Nahhh!

While the Zimbabwe-New Zealand and the England-South Africa matches were not sold out with as much urgency as the other contests, I would eat every bit of this paper if a Bangladesh-anybody match at Bangabandhu was not over subscribed.

So, where was the problem? Would the Test-playing nine mind? Nahhh!

England captain Adam Hollioake has already termed Bangladesh's exclusion as a 'shame'. No doubt many others in his rank would comment likewise.

We are a registered ODI side. We are in the 1999 World Cup. We are the hosts. This was our chance to contend on home ground with those with whom we shall have to contest in the cold of England's next summer. We would have perhaps played only one match but then so would several others among the big nine. We would have been buoyed by home support. Bangladeshi players would have been beamed across the world via satellite. We have let a great opportunity go by. Indeed it is a shame.

Source :: The Bangladesh Daily Star (http://www.dailystarnews.com)

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