ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Bangladesh v Ireland, World Cup 2011, Group B, Mirpur
Tigers let themselves roar
Bangladesh celebrated their victory against Ireland as though they'd won more than one cricket match, but the significance went beyond a single result
Sidharth Monga in Mirpur
February 25, 2011
Press conferences in today's media-trained sport don't usually give much of an insight into the players' mindset. There's generally too much of 'the right areas' and 'playing the ball on its merits'. For the last two weeks or so, Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh's young captain, tactically not one of the best going around but a brave man for his age, has been trying to cover himself in a veil of dispassion. All his press conferences in the build-up to the World Cup - its first match, its first match's aftermath, its second match - have been all about disciplines and basics and the like.
After they finally won one game, however, Shakib, and his two team-mates, Tamim Iqbal and Shafiul Islam, lifted that veil. Minutes after they had gone on a victory lap - yes, after having beaten Ireland - the three came to address the media. Shakib being the captain, Tamim inexplicably being Man of the Match, and Shafiul because Tamim and Shakib thought he should have been Man of the Match.
Shakib's answers today went past two lines for the first time in the last two weeks. Tamim, like a back-bencher in a class, hid behind an energy-drink bottle and kept making fun of whatever he was making fun of. Whenever one person answered a question, the other two would be busy whispering jokes to each other. The national cricketers were back to being kids again; they aren't too much older in reality, either. Many jokes were cracked in Bangla in those 20 minutes. This press conference, the victory lap, said a lot about the release they felt.
"It wasn't really a victory lap," Shakib said. "Just showed our feelings. They [the people] have supported us throughout the two matches. Even the time we come for practice, people are on the streets. They just wait for us and wish us good luck. I thought it was our responsibility to show some respect to them as well."
More than respect and feelings, Bangladesh now knew they could show people their faces. That will be a big relief for a group that can't be the best team to support: they give up chases once Tamim gets out, and they often bat first without plan or brains. Yet they have had this unimaginably crazy support for the last two weeks.
And then there has been pressure of having made unpopular and stern, but well-meaning, decisions. It's no secret that the team management has put its foot down in leaving Mashrafe Mortaza out of the side for the World Cup, because of his fitness problems, against the wishes of those in the board who like to use the popular sentiment. Then they dropped Mohammad Ashraful, again the galleries' hero who disappoints much too often, for the first game. These are not decisions typical of Bangladesh cricket. The other day Shakib was asked in a press conference, "It seems you don't like seniors. Why?"
All that, combined with the beyond-saturation coverage of the World Cup on TV and in newspapers, plays on players' minds. When you have a game like Bangladesh had against India - don't be fooled by the 283 runs they scored, not for one ball did they look like they were competing - you perhaps start thinking of repercussions too. Repercussions, should you not do well, happen in the subcontinent at the end of every World Cup.
A lot was pent up coming into this game against Ireland. The kids had looked old and rugged against India. They badly needed to express themselves, there had been too much of right areas, the Bangladeshi cricketers needed to let themselves go. Out came a trigger-happy batting side. All they managed was mindless cricket. It reminded you of what Dav Whatmore said of their cricket when he left them four years ago.
"The lack of basic knowledge is a bit staggering really," Whatmore had said then. "When these young cricketers were growing up in youth cricket, they weren't told about the basics of cricket." They were at it again. When they knew 250 would be a daunting total on this slow and low track, they kept getting out to adventurous shots, worst of them being sweeps from well outside off, against the turn of a left-arm spinner. Whether it was pressure or lack of cricketing sense, this was the crazy Bangladesh we know: one-fifths individual brilliance, four-fifths collective implosion.
In their defence, though, they came out a brave side. That's their strength. When they have team-mates by their side, when they can let their army of spinners apply a choke hold to the opposition, when most importantly they have 25,000 behind them in the stadium, and many more thousands waiting outside.
They dived, they caught, they bowled stump to stump. They celebrated every Ireland wicket - batsmen with little experience of playing on low and slow tracks - as if they had just claimed Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. Ashraful, who by his own standards managed a stunningly poor shot to get out for 1, reacted as if he had scored a goal in a World Cup final when he dismissed Andrew White, who didn't look at home against spin bowling of any kind.
It might have put neutrals off, but Bangladesh needed to let it out. Defeat to Ireland would have crushed them. The tension was getting released with every step they took towards a first win. It culminated in that victory lap - not really a victory lap, Shakib will point out. Now that they have bitten this bullet, they should not be so muddled in their heads in the coming games, but if their batsmen are as suicidal as they were today, they will find teams who are not as obliging as Ireland were.
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