ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Bangladesh v South Africa, Group B, World Cup 2011, Mirpur
Can Bangladesh keep the party alive?
If Bangladesh stay in the World Cup, it will do more than just give the competition life. It will give it boisterousness, it will give it energy, it will give it a new character. But South Africa are standing in the way.
Firdose Moonda in Mirpur
March 18, 2011
The Lobby Café at the Sheraton Hotel where the South Africa and Bangladesh teams are staying emptied out faster than a stadium does after England beat West Indies. The romantic cricket-watching scene of noses pressed against glass with curious eyes straining to see the screen had played out when Andre Russell and Ramnaresh Sarwan were batting. When the collapse began, those cricket lovers disappeared, their hopes of Bangladesh easing into the quarter-finals gone with them.
At the end, only one smiling policeman remained. "I am very happy," he said. "I am very happy because if Bangladesh were to get into the quarter-finals because of the West Indies beating England, that is not good. They should rather get in by beating South Africa. That is very good."
Pride is what he was talking about. In recent weeks, Bangladesh have had plenty to be proud about. Their role as hosts of the World Cup is something that they are treasuring, something that they hope will put them on the global map in the same light as South Africa has been since the football World Cup. Tourists are welcomed with the words "Thank you for coming to Bangladesh," Dhaka is transformed into something magical at night with fairy lights on all the streets and there are posters advertising the tournament and the team everywhere.
The Bangladesh team are a dominant feature in the marketing campaign, because without them the tournament would hold far less value to the public. The team, in good touch before the event when they blanked New Zealand at home, came in as a strong contender to qualify for the knockout stage. It was the first time in the history of Bangladesh cricket that there was pressure on the team of this nature - the pressure of expectation - and now the moment has arrived where the limits of testing that pressure will be reached.
Bangladesh could not have expected it to be easy - with India, South Africa and England in their group. They probably eyed West Indies as the soft targets, the men in decline with a record of inconsistency that could see them fold at some stage of a six-match league. That didn't go according to plan and West Indies earned the most resounding of wins against them. It was a serious reality check of everything, from where they stand in world cricket to what they need to do to qualify for the quarter-finals.
In a beautiful twist of irony, one of the things they needed was for West Indies to beat England. That would have given Bangladesh a clear passage to the knockouts. It meant that the same team whose bus was stoned, accidentally or not, when they beat Bangladesh, was being cheered on in earnest. It would have been a less dignified way to qualify for the quarters, but it would have been a way, and that may have been all that mattered.
The team themselves don't seem to have placed too much importance on the West Indies loss, knowing that they can't expect favours on the road to success. Shakib Al Hasan didn't even watch the whole match. "When Chris Gayle was batting, I was watching. After that, I watched Hindi movies," he said. It may have been that he wanted to get away from the cricket for a while, but it's likely that he was avoiding the goings-on in Chennai because he wanted to get the mindset right and it seems he has.
"We have to fight to get to the quarter-finals ourselves," he said. It's a tough ask, but they can take comfort in knowing that the World Cup has usually provided the stage to pull off a big upset. In 1999, they did it against Pakistan, in 2007 they did it twice, to make up for not doing it in 2003. First, they axed a giant, beating India by five wickets and ultimately sending them out of the tournament. Then, they were a banana skin for South Africa in the Super Eights, something that will no doubt be a source of motivation ahead of tomorrow's match.
The biggest inspiration should come from within though. Bangladesh have made strides towards being a credible cricketing nation in the recent past. Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain, said the "knockouts will make the World Cup because it will feature the best teams in the world." Bangladesh would dearly love to be counted among those.
Beyond wins over Associates and the odd triumph against Zimbabwe, they whitewashed the West Indies away from home and did the same against New Zealand. The only way they can prove how much they have improved and how seriously they can be taken is with their actions on the cricket field.
Their fans will come into the fray - with the passion they are showing for the game seeing Bangladesh talked about as the new market for cricket. It's no secret that keeping a host in a tournament for as long as possible keeps interest alive in the event, but for this host to stay in the tournament will do more than just give the competition life. It will give it boisterousness, it will give it energy, it will give it a new character.
It will give all those people the reasons they need to keep believing and to keep supporting. It will bring back those who turned away from the café, because they didn't think Bangladesh could do it for themselves.
At the far end of that restaurant a few South African players were sitting as the support dwindled. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Morne van Wyk, Colin Ingram and Johan Botha watched with amused smiles as the West Indies did the ch--- better than South Africa in Chennai. They saw, first-hand, what it will mean for the public if Bangladesh get through and they will be braced for a tough fight when the players step onto the Shere Bangla field.
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