England in Bangladesh 2003-04 October 10, 2003

A green and muddy land

Andrew Miller tiptoes through the puddles and joins the England side in Dhaka



Squelch: tip-toeing through the puddles in Dhaka
© Getty Images


The runs may have been pouring at Perth and Ahmedabad, but deluges of a less metaphorical nature have been dominating the headlines from Dhaka. On Wednesday morning England arrived in Bangladesh to be greeted by monsoonal conditions, courtesy of a hurricane in the Bay of Bengal. These have scarcely abated since. The upshot is a National Stadium whose outfield is as pondweed-green as the rice plantations that dominate the rural landscape, and no less soggy either.

Whatever impression the Bangladeshis hoped to make as England visited the country for the first time, it could not have been this. The tour party has been reduced to scurrying through the showers and weaving through the traffic bedlam, flitting from the luxurious isolation of the Sonargaon Hotel to the practice facilities of the BKSB, Bangladesh's first (and only) indoor sports academy.

It is a route that takes them north, away from the centre of Dhaka, but instead along the appropriately soulless Airport Road, past military cantonments, diplomatic sectors, and a large and muddy golf course. With further bad weather predicted in the coming weeks, England can expect to spend several hours a day sat in traffic jams, wistfully watching the drizzle roll down the windows. It is the way of the modern tour; compact, constraining, and increasingly the victim of less-than-clever scheduling.

On the field at least, the situation may yet work to Bangladesh's advantage if the rains decide to abate - England's lack of acclimatisation, coupled with their need to beat both the opposition and the weather, are factors that will be seized upon by Dav Whatmore, a coach who is being lionised on a daily basis by the local media. But, let's face it, there is far more to this tour than mere cricket, and from a public-relations point of view, things could not be going much worse.

Aesthetically, Bangladesh offers little that cannot be found in other, trendier countries, and all the while the stench of poverty is unmistakeable. But beneath a sea of umbrellas and makeshift polythene rainhats (Bangladeshis seem strangely immune to the elements) lie some of the friendliest and most genuine people on earth. With every drop of rain they are being robbed of the opportunity to showcase their true selves.

I must admit, when I arrived at the airport - hotel-less, backpacked and knackered after a 14-hour trip - I was more than willing to be swept along by a local guide who would shove me in a taxi and usher me to a cheap guest-house for a taka or two of baksheesh. But my Western cynicism was soon sent scattering. Within seconds, my guide and I were chatting animatedly about every aspect of my trip; within hours I had been introduced to a host of his friends (one of whom, a computer expert, set about rigging my laptop up to the local server); and then, after a brief and very essential kip, it was time to sample the local nightlife.

Bangladesh is a Muslim country, albeit one that distances itself from the more fundamental elements of that religion. As a consequence, alcohol use is tolerated, but kept very low profile. I was led to a restaurant-style bar near the centre of town, one of many such establishments that are sanctioned by the government. The absence of lighting gave the place an unduly rebellious feel, but there was nothing seedy about the premises or the clientele.

Bangladesh's interest in cricket ranges from the curious to the committed (like many others, my guide was primarily a Manchester United fan, and even admitted to having pictures of David Beckham plastered over his walls). But without fail, their only desire is to record a victory - of any description, in any sport. Cricket is just the latest to rise to prominence, and thanks to the strength of the game throughout Asia, it is the best-placed to deliver sustained success to a country that has suffered more than its fair share of ill-luck in a troubled history.

But until success is achieved, degrees of failure are what matter. In that respect, Bangladesh's one-wicket defeat against Pakistan last month is the most talked-about event in recent months. Their brave efforts in Australia are also seized upon as proof that the worm is about to start turning, But until the rain stops falling, England will be unable to discover quite what lies beyond the bus window.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be accompanying England throughout their travels in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.