Beginning to believe
Habibul Bashar falls on the stroke of lunch - 'It is always the same with these guys ... they reach fifty, and they think their job is done'
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Part of today's upsurge in interest was to be expected - Friday is the Bangladeshi weekly holiday, and a day at the cricket is a logical way to spend it. But the rest was not so easily forecast. As Habibul Bashar and Hannan Sarkar swept and thumped the English in a heady morning session, the terraces at last dared to break free from their ingrained caution.
Their reticence has been understandable. After all, the team's improvements in the last few months have all taken place overseas - there were few signs of an upturn on their last appearance at Dhaka, back in May, when South Africa rolled them over by an innings in three-and-a-smidgeon days. "All we want is one win, just one win," implored Afsan, an engineering student sat on the fringe of the bear-pit at the pavilion end of the ground. "Then you will see what this team is capable of."
His words are interrupted by a roar of acclaim and a clattering of plastic bottles, as Habibul crashes Rikki Clarke through midwicket to bring up his fifty. On the opposite side of the ground, numbed into reticence by the unfolding events, sit the Barmy Army, whose journey from maverick supporters to establishment figures is ever nearing completion. Sat in the box right next to them is none other than Mr Establishment himself, the MCC secretary, Roger Knight. "They are more like Barmy Boy Scouts," adds a wag in the crowd, to huge and raucous laughter.
The bleachers are a hive of activity today, aided in part by the drip-feed attitude of the security officials, who have decided to open just one of the numerous gates on the north side of the ground, and subject each applicant to a vigorous frisking before entry. The cheapest tickets cost 20 taka, roughly 25 pence, although the black market seems to be the only salvation for most of the hopeful fans, as the box office on the far side of the car-park claims to have sold out already.
The vendors inside the ground are doing an equally roaring trade - quite literally in the case of the bhajji stall at the front of the top tier. A huge cauldron of oil bubbles over a noisy gas burner, manned by an elderly gent ladelling golden-brown nuggets into newspaper-lined trays. These in turn are whisked away by a convoy of small boys, who flog the wares at a taka a throw. Frozen-cream lollies are available at five takas a piece. Soft drinks and thermoses of coffee do the rounds as well. And as one man wobbles past with an overflowing tureen of egg curry, it is clear that every whim is being catered for. Lunch approaches, and Bangladesh take the lead, much to the crowd's delight. But then, disaster strikes, as Habibul fishes at a wide one and is caught at slip by Marcus Trescothick.
The stands are a pall of gloom. "It is always the same with these guys," says a distraught fan next to me. "They reach fifty, and they think their job is done." It promises to be a fraught afternoon.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be accompanying England throughout their travels in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.