Bangladesh earn da respect
Three days into their Caribbean trip and the Bangladesh team was suffering from a beauty hangover. Their hotel in St Vincent was on the edge of the beach, and separating them from the yachting resort of Young Island was a lagoon with water as clear green as ... well that's for the imagination.
With nothing else to do apart from training and rambling down the sandy beaches, the players were getting tired of staring at paradise. Well, not all of them. Mohammad Rafique spotted a large fish daring to swim around him in the shallow sea and attempted to catch it, only to suffer a nasty cut on his right wrist. It might not have been so amusing had it been on the other hand, his bowling hand.
"Can't wait for the games to start," moaned Rajin Saleh at the cocktail reception hosted by the governor of the island, when a bearded gentleman in jeans intervened and introduced himself to a group of players. "You may not believe this but I'm actually the prime minister of St Vincent," he said. "I'm the coolest prime minister in the Caribbean."
The laid-back, happy-go-lucky and music-filled West Indian way was getting infectious. The sounds of calypso and reggae could be heard at every roadside, in every street corner, in all the bars and restaurants, at the cricket ground, and in the passing cars and buses, so it was not before time that the West Indies Cricket Board XI landed in Arnos Vale for a one-day warm-up match. Otherwise the Bangladeshis might have forgotten what they came here for in the first place.
The Board XI boasted no fewer than six Test players, and was strong on paper. But that hardly mattered as they folded for 140-odd against a gentle assortment of medium-pace and spin. Aside from the all-too-familiar top-order collapse, Bangladesh had little trouble reaching the target.
Now St Vincent knew that Bangladesh can play. Three days later, they almost made it a week to remember, when they lost the first one-day international by just one wicket. West Indies were without Brian Lara, still nursing a finger injury, but it was still some achievement to come so close to defending a total of just 144. They had earlier lost two wickets in the fiery Tino Best's first over in a one-day international, but suddenly, the people who had mocked that the game wouldn't last till lunch, came rushing back to shake hands. "You've earned da respect, man."
Next day, Tapash Baisya, Bangladesh's deceptively quick seamer, picked up four wickets with slow legcutters, and West Indies were bowled out for 124 in a rain-shortened 25-overs game. Again the batting let Bangladesh down, and they fell short by 23.
But the two matches revealed one thing. Something was bugging West Indian cricket, and they were desperately lucky to come out with victories against a team they ought to have disposed of easily. "Didn't see heart or passion," lamented a local supermarket worker who doesn't miss a game. Now where was Lara?
"He won't come to St Vincent," declared one man watching the West Indian nets, who went on to explain how Lara was once booed in the nets after twice being bowled by the local lad, Cameron Cuffy.
It seems that every other person you meet is a Lara-hater ... and they all love their stories. "There's no finger injury. He's in St Lucia for the jazz festival," or "He used to be a Mama's boy, but that all changed when he became rich," or "He never lifts his bat when he makes a hundred here." Seconds later, these very same people acknowledge: "The stands won't fill up because he's not coming. I don't like his attitude but I love his batting."
Although the attraction of cricket is still huge in the Caribbean, an outsider can't be faulted for believing that the younger generation has other things to do. Almost every TV channel is an American one, and the only sports channel available is ESPN, where you are sure to get an elaborate dose of basketball and baseball. Besides, coming from the subcontinent, you expect to see children and teenagers playing cricket in every nook and cranny: you'll be lucky to find anything close here.
But there may still be signs of a revival. In the not-too-distant future, fans around the world will flock to watch Dwayne Smith's effortlessly cool batting, or scream in ecstasy as Best knocks over someone else with sheer pace.
Already the signs are encouraging. "Dat's a fast bowler," shouted a middle-aged man as Jermaine Lawson dug one in short at a Bangladesh batsman in Grenada. It has been a long time since the West Indian public has had a clutch of genuine fast bowlers and dashing batsmen to get excited about. They do now. The good old days could yet return.
Rabeed Imam is senior sub-editor of the Daily Star in Dhaka.