A great place to tour
Around 140 million people, floods, extreme poverty, hot and humid: these were probably the thoughts going through the heads of the many folk who questioned why I wanted to go to Bangladesh. Well, ignorance is bliss.
The truth is that a cricket tour of Bangladesh is pretty well the same as a tour of any other country, and in many ways it is better. There are good hotels to stay in, those same hotels have good restaurants to eat in, team buses and taxis are the common forms of transport to the grounds, the grounds themselves have grass, changing-rooms, stands and advertising, and water comes in plastic bottles. Could be anywhere, really.
Outside of cricket there are differences to what you can expect at home in New Zealand. The roads are chaotic, beggars hassle you in the street, sporting channels on the TV are better, cellphone rates are cheaper, the hotel staff are friendlier, and living costs are negligible. Oh, and as Bangladesh is a Muslim country, alcohol is virtually non-existent.
Leaving the booze to one side, as three weeks without a drink might be too much for some, there no logical reason not to want to tour Bangladesh. In fact the opposite is true: there are numerous reasons to make the trip. Here's just a sample.
From the moment you arrive the locals go out of their way to help you, be it giving advice, making calls on your behalf at no cost, or checking the credentials of taxi-drivers before you get in. With unwavering and genuine courtesy, it is hard to imagine a more polite nation of people.
Everyone wants to shake your hand, from the young kid in the stand at the cricket through to the random man in the street and the captain of the national cricket team. It's the Bangladeshi way.
There could be other places where you arrive on a match day to the "Hi Andy, how are you?" greeting that I received today from Habibul Bashar, Bangladesh's injured skipper. But I would take some convincing that the ten-minute yarn that followed is standard issue from most national captains. Consider also that when I failed to collect a transit card at Chittagong airport the other day, Khaled Mashud went and got it for me.
With Bashar still injured, Mashud has assumed the captaincy, surely the most emotionally demanding in international cricket because of Bangladesh's lack of success. Despite this, the nine months a year he spends away from his wife and young son, and the constant expectation of the cricket-loving public, Mashud hosts visitors to his country as warmly as any other Bangladeshi would.
From a media perspective, it is hard to fault the facilities at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka and the MA Aziz Stadium in Chittagong. PCs are provided for those without laptops, internet access is free, there is ample air-conditioned sitting space in an ideal position, lunches and afternoon sweets are delivered to your desk and, if you want a bottle of water, you only have to ask. There are some press boxes in the world - mentioning no names, just in case I have to go to them again - where none of that would happen.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show (www.cricketclub.co.nz).