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The New Zealand team has missed the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of Bangladeshis
Commentary by Andrew McLean
October 30, 2004
Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns and Daniel Vettori are some of the most revered cricketers in Bangladesh but, unless there is a quick reversal in their off-field attitude, New Zealand's cricketers will leave Bangladesh with a tarnished image.
There haven't been any feature stories on New Zealand players in any of the 20 Bangla-speaking and the seven English-language daily newspapers in Dhaka. In fact, the few New Zealand touring fans and journalists on tour have had more coverage in the press than the players. One well-known fan has appeared in just about every paper at some point.
After writing over 50 stories on Cairns in his 13 years covering international cricket, Utpal Shuvro, the sports editor of the Daily Protham Alo, is astonished at the New Zealand team's inaccessibility on this tour. "I have always regarded the Indian team as the hardest to deal with, due to their demi-god status in their country," said Shuvro, "but New Zealand are now equal."
He was even more surprised given that he had such a good experience when Bangladesh toured New Zealand in 2001, when Simon Wilson was the team's media liaison man. "Even at the World Cup [in South Africa in 2003] I could interview Shane Bond or whoever I wanted," he said. "What is wrong with this year's team?"
Whereas the other countries that have toured Bangladesh recently - England, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies - invited the local media to an open interview session where all the players were available for one-on-one interaction, New Zealand has only offered press conferences. Amazingly, John Bracewell, their coach, did not attend a single press conference, while his counterpart Dav Whatmore appeared in front of the media after play every day.
The New Zealand team's official Media Protocol for the tour states that "Players and coach will be available for phone interviews at the conclusion of each day during the two Test matches." Although the Protocol is aimed at journalists back in New Zealand, logically it is equally applicable to those at the ground.
The New Zealand management was asked if Bracewell could attend the press conference after the second and third days of the Chittagong Test. The response on both occasions was that he was unavailable on matchdays, although he would attend the press conference at the conclusion of the match. Interestingly, though, Bracewell regularly appeared on ESPN-Star immediately after play during the Tests.
So after Whatmore and Khaled Mashud, Bangladesh's captain, had a lengthy press conference shortly after the match, the local press were surprised to see only Fleming arrive on New Zealand's behalf. The sole New Zealand newspaper journalist ran over to Bracewell, who was on the ground while some players practised, and told him that the press were waiting. Bracewell's response was that he was too busy. Later the press were told by the team management that Bracewell would arrive for questions in 30 minutes, to which one local journalist replied, "Well, we won't be here to speak to him."
That fact that Bracewell did not follow team protocol is one thing, but his snubbing of the local media, the representatives of the Bangladesh public, on the last day of the Test series is plain insulting.
The same is true of the team security expert's attempt to restrain reporters with a rope at a press conference. As Sayeed Uzzaman, a senior reporter for The Daily Amar Desh, puts it: "You are our guests, please. It hurts."
Both Uzzaman and Shuvro agreed on one point: the New Zealand team has missed the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of Bangladeshis. Last year the England team spent a full day visiting a disabled children's house 60km from Dhaka, in what was a huge morale-booster for the children and generated enormous goodwill among the public.
In 1998, during the Champions Trophy in Bangladesh, an image of Nathan Astle driving a rickshaw was a hit with the newspapers. Yet on this tour the New Zealand team took a bus from the team hotel to a restaurant 100 yards away.
"What New Zealand seems to have forgotten is that, as sportsmen, they are ambassadors of their country," says Uzzaman. "The danger is that those Bangladeshis who have seen the players for the first time have left with a false impression."
Last year when the New Zealand rugby coach, John Mitchell, isolated the All-Blacks team from the public and media en route to being knocked out of the World Cup by Australia, he was shown the door. With a Test series in Australia just round the corner, perhaps it's time Bracewell and the rest of the management had a rethink.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show (www.cricketclub.co.nz).
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