April 7, 2014

Learning Bangla, describing Steyn

For our World T20 correspondent, one seems a little more challenging than the other

No amount of rain can rein in Dhaka's enthusiasm for cricket © Getty Images

March 25
Take a trip to the Agrabad hotel, one of the grandest in Chittagong, for an interview. Cars are swept with bomb detectors on the way in. There is World T20 merch on sale at a stall in the lobby - though as the place has been commandeered by the ICC for teams and officials, it's unclear who might wish to buy branded t-shirts and caps. Visit the Chittagong Club bar in the evening, another tough place to get into. I lend a colleague some shoes after his trainers provoke consternation at the door. Food is good, though strangely, no rice is available. Not a problem I expected to encounter in Bangladesh.

March 26
Bangladesh Independence Day. It was on March 26, 1971 that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman triggered the breakup of East and West Pakistan by declaring independence for the Bengali wing of a country founded less than 25 years earlier. There are plenty of street displays, singing, dancing and general festivity on what is now a national holiday. Appropriately, though entirely coincidentally, I learn a couple more Bengali phrases from my ever-enthusiastic driver, Shamu. "Kemon aachho?" and "Bhaalo aachhi", or "How are you?" and "I'm fine." Useful, should I want to have a conversation with myself.

March 27
There seems to be increased security at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury midway through the Super 10 stage. Passes are scanned and bags checked for the first (and it turns out only) time. On the same day, the volunteers in the media centre have been issued with a batch of orange polo shirts with the legend "T20 buddy" printed on the back: the spirit of friendship is now official.

On the pitch, Alex Hales becomes the first Englishman to score a T20 international hundred in an extraordinary win over Sri Lanka. Up in the press box, it is hard to tell which set of journalists is more surprised. Perhaps my pessimism was the reason for being mistaken for an Australian earlier in the day.

March 28
Pop over to the MA Aziz to chat to Brendon McCullum before New Zealand training. Five minutes in the sun holding out a dictaphone is enough for me to get a bead on, never mind the thought of running around. Outside afterwards, a group of kids take turns to blurt out English words and phrases before running to hide behind one another. They have a bat and ball, naturally. "Kemon aachho?" I ask. "Bhaalo aachhi," comes the reply.

At ZACS, the old-style scoreboard is still showing England's card from the night before, though Hales' innings was apparently not updated after his final, walloped six to win the game. Before an optional net session, Paul Collingwood faces up to Mushtaq Ahmed, Ashley Giles and Graham Thorpe without any pads on. His striking seems to have improved on the nurdler of memory. David Saker then zips one down that takes the inside edge of the bat and narrowly misses Collingwood's bare legs. "You nearly took my kneecap off with that!" he yelps.

March 29
Wander into the stands to take in some of New Zealand's match against Netherlands, with the sun setting behind the stadium. It is a humid, lazy evening, the players in soft focus before the artificial light takes over. England are taken apart by AB de Villiers' electric innings. The ballad of Jade Dernbach may have reached its final stanza.

March 31
Rise and shine for an excursion to start the day, heading along the Chittagong coast to see one of the largest ship-breaking yards in the world. We board a fishing boat and chug out into the bay, where a row of long-dormant hulks - ferries, cruise liners and cargo ships from around the world - stretches for what seems like miles, their carcasses being slowly picked clean for tons of steel and other reusable components. It is a controversial industry, with poor working conditions and environmental standards, but it provides employment for thousands. On shore, one of a group of older ladies sorting through the trawlers' catch tries to persuade one of my colleagues to marry her granddaughter. They've got an eye for an opportunity here.

The Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury's final World T20 fixtures are played later in the day, with the Dutch completing a memorable double over England. Their win at Lord's in 2009 was one of the great upsets. This is a genuine shellacking to end England's winter of discord. The other hero of the day is Rangana Herath, who tickles and teases New Zealand for figures of 5 for 3. Herath used to work in a Colombo bank when not on duty for Sri Lanka and his credit rating looks pretty impressive here.

April 1
Another early start for an internal flight to Dhaka, just a short 40-minute hop from Chittagong. I am quickly on my way to another round of matches, heading along the new bypass towards Mirpur. The road is smooth and uncluttered: find the right CNG driver and he will take a racing line, as if it were Monte Carlo. The Shere Bangla stadium, tightly wedged into a busy commercial and residential area, is like a vast saucer, though West Indies have no problem putting the ball into the stands against Pakistan. The final Super 10 game features two mercurial teams who justify the tag. After Pakistan's 84-run defeat, Mohammad Hafeez's press conference involves lengthy interrogation in Urdu. There is laughter in the room and Hafeez answers with a smile. The gist, apparently, is "Why don't you resign?"

April 2
Shane Warne arrives unexpectedly at South Africa's net session, rolling his arm over for a bit and dispensing tips to fellow leggie Imran Tahir. Meanwhile, a photographer wants a picture of Dale Steyn but, unfortunately, doesn't know who Dale Steyn is. A lot of pointing and descriptions of Steyn's Mohican haircut and crazily tattooed arm eventually do the job.

Afterwards, on the way to the England women's team hotel, Dhaka traffic coagulates in the manner for which it has become famous, almost depriving me of two interviews. A more relaxed stroll around the Gulshan and Banani neighbourhoods is called for later that evening, which leads to a sumptuous Indian meal at a restaurant called Sajna. The dosa is awesome.

April 3
First day of semi-finals in Mirpur, where a canny Australia edge out up-and-coming West Indies in the women's tournament. The West Indies men are also in action - though only just. The reigning champions drag themselves along at five an over in pursuit of Sri Lanka's 160. The climacteric is dictated by the climate, however, as an apocalyptic storm blossoms above the ground, releasing torrents of rain and hailstones the size of marbles. As the outfield takes on the glassy sheen of a boating lake, the slow-poke West Indies are washed out of the tournament.

April 4
It seems cooler after the rainfall, though a wander round the Shere Bangla outfield before the start of the second women's semi-final between England and South Africa quickly works up a sweat. England are barely required to do so during a nine-wicket win, and Virat Kohli provides the antiperspirant for India, as both of South Africa's teams are knocked out on the same day. At least they won't have had to change their flights home.

April 6
In Mirpur for the last time, where clouds cast an ominous shadow on finals day. Australia barnstorm their way to a third successive title past a rather wet England before the rain does arrive, forcing a delay to the men's game. Sri Lanka, at last, are not to be denied, though there remains the risk of a flood of emotion after Kumar Sangakkara leads them home in his and Mahela Jayawardene's final T20 international. In the press conference room afterwards, everyone wants to shake his hand. One journey finishes, another one begins.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here