Bangladesh show their growing independence
God knows the tournament could have used a day like this. Bermuda and their ever-beaming captain expressed the delight of his team to have just been here and was given an ovation by the press for being always so gloriously jolly. The tournament volunteers lapped the outfield to conclude Trinidad's participation in what is the biggest event ever in the Caribbean. And by the exultant dressing room, from a contingent of red-and-green supporters, the chant in Bengali grew louder and louder: "Is there any team but Bangladesh?"
"It is a huge day for Bangladesh," said the veteran cricket journalist Utpal Shuvro. "Really massive. At home whenever there is any Bangladesh cricket match on the mood is never like any other day. So you can imagine what this must be like."
Despite the sodden tarps, the inspections, the stops and the waits, this was a day of excitement. Bermuda slogged heartily and put up something of a score. Then the ball darted about for them in mysterious ways. The tall Kevin Hurdle extracted genuinely challenging bounce. The balding Saleem Mukuddem moved it in the air and off the pitch and hit a superb line, particularly to the left-handers. "It was the most difficult possible scenario for us to qualify in," Bangladesh's coach Dav Whatmore said. Briefly it felt that this could be such a tournament even Bermuda might sneak a victory. For a while the Indian cricketers must have sat before their television screens with genuine hope.
A few early wickets fell and the game hung thrillingly in evening gloom. A ball struck by the recklessly brilliant Mohammad Ashraful swirled high in the air and just eluded Oliver Pitcher, whose spirited effort resulted in him being ambulanced away from the stadium. Another stinging chance was spilled by the Glamorgan captain David Hemp moments later. Asked later if he was nervous, Ashraful replied: "No."
Bangladeshis burst out of the dressing room as the 20-year-old Saqibul Hasan drilled a boundary down the ground to seal it. "People might call it a surprise, but quietly, in here," Whatmore said, pointing to his heart, "all of us believed that, with a little bit of luck, we could make it. It is up to us to soak in the wonderful, wonderful experience that lies ahead of us, playing with the best six or seven sides in the world."
It may be unrealistic to expect too much more from Bangladesh immediately. But with almost all the side below 23, there is great optimism for the coming years. Observers have noted the progress.
"This team has a taste of winning," Shuvro said. "Up to 2005 we just lost match after match. It was crushing for the players. But over the last two years, we have played lots of matches against lesser teams like Zimbabwe and Scotland. The players know now the feeling of raising their bats after a century, taking out stumps as souvenirs. And the new generation, the Saqibuls and Tamims, have beaten teams like India and Sri Lanka in age-group matches. That is the big difference in this team."
Primarily because the ICC wanted to prepare Canada and Bermuda, Bangladesh were afforded the chance of an extra fortnight in the Caribbean, for a lead-up triangular in Antigua. It meant they had a longer, more relaxed, build-up period than all the big teams. "We had great weather, we could really work on our fitness and physiotherapy, adapt to the conditions."
Having said his bits, Whatmore left the dais to the players on either side of him. Perhaps he did not want to hog the limelight; perhaps he wanted these relative innocents to get accustomed to the glare of the media. There would be much more coming their way.
When the rain had drizzled down in the afternoon, Shuvro had wondered if this was destiny. "The 25th of March is the darkest day in our history, when the Pakistan Army invaded in 1971. I felt maybe it is nature's way of saying this great day should not fall on March 25, it should fall on the next day, which is our Independence Day." Victory did come on March 25 - Caribbean time. A dozen time zones ahead in Bangladesh the clock had long since ticked, and dawn was about to break on the country's Independence Day.
Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Cricinfo Magazine and author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04