Time for Bangladesh to pay their faithful back
This has been the routine during each Bangladesh match in the World T20 in Mirpur: people start assembling on the roads outside the Shere Bangla Stadium hours before the game. Several of them do not have a ticket, they have no hope of getting in, but they just stand there patiently, on the pavement, on the road divider.
Those who get in shout "Bangladesh, Bangladesh" in unison as soon as they get the first glimpse of their "Tigers" running onto the field. It is a long word - Bangladesh. You need to say it with intensity and fervour to get it all out in one, powerful shout. The crowd is never lacking in both.
Then the names of the Bangladesh players are announced, slowly, one by one, giving the crowd enough time to react to each one. The big stars - Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim - get the loudest cheers. 'Cheer' is actually an understatement. These are full-blooded, deep-throated roars. You have to have unshakeable faith in something down to your deepest core to be able to let out this roar.
To the outsider, it is like someone has stuck you, without warning, with a high-dose injection of adrenaline. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain in words how they sound. It is also difficult to find a parallel elsewhere. Cricketers are widely adored in India and Pakistan too. But this feels different. These roars are like blank cheques with lifetime validity. Signed by the fans, for the players. Maybe the combination of Eden Gardens and Sourav Ganguly comes close. Maybe it is a Bengali thing.
The match starts. Bangladesh threaten to make it a contest for the first couple of overs or so. Tamim Iqbal thumps a boundary. The crowd is delirious. He gets out. Deafening delirium turns into deafening silence, but only momentarily. Shakib has to be welcomed to the middle, and again, no effort is spared in making him know how loved he is. Shakib is soon bowled. The same pattern is repeated. It is the captain who has to be ushered in with a verbal shower of rose petals this time. Mushfiqur smacks a few boundaries. If there exists a state beyond delirium, the stadium has reached it after these blows. Then even Mushfiqur falls, bringing back that momentary disappointment.
This state of delirium is a constant, parallel narrative at every Bangladesh match. It only pauses very briefly to register the fall of a Bangladesh wicket, or an opposition boundary. It ends with their defeat, and it resumes just before the start of their next match. It plays out in loop. Delirium. Pause. Delirium. Pause. Delirium. Defeat. Repeat.
Love is blind, they say. They must have had Bangladesh cricket fans in mind when they said it. In fact, this love goes further than mere blindness. It is only one side that is being blind to the other's faults here. For how much this love takes out of Bangladesh fans - time, money, emotion, their voices, with so much cheering - what they get in return can charitably be only called crumbs.
You are the host team of a world tournament. This is your home. These are your conditions. You have grown up playing on these grounds. Yet, your captain says early into the main round of the tournament that his team has nothing to lose. This is what Mushfiqur had said during the previous World T20 too, which was also played on the subcontinent. He also added this time that Bangladesh's major aim would be to compete with other teams in their group. Imagine MS Dhoni saying this at the start of the 2011 World Cup. Nothing to lose. Compete, as opposed to win. If you can imagine the impossible, now imagine the reaction of Indian fans.
Bangladesh cricketers are an incalculably fortunate lot to be blessed by such a loyal following. It is incredible that your three biggest stars can make 5, 6 and 16, 0, 1 and 38, and 22, 24 and 2 in a global tournament at home, and the fans' affection for them does not even as much as wobble. That you can lose three successive T20s in a world tournament by the heavy margins of 73 runs, eight wickets and 50 runs, and the fans' affection for the team does not even as much as wobble.
For once, can Bangladesh actually play like they have nothing to lose in this World T20? Can they actually compete? They have one final opportunity, against Australia. It won't make their relationship with their fans any less one-sided, but it will be some sort of a surprise parting gift for the Bangladesh cheering party that will doubtless, and regardless, happen in the Mirpur stands.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo