<
>

Mashrafe calls for calm as Bangladesh face the team their fans love to hate

play
Shakib, the MVP of the 2019 World Cup (2:00)

The Bangladesh allrounder's phenomenal performances with bat and ball have lit up the World Cup. How close can he get them to the trophy? (2:00)

Tuesday's match against India is a must-win for Bangladesh as far as progressing to the World Cup semi-finals is concerned but, among its large contingent of fans, the anxiety over what could happen on the field is matched by anxiety over the loss of face should their team lose. Because it will not be just another loss - if it happens - but a loss to the one team they love to hate.

The stakes are high. Ahead of the match, there is talk among Bangladeshi expatriates living in Birmingham of buying tickets at higher prices, and plans to enter the stadium in large groups so that they are not overwhelmed by the Indian support troops, who are likely to be in a majority during the game. One group is also organising a march towards Edgbaston, although they aren't sure how many are joining them.

It's got to the point where captain Mashrafe Mortaza has had had to ask the team's supporters to tone it down.

ALSO READ: Are Bangladesh lagging behind because of a self-imposed limitation?

"There will be excitement but it won't be acceptable if it crosses the limit or someone is targeted personally," Mashrafe told BDnews24.com. "Social media and abuse and trolling is hard to ignore for players, no matter how hard we try to avoid them. Cricketers are also human. It affects relations between two countries and doesn't send a great message about our country either. "Both sides will want to win the game. Our supporters should definitely back us with all their heart but it shouldn't become dirty. We should keep in mind that we don't do anything to belittle our country."

Thankfully, the players appear unaffected by the hype, and from all accounts, there's quite a bit of bonhomie between the two sets of players at the hotel they are sharing in Birmingham. Mashrafe was seen hanging out with MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya while Tamim Iqbal is said to have spent time with KL Rahul. There has never been outward hostility between the players, apart from the odd on-field sledge, and Bangladesh cricketers often talked about India as strong opponents from whom they have learned a lot.

But it's hard to ignore the past, especially in the age of social media. It stems from the persistent and long-held feeling among Bangladesh fans that they were given a raw deal - in cricketing terms - by their neighbours. Ironically, it was Jagmohan Dalmiya, the ICC president at the time, who engineered Bangladesh's elevation to full-member status in 2000. Since then, though, India have hosted Bangladesh for just one Test match, often citing commercial reasons for not hosting them more.

So there's the hurt, as well as a feeling that the hurt is not justified. This has been further complicated by a steady, seemingly endless, stream of abuse - sledges, threats, offensive memes, the works - from both sides, especially on social media. Four years ago, even the mainstream media joined the trolling, when a major Bangladeshi daily mocked Indian cricketers with a graphic of them being shaved by Mustafizur Rahman's cutters. Then, during the 2017 Test in Hyderabad, a local daily alluded to the "big brother v younger brother" relationship in its headline.

On the field, Bangladesh have a 5-29 win-loss record against India in ODIs, though famous victories in 2004, the 2007 World Cup, the 2012 Asia Cup and the 2015 ODI series were posts of progress.

Bangladesh's evolution as a team, particularly in the last four years in which they also beat India twice, has added to the fans' confidence. They have built a parallel universe where it is believed that there is no clear favourite in this contest, and out meme-ing and out-trolling each other is a form of victory. On Tuesday, they have another chance to change the tone and tenor of that communication.