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Bangladesh's day out

Even if religion, caste, class and culture continue to divide the subcontinent, one thing is bound to continually unite them: the love for cricket. The opportunity to go to see a game between India and Bangladesh was too good to turn down, and so I was able to have my first real day out in Bangladesh.

India arrived in Bangladesh late last week for a three day ODI series and two tests, to be played in Dhaka and Chittagong. Cricket relations are tense: Bangladesh’s win against India in the world cup sent them out (and also upset many of the betting scams, or so rumour has it) and so the Indians have come over with an air of intent, determined to inflict retribution on their upstart Eastern neighbours.

The first ODI – last Thursday - was a close Indian victory: they scored the 251 they needed with just one over to spare, so for Saturday’s game there was eager anticipation as the whole country debated whether the Desh were up to the job.

Matches start early and we arrived just before 10 am to hear the roar of the stadium as the players took the field. In the belly of Mirpur Stadium the noise that we heard was immense: drums, whistles, shouting, horns, more drums. The concrete shook with the bombardment of sound.

When we entered the stadium, and as we fought our way through 55,000 Bangladeshis, the place was awash with green and red. Some were wearing four or five flags tucked into bandanas, others had small flags painted on their faces. Others carried inflatable tigers (Bangladesh are known as the Tigers for their ODIs), whilst one guy had painted his entire upper body in green with a big red sun on his chest. The game had attracted some real characters, showing early enthusiasm for the match.

Once the game started, the noise rose even more and did not stop for the entire day. The contrast between watching cricket at home and cricket here could not be more stark. Two lads in front of us banged on a snare drum non stop for about 10 overs, others were dancing and waving flats for ball after ball. India batted first, and every time a player fell the stadium left two or three feet into the air, flags and whistles were flung, and all the Bangladeshis were screaming. When Dravid and Dhoni, the two Indian stars that came along went, the celebrations borders on the violent.

The life of the stadium was fantastic. Ice-cream sellers picked their way among screaming supporters to flog chemical-flavoured and luminous green coloured lollies, whilst water sellers lobbed bottles across rows of supporters and money wrapped in paper bags was thrown back. The heat was also incredible – nearly 38 degrees in the shade but we were stuck in the sun, roasting on the hottest day I have felt since I arrived, and slowly burning as the rays beat down upon us. Simply sitting was sufficient for our t-shirts to turn sodden, holding enough sweat to be rung like a wet cloth.

The passion of the supporters was fascinating. The Bangladesh captain, Bashar, was under immense pressure, mainly because he was quite hopeless, and every time he fielded the ball or failed to stop a boundary he was jeered and whistled and booed. One guy proudly held his sign saying ‘All are Tigers but Bashar is a cat’ for most of the day. Bashar later went on to make a good forty or so runs and got some cheers, so the support was certainly fickle!

Any bedeshis in the crowd were wildly cheered, and my friends and I gained some kudos by having Bangladesh shirts and flags. They also picked us out on the television, as we have been told since. What was most interesting, however, was the openness and liberality of the spectators. Some had taken off of their shirts, others were dancing and singing, some women were smoking, other women had painted their faces and were wearing flags – it was as if this was the only place in Bangladesh were people could be themselves and really not worry about social pressures.
Others took great delight in making us drum, shouting Bangladesh at Tim as loud as they could and generally fooling about. Inside the curved walls of Mirpur Stadium, the rules did not apply.The game itself petered out a bit. At first India accelerated away, but Bangladesh were able to take a few wickets late on so that the visitors were restricted to 285 for 8 of 49 overs. This was to prove too much for Bangladesh, who started reasonably promisingly, but once they lost star man Ashraful cheaply, the run rate plummeted and though they batted out their 49 overs, they lost by 46 runs. India were never really troubled. It means that the ODI series is lost even though there is one more game to play, but there are still the tests, so hopefully Bangladesh can achieve something there.
For us, it was strange to able to have a real day out, to be able to do something entirely different and actually with a purpose. The noise and the passion of the supporters was incredible, the atmosphere alien but enchanting. Sadly there are no more series until South Africa come in January, unless the perennial opposition of Zimbabwe are invited (again). Until then, we will just have to hope for some more.
(Tom Wipperman is a VSO based in Dhaka, Bangladesh) 

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