|HOME | SPORTS | DIARY | HARSHA BHOGLE|
|November 4, 1998||
Lights, camera, passion!Harsha Bhogle
My first impression of the Bangabandhu Stadium, and I must admit I was only there for a couple of hours in early 1997, was that intent wasn't quite being matched by capability. I had met Saber Choudhury and Ashraf-ul Huq, the two men who run cricket in Bangladesh, and their passion was unquestionable.
But the stadium didn't quite mirror that. It reminded me a bit of the stadium at Cuttack; lots of concrete, lots of dust, and lots of activities under one roof making for an unhappy family. I didn't think it could host an event as big as the Wills International Cup.
Then, Bangladesh was ravaged by floods, which invariably leave a terrible aftertaste behind. Pictures of despair and helplessness, malnutrition and disease, signature shots of the Third World as seen through western eyes (or as Western eyes would like to see them?) were on television screens all over the world and even to Asian eyes, they looked frightening.
And to make things worse for Bangladesh cricket, the performance of the national team plummeted faster than that of the currencies South-East of them, they had a forgettable tour of India where the euphoria of winning their first one day international quickly evaporated. They had a terrible tour of the UK and embraced complete disaster at the Commonwealth Games. The coach was sacked and re-instated. The captain wasn't. Neither were several senior players.
It was in such an atmosphere of intrigue and despondency that cricket teams from all over the world arrived in Dhaka. Nobody knew what to expect and in a peculiar sort of way, that must have helped the organisers. When you fear the worst, even the hopeless seems palatable. Thus, ignorant minds can create strange concoctions.
Indeed, for a brief while, it seemed everyone's nightmares would be realized. Death wishes seemed to have a rather more realistic air to them. Everything was wet; lawns and roads, practice pitches and main squares. And rather than debate over the identity of the eventual winner, everyone was talking of the dreaded new tie-breaker. Would bowlers need to hit the stumps twice? Or thrice? Would they have to come running in off their full run-up?
And how would they run-in if the approaches were wet?, one manager asked. And he seemed to have a serious look in his eye, if a good old primary school lemon and spoon race wouldn't carry a stronger cricketing flavour! You see, there was much to occupy the minds of the lazy, the eager and the discerning!
But in two bright, dry and sunny days, the transformation of the Bangabandhu Stadium was complete. The tiles looked polished, the lights were positively spell-binding, the wicket held firm and far from being a swamp. The outfield happily allowed the ball to glide over itself. Everything was ready for the arrival of the bridegroom. I am convinced that this could only have happened in a developing Third-World country where emotions like pride and prestige mean more than mere worldly matters like debts and recession.
Everyone from the Prime Minister downwards had made the success of this event a personal mission. Volunteers worked long and hard and in their vast numbers. They always had time for a smile. Complaints about non-working air-conditioners and disappearing soft drink trolleys were met with a shrug. And with an even greater flurry of arms and legs. But practice pitches improved dramatically and even a couple of warm up games were scheduled. If confusion was one arm of enthusiasm, the other was a manic desire for prestige. Both co-existed quite happily in Dhaka; as did the floodlights and the widespread power-cuts!
The local media was in full bloom as well. From the armchair critics who pronounced, in 200 words, that Test cricket was the real thing (when did Bangladesh last play a Test match!!) to the cub-reporters who drooled at the sight of cricket's glitterati in their backyard. Wasn't that Lara heading towards the coffee shop? And, oh, wasn't that Jonty slipping into the lift? And Tendulkar talking to the lobby manager? And the Waughs, stately and different, walking away? And Hollioake and Fleming and Cronje and Azharuddin and Jayasuriya and the Flower brothers... The galaxies of the universe, for them, could not have shed more light over Dhaka this week! Everything was faithfully recorded, even if it made newspapers look like term-end compositions!
I was particularly intrigued at being asked, around every bend and at every ground, 'what do you think of our lights?' 'What do you think of the tournament?' What do you think of the stadium?... It was like the family cook creating a great meal but not being satisfied till the visitors had proclaimed it to be so. Correction -- till every visitor had proclaimed it to be so! I tried explaining to several people that an event of this magnitude did not need a certificate from overseas travellers like me; that visiting captains seemed satisfied with the facilities, that the ICC had endorsed them and that nothing else mattered.
It reminded one of my first tour to England; when I was wide-eyed and in love with everything I saw; when my pace slackened as I passed Mike Brearley in the press box; when I read all the familiar bylines, now names on desks, and tried to assign faces to them. And when I wondered why a couple of colleagues, also obviously on their first tour, wanted to ask Phil Edmonds what he the thought of Sunil Gavaskar -- three years after Gavaskar had retired! Funnily, to them, and that is the parallel with the reporters in Dhaka, a statement from Edmonds, or Emburey or who ever, seemed to add weight, and pride, to Gavaskar's 10,122 Test runs!
Innocence and naivete are so quickly replaced by pomposity and cynicism. I hope that never happens to cricket in Bangladesh, for their cricketers will always struggle to match the expectations of a poor and hopeful country. Cricket is like a motif running all the way through society in Bangladesh, much like fish curry is. To a young and troubled nation, cricket is like an intoxicant, like it is to its giant neighbour.
Bangladesh needs more cricket. But they need to justify the right to have it. As their players struggle to retain their identity in the midst of brighter stars, their administration has made a fair beginning.
Mail Prem Panicker
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