Monday, January 17, 2005

A touch of the Caribbean

It is a tad late in the day, but thought I'd write a bit on the scenes on the ground in Chittagong after Bangladesh won that first Test of theirs last week.
Now, it just so happens that I have had the good fortune of following Bangladesh cricket rather closely for sometime now. Was able to spend some time in the country early last year too, when I got a chance to cover the Under-19 World Cup that was being held across a series of very pretty centres (bar Dhaka, which is quite the ugliest city I have ever been to).
Outside of that too, I have been able to use my Bengali connections and associations to stay in touch with and track Bangladesh cricket.
What all that's proven to me is that we have, just across the border, a country that is a few degrees more fanatical about their cricket than we are here in India. It's true. Indians' 'passion' for their so-called religion, I find, is strictly limited to the stars they worship and to India playing well. It doesn't have much to do with the game as such, the faux patriotism all of us practice from time to time, or the romance involved with watching a game at grounds such as the Eden Gardens. Of course, concrete seats under the baking sun don't induce a lot of romance, but you know what I mean...
Anyway...what you'll find in Bangladesh, is a people obsessed with the game, and when I say obsessed, I mean to a degree few of us would have reached. They discuss Australian cricket. English cricket. The Ashes. South Africa's decline. The Caribbean Hope. Lara. Matthew Hayden. Muralitharan. Even Nathan Astle. At least five people (out of five) remembered the number of fours and sixes Astle had hit in that innings against England after I mentioned to them that he is my favourite batsman at the moment. [I didn't remember, of course]
Now, immodest as it may sound, I suppose I can talk a better game of cricket than many of the people on Dhaka streets. But I certainly don't keep track of as much as the average Bangladeshi cricket fan does. I don't (anymore) get up at the crack of dawn to catch matches from Australia, for example. I work when England play South Africa, and often don't bother to find out what happened.
But they do.
Is it because they are so young as a cricketing nation? At par with my, or say my generation's newness at the time of the 1992 World Cup or the tri-series preceding it...? Is it because they are still learning, and like I sat down with my scrapbooks and notebooks all day when I was, say, eight, they choose to do the same because they are less than five years into the international scene? Will it go away somewhat as Bangladesh develop into a better cricketing nation and winning and losing matches will become as everyday as it is with India or Pakistan or one of the more developed cricketing nations?
At the end of the Chittagong Test, much like after the win over India in the ODI sometime back, the scenes on the ground were reminiscent of the early 1980s Carib stuff. Though I daresay the Jamaican rum makes the somersaults and basic dances more professional than prohibition-hit Islamic nations like Bangladesh. I mean, Mohammad Ashraful's little waist-shaking isn't a patch even on morons like Faoud Bachhus.... But the essence is the same.
And man, did they celebrate after the Zimbabwe conquest! Indian cricketers have made too much money the wrong way to be able to do it, but there was Habibul Bashar, the Bangla captain, hollering away on his cellphone. As was Dav Whatmore. [Here, it would be Aushim Khetrapal...] Ashraful was dancing, running, sliding on his stomach. Tendulkar's too heavy and expensive to do anything similar. Ganguly, too unaesthetic. Dravid, too morbid. Laxman, too embarrassed. Kumble, hahahahaha. The rest...too precious.
They danced, they sang, they did everything.
And it was good to see.
And it made me think whether we will have to wait for one more new Test-playing nation to emerge before we can hope for similar scenes. Because, surely, once Bangladesh become a stronger nation, and Bashar's sneezes come with slugs, they can't afford to be the same way. It won't make such a difference either, to be fair. Heaven knows. Maybe we can keep an eye out for Zimbabwe now, and see what they do if they ever get around to winning a game again.