So far, 2015 has been a spectacular year for the Bangladesh cricket team. The team has had its moments in the past, with notable successes like the series win against New Zealand or their performance in Asia Cup 2012. However, in all those past occasions we have either fallen just short of unequivocal success, or more frequently, found it difficult to sustain our performance for a substantial length of time. For someone who has been following our involvement in the game since the early 90s, it has often been frustrating to come so close, so often, only to somehow get derailed again. Our team’s tooth-and-nail fight until the last minute and then an eventual defeat had almost become a cliché.
However, so far this year has been significantly different. In the World Cup 2015, we made it to the knockout stages for the first time since qualifying for the grand event. On our way there, we knocked out England and gave all the other opponents a run for their money. More impressive than winning matches though, was the clear domination we displayed in most of our games. For the first time that most of us could recall, the team would set out in the field with a positive body language. Winning was expected, only a matter of applying oneself during the game. When we finally did win the game, there was no need for overt expressions of joy.
All cricket fans, probably all Bangladeshis, know what happened next. We lost in the Quarter Finals in a match where a good number of umpire decisions has since then been subject to endless controversy. Starting around the same time, a number of people began what can only be termed as bullying. Veteran cricketers began saying how this performance was merely a fluke, how our team lacks the professional attitude to play at the highest level, how we will not be able to sustain this performance for any length of time.
Everything that has happened since then has proven the naysayers wrong over and over again.
First we faced Pakistan, and smashed them in both ODIs and T20 matches. While our test performance could be better, we did not fare too badly there either. In the much longed-for series against India, we secured the series by winning the first two matches. While this time we did not get to attain our much-desired “Banglawash”, we revealed a budding new talent in the form of Mustafizur Rahman, the left-arm pacer winning one laurel after another so far in his career. Then, in the third major bilaterial series in less than three months, we faced South Africa, one of the powerhouses of international cricket today. While the T20 series and the first ODI was a disaster, we somehow turned around and won the ODI series here too!
Now, possibly everyone in Bangladesh is fully aware of the recent spell of success by our cricket team. My focus is not so much what the players are doing on-field, but rather on what us, the fans, are doing off it, whether in the stadiums, or our homes, or the ubiquitous social network.
Ever since our – somewhat unexpected – success in the World Cup, a good number of people have been less than kind in their criticisms. We have been told that this performance is fleeting, that even the matches we won don’t actually mean anything or that the big teams we defeated were actually not playing at full strength. When we protested the unsatisfactory umpiring in the Quarter Finals, some people mocked us, asking whether we actually ever expected to win. It should be mentioned here that our relative strength or likelihood of winning has nothing to do with the demand for fair umpiring, which is a right and not a privilege.
Once we kept on winning, some of the more sensible critics began to sit up and take notice. Others, however, kept belittling every achievement we made. The Pakistan team was not playing some of their best athletes. The Indian team lost on purpose to eliminate Pakistan. Every victory was marred somehow by these “critics” and their sheer unwillingness to admit that the Bangladesh cricket team was making progress. Given that this is how the critics behaved, there is no need to explain how much worse the layman fans’ attitude is.
Unfortunately, these people seem to have got what they were hoping for. The constant ridicule has gotten under the skin of our fans, if not our cricketers. After winning the series against India, a lot of diatribe was exchanged over social networks, and one ardent Indian fan complained of being harassed and abused outside the Mirpur stadium. There is no point in arguing exactly how we define abuse, and whether he was physically assaulted. It is enough that a person felt abused. There is no room for sophistry regarding how abuse is defined in the dictionary.
When talks of a South Africa tour emerged, their ace fast bowler Dale Steyn remarked how he is at the dusk of his career and would rather save himself for more auspicious events. Later he went on to explain that he was hoping to play another World Cup, or at the very least the T20 World Cup next year. When looked at objectively, his statements make perfect sense. His nation has not won a major tournament ever, and it is only logical that he would want to have one more go at the biggest tournament of them all. If that means he needs to rest himself and conserve energy, so be it. While it is understandable that a diehard Bangladesh fan could take offense at this statement, we are honestly past the stage of visceral reactions. We need to learn temperance and moderation in all things.
This is the crux of what our fans need to understand and internalise. Our team is no longer a small team that makes a few upsets. We are now a major league player, with consistent and significant success under our belts. Our athletes realise this and are becoming more professional. Just in this series, every time Tamim Iqbal has been provoked, he has simply pointed it out to the umpire instead of exchanging blows. It is time our fans realised this too. We do not need to verbally respond to every snarky remark by every “critic”. We do not need to pelt plastic bottles at every athlete who belittles us in a press conference. We certainly do not need to hurl verbal assault at any of them either. We can simply leave it to our tigers!
Bowlers who thought we are not worth playing against can be hit outside the ground over and over by the likes of Tamim, Soumyo, and Shakib. Batsmen who thought we would easy pickings can be taken care of by Mustafiz, Taskin, and Rubel. Why should we engage in debates, or stoop down to the level of derogatory remarks at the stadium, when our players can silence all the naysayers for us in style?
We are not the Bangladesh that won one match every couple of years. We are a new team, with new hopes and ambitions. We can afford to be a little more graceful, mature, and magnanimous.
Hammad Ali is a freelancer and an adviser for Bangladesh Math Olympiad Committee, Society for Popularisation of Science in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Open Source Network.