Since 19 March 2015, any Bangladesh versus India cricket match has taken an inevitable twist. The lush, green enormity of the legendary MCG continues to poke cricket-fanatics on both sides of the border about the “something” that had happened in that World Cup quarter final between these two teams. Much water has rolled along the Padma-Ganga, but the heat of that “something” has only intensified day by day. Let’s be honest. A Bangladesh-India match no longer carries the vegetable-like innocence of an India-Sri Lanka match. Therefore, regardless of any good or bad reason, a frenzied ambience of mistrust-doubt-dislike-jealousy has prevailed in chaotic hilarity.
But sensible minds will always wonder: Is this what we really desire before, during and after a cricket match? In spite of everything, is cricket a life-and-death issue for anyone? Bangladesh captain Mashrafee Mortaza always says how he disagrees with the idea of tagging cricket-adoration with nationalism as he believes cricketers aren’t real life heroes and they shouldn’t be objects of hero-worship. Personally, I agree one hundred per cent with Mashrafee when he further goes on to say, if the craze for cricket could be applied to other national issues – like keeping our environment clean or obeying the laws, etc. – genuine patriotism would have bloomed and our country could have progressed a lot more.
Cricket should ideally be judged as a creative entertainment. And who wants to fight or hate over entertainment?
Do we do so in movie-watching? (Consider how many Bangladeshis don’t watch Hindi movies or serials!)
Holidaying? (Consider how many Bangladeshis don’t visit Agra-Darjeeling-Shimla for vacation!)
Eating out? (Consider how many Bangladeshis don’t relish North-South Indian dishes in Khazana, Sajna or Santoor!)
Why then does a cricket match with India have to transform into a volatile clash of egos? There will be a flurry of answers telling you what “they” have been doing from that infamous Melbourne day to suppress us. You don’t need to ask for clarification about this “they”; diehard Tiger fans will tell you how ‘ishara’ is ‘kafi’ for the intelligent ones! Fans will cite you the latest example of ICC’s double standard in the dramatic T-20 match against India on 23 March where Mashrafee was penalized 20%, and the rest of the team fined 10%, of the match fees for slow over rates, whereas India took exactly 12 minutes and 22 seconds to bowl the final over alone – thereby taking more time to complete their twenty over bowling – and yet received no admonition.
One of my journalist friends told me an interesting point.
“We are the only team now who openly talk and have outbursts about international cricket politics, something that no other team does. Look at the scenario outside India. Australia and England, being part of the three monarchs, are silent as all of their interests are safely preserved. But others? West Indian, Sri Lankan, Zimbabwean and South African cricket does not have the financial clout and mass popularity, so they keep mum. Pakistani cricket is flooded with in-house petty games and has crumbled. Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands are virtually shattered. It is only Bangladesh cricket which has the money, substantial infrastructure, vehement public and media support and, most importantly, two-three layers of quality players. Thus we do not stay silent against injustice. And that is what has made us unpopular in their eyes.”
“But shouldn’t our approach be more diplomatic?” I had asked.
“Well, yes. But you have to remember, our cricketing development has become a strong symbol of our national identity, and we are still in the first generation relishing the pride. It’s quite natural for us to be emotional; you can’t blame people for this. We will mature over time.”
Let me now look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. No one will doubt that India – as well as the rest of the cricketing fraternity – has been taking Bangladesh seriously. The once-upon-a-time whipping boy of cricket has been able to inject some element of awe into others’ minds, and the Tigers have done this only by their striking on-field performances. This fear and admiration about the Tigers has not sprung out of the blue. Just looking back at the past will make us realize it all started from a combined bout of successes: winning the ICC Trophy and consequently playing the 1999 World Cup in England; defeating a full-strength Pakistan; Banglawashing Zimbabwe, Kenya (twice), Scotland, Ireland, West Indies (both test & one-day series at their den), New Zealand (twice); defeating Australia in 2005 at Cardiff (Aussies were number one at that time); crushing India and South Africa (it was number one ranked then) in the 2007 World Cup; routing England in the 2015 World Cup to play in the quarter final and almost defeating New Zealand, and recently overpowering Pakistan, India and South Africa on home soil.
My point is: it is winning, as well as the manner of winning, which has mattered for Bangladesh. The Tigers have been able to transform themselves from the status of ‘occasional upset winners’ into consistent top class performers who believe they can win any match, and that win will not be a surprise. The cricketing world now appreciates the Tigers as cricketers who take incredible catches in the outfield and boundaries, who regularly play all types of improvised shots, who bowl yorkers and bouncers at 147-148 km and who scream in childlike happiness or frustration during matches.
Therefore, our intelligent act from now onwards would be to focus on our achievements and improvement rather than spending time on un-cricketing issues. All these poking-loathing-bashing from “them” are bound to perish over time.
And much as it may sound trivial, there is always this danger of getting engulfed by wild chauvinism when the team continues to shine. Distasteful symptoms of this have been evident on the social media, which are definitely anathema to the cricketing spirit. Taking pride in our Tigers’ successes shouldn’t anyhow make us arrogantly abuse the supporters of other teams. A wee bit more commonsense and maturity on our part will make India-Bangladesh cricketing contests hale and hearty.
Faheem Hasan Shahed is a researcher and Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at American International University-Bangladesh