|Volume 5 Issue 04 | April 2011|
Throes of Volatility
QUAZI ZULQUARNAIN ISLAM muses over the love-hate relationship between Bangladeshi cricketers and their fans.
For yours truly, perhaps the most symbolic moment in a World Cup at home soil came in the game against the West Indies. It was unfortunate, but a sparkling Friday afternoon was bastardised beyond repair by an inept performance from the Bangladesh side, which saw them capitulate to a nine-wicket loss, and more worryingly for the thousands, for a total score of just 58.
The details of that game are already fuzzy in my head, courtesy of a concerted effort to erase systematically my worst experiences, but the single image that is impressionably burned in my memory was what transpired at the fall of the last Bangladesh wicket.
The mock cheers from the thousands who stayed on were yet to come, as was the blatant expression of anger by using the inimitable Bangla chant of “bhua bhua”.
But when lanky left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn castled Rubel Hossain to snap up the last Bangladeshi wicket, the crowd were still too shocked to do anything but react instinctively.
It had all happened too quickly, almost in less time than it takes for you to say 'daylight robbery' and the fans expressed their collective shock and disgust in the most instinctive of ways; hurling their 4 and 6 placards towards the playing field in unison.
The moment was truly amazing; a sudden outburst of confetti coming about in such perfect synchronisation that it created a flashbulb memory for those lucky enough to witness it. And best of all, it happened with a sense of timing that you could not teach in the best cricket schools, for this was harmony born out of the most collective of frustrations.
Sitting in the stands I could feel it too, and at the risk of sounding like a soothsayer, it was quite evident that this collective frustration that was emanating in droves from the faithful would take very little to spark into something far more dangerous.
And that was exactly what happened.
The West Indies team bus was stoned, Chris Gayle was upset and gave us the 'kiss-teeth' of disapproval and a World Cup, where Bangladeshi fans were continually being referred to as the best in the sub-continent, suddenly looked like going kaput. The scenes were disheartening; many fans vested their frustrations almost as expressively as they had celebrated what was supposed to be a routine win against Ireland a week earlier. The public took to the streets as the cricket world looked on concernedly. Even the Bangladesh bus was supposedly stoned as controversy and ill-feeling reigned supreme. Thankfully though, the situation was salvaged later, thanks to a wonderful show of solidarity and condolence from a set of level-headed fans who visited the West Indies team with flowers and sent a bouquet to Shakib Al Hasan as well. But on that Friday afternoon you could tell that a storm was coming.
Most times, the average fan in Bangladesh is really an exceptional individual. In all probability, he has very little going for him; a tough job, if a job at all, shoddy living conditions, low pay, rising prices of essentials, suppressive family pressures and no place to release such pent-up frustrations.
In such a scenario, the decked chairs of the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, which in primary markets sold for less than BDT 250 a pop, proved an able conduit. This would give fans the opportunity to channel their latent frustration in the most constructive of ways; cheering on their national team to glory.
For this reason alone, many stood in line for upwards of 48 hours to land a precious voucher. Then they stood in line again to use that voucher to get an even more precious ticket. And then they stood in line again, to get a chance to get into the stadium. During the opening ceremony, some unlucky ones failed to get in even after going through the ordeal of the first two scenarios. During matches, some were stuck in lines so long that they missed their favourite players bat. Some fans bought cheap memorabilia off the streets only to find those and many other personal belongings snatched by security at the door.
And yet, they did not complain.
Many lined up outside the stadium, cheering and dancing on their beloved Tigers and when they caught a glimpse of their heroes as the bus left the stadium following games or training sessions, they roared even louder.
It seemed nothing could break their spirit. But what they had completely failed to account for was humiliation, and sadly that was what they got.
As any level-headed person could tell you, humiliation of this magnitude has always been, and will always be a part of any national sport, be it football, cricket or any other . Curiously though, many nations seem to be able to deal with this sort of humiliation much better than others. For some, margins take on much greater meaning; so much so that everyone at the stadium for the South Africa debacle would have told you that they did not mind so much that Bangladesh lost, but what was shameful was the way they had gone about it.
Interestingly, this seems not to matter when Bangladesh wins. The Ireland game was won by the skin of their teeth and the England victory was salvaged thanks to a magnificent rear-guard action, but in no way were celebrations restrained for those encounters. In reality, a loss is a loss and a win is a win. Margins are important but they should not be defining enough to cause such upheaval.
The typical line bandied about in such circumstances is that such woeful Bangladesh performances on the world stage put our national pride at stake. But if that is indeed the case, then the more worrying fact is why our people have such fickle belief in national pride. As has been mentioned often, cricket is perhaps the only arena where Bangladesh feels they really belong among the world's elites. We are an impoverished, third-world nation, with a city recently voted as the second worst in the world and a country that hits the upper echelons of the most corrupted in the world. Cricket, unlike politics and the wider world in general, offers us a way to feel proud about our achievements.
But at the end of the day, cricket is a game, and like in every other game there are big wins and big losses. And while the former may swell national pride, the latter in no way should diminish it. National pride is not at stake when Bangladesh capitulate for 58 or 78, but it is at stake when such results give rise to actions like stoning the team bus of an opponent.
Now that is just not cricket. Or civil, for that matter.
National pride is not at stake when players fail to perform, but it is at stake if players are found bringing the game into disrepute or embroiled in match-fixing scandals. It is also at stake when players tamper balls, use racial slurs or when host teams are insanely shot upon; not when you have two consecutive terrible days on the job. Sometimes, in all the hullaballoo it is easy to lose sight of the true parameters against which we are judged.
But such overzealous reactions and hyperbole have increasingly become the trait of our young nation. You saw it almost every single day when the stock-market crashed earlier this year and you see it now as Bangladesh bows out of the World Cup. The myriad of wildly oscillating opinions about our stature, our systems and at times the complete lack of belief that we can truly belong are increasingly worrying. To excuse the hundreds of bad apples, one can point out the underlying social and economic causes highlighted earlier, but that will cut little or no ice with the watching world. Oscar Wilde once said that “Cricket requires one to assume such indecent postures,” and although it is safe to assume that he was not talking about cricket in Bangladesh or the sub-continent, his words are increasingly prophetic about situations outside the playing field.
Sociologists will tell you that cricket is not just a religion in Bangladesh, it is far more than that. It unites us more than, and better than any political party or religious affiliations have ever managed to. We chide our heroes, but at the end of the day, we love them like no other.
On our best days, cricket gives us a glimpse into what is possible, not just for our cricket team but for us as a young, poverty-stricken nation. It gives us the best of things and the worst of things; hope. And that is truly why we are so passionate about this game; why we love it with such intensity. And that is also why it gives rise to such epic stories of frustration and angst.
This is also why when we win we celebrate like we have conquered the world, for in the minds of the fans, we truly have. It is also why when things go absolutely wrong, we act with such vicious abandon, for in the minds of the fans, the fleeting moment of victory, of belonging, is now being snatched away.
And perhaps, at the end of the day, that is who we truly are; the best of fans and the worst of fans.
Quazi Zulquarnain Islam is a sports journalist.
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