Cricket holds a special place in the subcontinent, in India it is a religion, in Pakistan it is sacred, in Sri Lanka it unites and in Bangladesh…well we are not quite sure of that one. It captivates audiences and stops traffic, yet cricket's identity in Bangladesh seems decidedly fickle. That is not to say it isn't so in other countries, India being the best case in point. When the Indian team wins they are celebrated and paraded, when they lose they are derided and bombarded, but those reactions as soo extreme only because the sport itself is considered nothing short of a religion. When Bangladesh wins the occasional game the team is lauded and when they lose they are flogged, but over and above those extreme reactions the game is not considered a religion, it is not the blood that circulates through the soul of a nation like in India. The fact is, cricket's identity in Bangladesh has yet to be forged and in a way one might say that was the reason behind the timid public response to the recently concluded Kitply tri-series in Dhaka, with India, Pakistan. But it must be added that was probably one of the reasons, but by no means the only reason.
A few years ago a tri-series involving India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would have been worth its weight in gold, sponsors would have lined around the block for a chance to pair their name with the most popular sport in Bangladesh and two immensely popular teams. But this year the once bankable teams of Pakistan and India were not enough to captivate the public's imagination and subsequently the money did not show up either. It was all a little embarrassing for the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) as less than a month before a major tournament they had not come up with a title sponsor. In fact after the sealed tenders were looked into it was apparent that no one was really keen to sponsor what once would have been a showcase series. There were three package deals that were up for grabs with the floor price for the title sponsorship being $500,000 with the minimum price for the other two set at $250,000 each. Amazingly a mere $95,000 was all that was bid for one of the packages set at $250,000 and the paltry figure of $200,000 was bid for the title sponsorship which was set at a minimum of $500,000.
While the response from the sponsors was a rude wake up call for the BCB the signs have been on the wall for some time. Bangladesh has only been a test playing nation for the last eight years and contrary to what most people think the team has come a long way in that time, sporadically they are competitive and have won a reasonably decent number of games. But that is not enough for the public who are always braying for results, nothing short of victories will do for them, and since the brilliant performances at the last World Cup the Bangladesh team has gone through a prolonged slump. In the year that has passed since the World Cup the public has changed what they want from the team. They obviously still want the team to win matches but they would willingly settle for consistency and that is something the team have not been able to provide. It has left the public disappointed and in the process the fervour for the game has diminished.
International matches in Bangladesh have always been well attended and specially when India and Pakistan are involved but this time there was a general sense of boredom and apathy regarding the tri-series. A number of reasons could have also attributed to the lack of interest shown by the public, one major reason could be the recently concluded Indian Premier League (IPL). The IPL proved to be a cricket lovers buffet, with two games a day for over a month long with the biggest names on the international stage, that coupled with three hour long games at prime time fed the Bangladeshi cricket lover till he could eat no more. It was an overdose of cricket and it spoiled the Bangladeshi fan's appetite for international cricket. After watching the super charged version of cricket called 20/20, one day cricket must have seemed rather boring, 'why spend a whole day in a hot stadium when I can watch a three hour long game at home' the average fan must have been thinking.
The shifting priorities of the international game are something that cannot be controlled and one could say the lack of public response in Bangladesh to the tri-series was in a way beyond ones control. But to say that would also be a lie, no matter how influential the inaugural IPL was, it was a foolish move for the BCB to schedule such a series barely a week after the tournament ended. Even more confounding was that fact that the mini series was squeezed in just before the Asia cup, where all three of the teams in action would take part. As a result the Indian team selected for the tournament was devoid of some major names, Dravid and Ganguly could be said to be persona non grate in the current ODI team, but when Tendulkar withdrew from the squad the message was clear. This would an experimental series for them, match practise without the big names, and the Bangladeshi public would not be fooled.
The timing of the tournament was interesting on a few different levels, aside from the fact that it was sandwiched between the IPL and the Asia Cup it also coincided with the European Championships. One might question the relationship between a football competition in Switzerland and Austria, and a diminished crowd response to a cricket series in Bangladesh, but the truth of the matter is that they are directly related to each other. While cricket is said to have no other competition in Bangladesh, tournaments like the football World Cup and the European Championships are followed with keen a interest here. In fact they are followed with more passion than most international cricket matches, with that in mind scheduling a cricket tournament during the European Championships was another from of stupidity from the BCB. All of these reasons added up to a low-key series when it could have been so much more.
At the end of the day certain truths must be accepted. Cricket in Bangladesh no longer draws an audience to it like flies to a flame. The consistent inconsistency of our team has thinned the interest in the game here. One could say all of this is symptomatic of the TV age where attention spans are decreasing and entertainment can be changed and adjusted at the flick of a button. Seemingly the button has been flicked and cricket has been passed over for other forms of entertainment. The emotional investment the people of this country put into cricket has not been repaid. They have been through enough heartbreak, at the fall of every wicket and the drop of every catch, and seem to be cutting their losses and walking away from what they conceive to be a raw deal. A vacuum has been left behind and the endless heartache of inconsistent performances has produced an insufferable ennui. The people in charge of the game should look the word up, if ever there was one word, a noun to be specific, that described how the nation felt about the game, then it is none other than 'ennui'.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008