From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.14 :: Apr. 07, 2011

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CRICKET / DHAKA DIARY

The hurt runs deep

The loss to South Africa and the resultant exit of Shakib Al Hasan's men from the World Cup has cut a deep wound among people, from Sylhet to Chittagong. The ‘Tigers', as Shakib's bunch is known, have been bearded in their own den and that does not help the fierce Bengali pride that shimmies across the eighth most populous nation in the world, notes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Pics: AP

A defeat too hard to stomach…Bangladesh's captain Shakib Al Hasan reacts after losing to South Africa in a Group B match. The loss effectively put Bangladesh out of contention for a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

March 21: Dhaka is a teeming mass of people chasing their dreams — some driving their luxury cars and many others riding their cycle-rickshaws and always in a tearing hurry to cut across clogged roads. The upper class and the lower strata of people are visible everywhere, while the middle-class, the engine that drives neighbouring India, is hardly visible.

Amidst the frenzy, an unspoken disappointment hangs thickly in the air. The loss to South Africa and the resultant exit of Shakib Al Hasan's men from the World Cup has cut a deep wound among people from Sylhet to Chittagong. The ‘Tigers', as Shakib's bunch is known, have been bearded in their own den and that does not help the fierce Bengali pride that shimmies across the eighth most populous nation in the world.

“We need answers from a team that lives on tax-payers' money,” writes a shrill columnist. Shakib mumbles a ‘sorry' in his inadequate but gentle way, but it is heartening to note that the Bangladeshis did believe they had a team that should have qualified for the quarterfinals. Self-belief often drives a revival act and hopefully the team will turn the corner.

Shakib meanwhile smiles down from billboards plugging a soft drink and mumbles ‘change the game!'

March 22: Shahid Afridi describes his wicket-taking skills in simplistic terms. “I bowl wicket to wicket and I am not trying to experiment,” he says after Pakistan, which has embarked on a journey of redemption, stuns Sri Lanka and Australia in the preliminary rounds. The Pakistan skipper has failed with the bat but his leg-spin, often speared in accurately, has helped him lead the wicket-takers' list in the current World Cup.

His counterpart, Darren Sammy of the West Indies, fidgets with the recorders and cell phones placed on the table ahead of his pre-match press conference. A phone rings and Sammy picks it up and says: “Somebody's mum is calling, your mum?”



Shahid Afridi describes his wicket-taking skills in simplistic terms. "I bowl wicket to wicket and I am not trying to experiment", he says.

Sammy then indulges in some diplomacy and says, “The Bangladeshis are a loving people and what happened in the past was unfortunate. We feel loved here.” The West Indian captain in his own laidback way has put a lid on the simmering controversy about stones being pelted at his team bus a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile the Bangladesh Cricket Board officials are now victims of sudden love and affection from all and sundry. Requests for tickets have reached a fever pitch and a few phones are off the hook. A full house is expected at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium.

March 23: The road leading to the venue has been sealed. Ever since irate fans stoned the West Indies bus on March 4 after Bangladesh was shot out for 58, security personnel have been on overdrive. The closure of the road is an attempt to prevent another flare-up.

Out in the middle, the West Indies implode with a score of 112. A Caribbean dream dies again and Pakistan is into the semifinals. Pakistan's coach Waqar Younis, known for his speed and swing during his halcyon days, opts for the slow and steady reply to inflammatory questions hurled by the media. A television scribe asks: “If India qualifies too for the Mohali semifinal, would you say ‘bring them on?'” Younis says: “Don't put words into my mouth, take it easy, it is just a game and we will go wherever the World Cup takes us, be it Mohali or Mumbai.”

March 24: South Africa's Graeme Smith and New Zealand's Daniel Vettori express their mutual respect ahead of the third quarterfinal. Later scribes writing their preview copies from the media centre have one eye on their laptops and another on the television screen as India take on Australia in Ahmedabad.

Copies are fired in a flash and a rickety ride in the cycle-rickshaw ensues. Late night, a series of rooms in the modest Grand Prince Hotel, that proved to be a media enclave, erupts with sheer joy when Yuvraj Singh goes down on his knees and issues a guttural yell. A scribe from Kolkata exclaims: “I was at the restaurant and the local people seemed genuinely happy that we won.”

March 25: “Choke, choke, choke,” is the chorus in the press box as South Africa crumbles in the chase. For New Zealand, life indeed comes a full circle. After losing 0-4 at the same venue to Bangladesh in October, New Zealand has now defeated South Africa in a World Cup quarterfinal. “There will be daggers and swords back home,” mumbles an anguished Graeme Smith. New Zealand's Jacob Oram says: “We believe we can win the semifinal.”

A fireworks display lights up the sky as Dhaka bids adieu to the 2011 World Cup. Late in the night as weary scribes trudge out, a father runs with his infant daughter in a pram and there is laughter all around. Bangladesh, despite its visible poverty, ranks high on a recent happiness index survey and it is not difficult to fathom the reasons. The people are content and have this ability to see the lighter side of things.



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