Thursday, February 24, 2011

Waah Dhaka and a meeting with Sachin’s biggest fan

I landed in Dhaka on the morning of the game and was greeted by the excitement of a host city that is still missing from all the other host cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad) I have visited on work over the past 10 days. The logos of the Cricket World Cup were plastered all over the airport and it was difficult to miss the fact that Dhaka was hosting its first ever World Cup match that very afternoon. The entire route from the airport to Gulshan 2 (the posh diplomatic enclave in Dhaka) had been done up with lights adoring the central verge on the road, all overbridges were covered with CWC 2011 branding and large cut-outs of  Bangladeshi cricketers were  shouting out from all busy junctions and round abouts. Banners wishing the team best of luck were visible fluttering from lots of buildings and people were still scrawling their wishes to the team on giant bats that had been placed for this purpose in central locations around the city.

Cut-outs in major round-abouts

I was staying at the Green House Bed & Breakfast that I had booked from hostelworld for $45/night, an absolute bargain for the equivalent of a private room in one of the large palatial Defence Colony bungalows. I had an extra ticket for the match as Pooja had ditched me to spend some time at her home in Kolkata. Zewl, the son of the guest house owner was only too happy to take up my offer to watch the match and could scarcely believe his luck considering that tickets for all matches in Bangladesh have been sold out. Zewl and I left Gulshan 2 for the stadium, a distance of 12km away, at 12pm anticipating a gridlock in a city where traffic jams are a major attraction in themselves. Surprisingly the streets leading up to the stadium were traffic free as I suspect those without tickets had firmly ensconced themselves in front of their TV screens so as not to miss a single ball bowled. The vicinity of the stadium was choc a bloc with people and I felt quite conspicuous in my blue India T-Shirt with the Indian flag fluttering behind me. To the credit of the locals, I never felt intimidated in spite of being one of only about 500 odd Indian supporters in the entire stadium where almost 29,000 attended the match.

View from our seat with the media center on the right
Surprisingly, the entry into the stadium was also a breeze and I was quite impressed by the official merchandise available at stalls inside the stadium. The India t-shirts, not the team jerseys, but specially designed round neck tees were quite stylish and should be available at all stadiums in India as well. We were sitting in the stand right next to the new media centre that has been created in Mirpur. Due to the extended media centre, our view of the field was about 20% obstructed on one side of the field but it didn’t detract too much from the experience. The crowd was incredibly noisy even when the stadium was half full. I found out that was I seated right next to a gang of about 15 odd people from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka and we formed a reasonably big and excitable gang that could create enough noise at times to be heard above the din that the Bangladeshi supporters were creating.

Our gang was further fortified by the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and India’s biggest cricket fan. While I do think of myself as a fairly devoted follower of Sachin and the Indian team, Sudhir Kumar Gautam takes the devotion to a completely different level. While chatting with him he told me that he had been following the Indian cricket team for their matches across the sub-continent (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) since 2002. He travels from venue to venue, time permitting, on a bicycle because it doesn’t cost a dime. Sudhir is from Muzzaffarpur in Bihar and cycled from there to Dhaka in 9 days to attend the opening match. After the match in Dhaka he plans to cycle back to Kolkata where he would park it at a relative’s place for the duration of the tournament and then travel around the country by train.
For all games in India, he gets an all access stadium pass as Sachin Tendulkar’s guest. However, since this match was being played in Dhaka, Sachin had arranged a ticket for him and he was seated in the same part of the stand as myself. I was intrigued by the fact that unlike other fans that had got small flags painted on their cheeks, the colours on Sudhir’s body seemed permanent and were not running off with the sweat in the afternoon heat. On top of that, the entire design on his body with Tendulkar written in block letters and the flag pained on his head is fairly elaborate and I was intrigued by how he gets it done. Sudhir told me that he gets his body painted by professional artists in all cities in India and it typically takes an entire night before the match for him to get into his match ‘costume’. Since this was his first time in Dhaka he got delayed in finding an artist and had to get a rushed job done the morning of the match, not that I could detect that it was rushed by any stretch of imagination.

I consider myself to be a fairly big Sachin & India fan and would happily contest anyone for the “Who is a bigger fan” challenge, but the chat with Sudhir put my privileged existence into perspective and the only thing I can say, from one Sachin fan to another, “Dude, you win this contest by a knock out”

With Sudhir playing the lead, our entire gang got into preparing our stand for the match by tying our flags together and putting them on the balcony. By then it was time for the match to start and the atmosphere in the stand was electric. My favourite experience watching any sporting event involving India is singing the national anthem before the India vs Pakistan Commonwealth hockey game in Delhi, 20,000 people singing ‘Jaya he Jaya he’ gives me goosebumps every time I even think about it. While Dhaka probably was not on the same level as the experience in Delhi, the goosebumps did materialize probably due to the anticipation of the world cup finally starting and the charged environment.
Video of Indian National Anthem

The crowd was silenced after the first 2-3 overs with Sachin & Sehwag’s strokeplay and while they did find their voice sporadically during the Indian innings, the Indian gang in the stand had the upper hand in the battle of the crowds during the Indian inning. We had a nice little sub plot going in the battle of the crowds as the police materialized after 2 over asking us to remove our flags from the balcony. While we pointed out the other Bangladesh flags tied to the balcony as well, the police were in no mood to listen and forcibly started untying the flags. In scenes probably reminiscent of the “Narmada Bacho Andolan” where protestors wrapped themselves around trees, Sudhir took on the role of Medha Patkar and wrapped himself around the balcony and the Indian flag tied to the railing while the rest of us tried to argue with the police about the rationale of removing only the Indian flags. The police saw the logic of that and after a while left us to our own devices. While Sehwag was smashing the Bangladesh bowling into submission the Indian section of the crowd had won a small battle of their own.
On hearing our victorious shouts, a part of the enthusiastic Bangladesh contingent, that had been observing our tussle with the police with some amusement got into the act and tied together close to 25 large Bangladesh flags and spread them around their part of the balcony dwarfing our flag to huge cheers from the rest of the sections. Unlike the field where Sehwag was still in top gear, the Bangla supporters had won a round in battle. The entire mock battle was in good spirits and there were quite a few Bangla supporters who came up to Sudhir to click their photographs together.

The entire battle of the supporters was nipped in the bud by the ICC, who sent one of their officials with the police at the drinks break to remove both the composite flags as they were covering the branding of the tournament sponsors Hero Honda & Pepsi. The message on who runs the game could not have been clearer.

On the field India rattled up a huge total, in spite of which the crowd remained in high spirits during the entire Bangladesh chase. Even after the 30th over by which it was clear that Bangladesh was playing for pride and to minimize the impact of defeat to their net run rate, the crowd continued to cheer each and every run especially when their heart throbs Tamim Iqbal & Saqib Al Hasan were batting. One of the young Bangladeshi supporters informed me with barely contained glee that these two are big time gossip fodder for magazines in Bangladesh and are both dating a model & an actress respectively, Apparently the girl friend of captain is a Hindu but that is not big enough news in a reasonably secular Bangladesh.

Video of Sehwag getting his 100

Video of the crowd cheering the Bangladeshi batsmen

My overall impression after chatting with quite a few Bangladesh supporters is that they have extremely high expectations of their team and expect Bangladesh to definitely qualify for the knock out stage. At the same time they were satisfied by the fact that in spite of the great start in the first 10 overs, their team’s sole objective was to minimize the margin of defeat rather than go all guns blazing and lose by a slightly larger margin but send out a message to the other teams that they would continue to play hard aggressive cricket and not take a backward step. I think this is the dichotomy that the Bangladeshi team and people are still coming to terms with, the extremely high expectations to be world beaters tempered by the realism that they still don’t quite belong to the elite level.
Outside the stadium on the way back
As the match fizzled out with the dismissal of the captain, a largely satisfied crowd started to leave. After the game, in spite of the defeat there was a carnival like atmosphere outside the stadium with those without tickets hanging around, taking family photographs around the periphery of the lit stadium decorated with fancy lights from the outside.

My flight the next day was at 345pm and I thought I would utilize the time doing a bit of sightseeing around old Dhaka. As it turned out I should not have bothered and could have instead caught up on my sleep. After leaving the guesthouse at 10am it took me 2 hours 15 min to cover 12 km to Sadar Ghat, the passenger terminal for ferries that ply the Buri Ganga and is the transportation lifeline of Bangladesh. I got exactly 10 min to spend at Ahsan Manzil, an old palace and museum belonging to the Nawabs from the 18th century. For 30min of sightseeing I had to endure almost 4 hours crawling the 30 odd km in traffic.

Next up for me is the game vs. England in Bangalore on Sunday. I finally got an e-mail confirmation from Kyazoonga today that my request for transfer of ticket (since the game was originally scheduled for Kolkata but got transferred to Bangalore at the 11th hour) is done and that I can collect my ticket from the stadium booth on Saturday or Sunday. So adios till Bangalore and here is to hoping that Bangalore can surpass the Dhaka experience.


  1. awesome man, too bad the videos are not showing up, good show.

  2. Nikka: The videos are standard mpg videos, do you have the right codecs installed on your laptop?