Bangladesh World Cup tie with India offers trip down memory lane

Fans at Edgbaston enjoying the Cricket World Cup meeting between India and Bangladesh.
Fans at Edgbaston enjoying the Cricket World Cup meeting between India and Bangladesh.
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Some 20 years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a meal with the Bangladesh cricket team at an Indian restaurant on Belfast’s Lisburn Road as part of a feature shown on a local television station.

They were here to play against Ireland before either country had been granted Test status but, at the time, I could scarcely have imagined I would be sitting at Edgbaston watching them play India at the World Cup two decades later as a closet Bangladesh supporter.

Nobody bar the most fanatical cricket enthusiasts would have been able to name a single Bangladeshi player in that Indian restaurant, I’m pretty sure, but it’s a different matter nowadays.

Shakib al Halan emerged during this World Cup as the competition’s best all-rounder and he weighed in with an impressive 66 in his team’s unsuccessful reply to India’s 314-9 after posting economical bowling figures of 1-41 from his 10 overs.

India have, of course, been a powerhouse in international cricket for many years and like their Bangladeshi counterparts, there are many rags-to-riches stories.

Indian wicketkeeper MS Doni, for example, was a ticket collector on his country’s national rail network before becoming a sporting superstar.

Two years after meeting the Bangladesh team, I travelled to the country’s capital Dhaka for a hockey tournament and was appalled by the poverty I witnessed, with 10 per cent of the city’s 10 million population literally living on the streets.

The cricket team now are a privileged class and won’t go hungry unlike some of their compatriots, who were the friendliest people I’ve ever met despite their impoverishment.

Last week’s match was a fantastic occasion from start to finish as the Indians’ 28-run win guaranteed them a passage into the semi-finals while Bangladesh’s defeat meant they missed out.

A near-capacity 22,000 spectators packed into the stadium, generating around £2 million pounds from gate receipts alone, not to mention the peripheral income on the day from bar and food outlet takings along with merchandise sales.

It wasn’t cheap - with tickets ranging from £70 to £235 for adults and much more expensive for the corporate hospitality which was on offer.

The stadium announcer was at pains to warn spectators at every drinks break: “Drinks breaks aren’t just for the players, remember to pace yourself at the cricket”.

I was forced to take his advice by accident and not choice when I discovered that I hadn’t read the small print on my ticket which said that only card payments were acceptable in the bars around the ground - so it was a dry day all round as I’d left my plastic in my hotel safe.

Mind you, it was probably a blessing in disguise for more than just health reasons as a 175ml glass of wine would have set me back £7.50 while a pint was a slightly more reasonable £5.50.

But, for sheer entertainment value, the match ticket was worth every penny and the atmosphere was much friendlier than the earlier Pakistan v Afghanistan clash in which there were arrests and crowd trouble.

Every boundary was greeted with a cacophony of noise and a standing ovation while ones and twos were less enthusiastically welcomed as both sets of fans enjoyed the banter.

According to the International Cricket Council, over 80 per cent of World Cup tickets have been bought by people who live in England, but less than half by people who actually support the England team.

English accents were the norm despite the fact there can’t have been many more than a few hundred non-Asians at the match, the bulk of the India and Bangladesh fans living on the mainland, many of them born there.

Exactly 600 runs were scored on a fabulously entertaining day’s cricket although with Shakib’s dismissal, the Bangladesh reply petered out despite a brief wag of the tail.

Parched with thirst and hungry, but my selfish plight put into perspective by that of many of the indigenous population in Dhaka, I headed back into Birmingham for a Balti and a beer, as you do.

I was safe but sad in the knowledge that I would be unlikely to share a curry with any of the current Bangladesh team although, at the same time, thankful for the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful occasion and to be able to afford life’s luxuries...unlike those less fortunate in other parts of the world.