Bangladesh relishes showdown with ‘Big Brother’


DHAKA: Fed up with his team being treated as a laughing stock, Bangladeshi cricket fan Khairul Islam grins at the prospect of the game’s superpower having the smile wiped off its face.

“Victory would be sweet in itself, but it will taste even sweeter over India as they behave like they’re our big brother,” said Islam as he contemplates Thursday’s World Cup quarter-final clash in Australia.

“People are fed up with being looked down upon, so thank goodness that we now finally have a team which is India’s equal.”

After their sensational knock-out victory over England in the group stages, Bangladesh face the biggest match in their history when they take on the defending world champions at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Having already made history by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time, Mashrafe Mortaza’s side will be guaranteed legendary status back home if they can make it to the last four.

The cricket-mad country will come to a virtual standstill on Thursday, with many fans planning to watch on giant screens. Millions will attend match-day parties, including Islam who plans to enjoy a feast of mutton curry at a dormitory at Dhaka University as he watches with friends.

India were the visitors when Bangladesh played their first-ever Test match in Dhaka in 2000. But 15 years on, a return invitation has yet to materialise — a slight that has become a source of resentment.

While not blind to Bangladesh’s struggles in Test cricket, fans have bristled at the patronising tone of some Indian television commentators.

Navjot Singh Sidhu, known for regularly ridiculing Bangladeshi cricket, has become a bete noire among fans who have even set up a website which allows visitors to virtually whack the former Indian opener with a shoe.

– ‘Biggest game in history’ –

Bangladesh’s victory over India in the group stages of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean is regarded as the team’s finest hour to date but the stakes are undoubtedly higher this time.

“This is the biggest match in our cricket history. If we win the match, it’ll create history and will answer a lot of critics,” said former Bangladesh captain Gazi Ashraf Hossain Lipu.

The Tigers’ unexpected progress has served as a balm for a nation in the grip of violent political unrest that has led to the loss of more than 100 lives since the turn of the year.

The build-up to the match has knocked the political crisis off the front pages. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself a cricket buff, will watch coverage from the MCG in between meetings.

“She is going to cheer the team and may even phone them as she has done in the past,” her secretary Shamim Chowdhury told AFP.

While power outages are usually a daily occurrence, authorities say they are pulling out all the stops to ensure no cuts during the match.

The main opposition last week even announced a temporary suspension of its transport blockade to allow supporters to celebrate the win over England.

The blockade has had a devastating impact on many small businesses so the cricket has provided a rare and welcome ray of sunshine.

Abdul Hannan, a T-shirt vendor, saw sales plummet since the start of the year before a dramatic turnaround in the last few days.

“I’ve been selling 400 Bangladesh jerseys a day and the price has also doubled,” he told AFP.

“If we can make it to the semi-finals, I’ll be the happiest man on earth.” -AFP