DHAKA: Bangladesh heaved a sigh of relief Monday after successfully hosting England’s cricketers for a month-long series despite security fears, hoping their gripping battle would persuade other teams to follow suit.
The tour was plunged into doubt after five Islamist gunmen attacked a restaurant in Dhaka in July, killing 18 foreigners, with England’s limited overs captain Eoin Morgan among those who ultimately stayed at home.
But after being promised security measures more usually accorded to heads of state, the bulk of England’s players did agree to travel and played their part in a nail-biting contest that fluctuated wildly at times.
After Bangladesh pulled off a 108-run victory in the second and final Test in Dhaka on Sunday to level the series, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) chief executive Nizamuddin Chowdhury beamed with joy.
“We’ve done everything possible to make the tour successful and it was a huge, a huge success,” Chowdhury told AFP.
“A sense of great comfort and relief is prevailing everywhere.”
The Bangladesh board, which has long struggled to persuade teams to travel to what is Test cricket’s newest nation, was dealt a major blow last year when Australia scrapped a planned tour at the last minute on safety grounds.
The BCB was wary that a major security incident involving England could condemn it to the same fate of Pakistan, which hasn’t hosted a major Test team since an attack on the Sri Lankan bus during a match in Lahore in 2009.
– ‘Perfect venue’ –
Nizamuddin said he hoped the Australian board — whose chief security officer Sean Carroll visited Bangladesh last week to witness the measures provided for England — would be persuaded that Bangladesh was a safe venue.
“It was a big challenge for us to host this event successfully on the field and off the field. And we think we have done that. We have been praised by the England cricket board, their players and officials,” Nizamuddin said.
“Given the circumstances there could not have been a better series on and off the field. It’s a clear message to the rest of the world that Bangladesh is an absolutely perfect venue for hosting any international event.”
The first of the two matches, which England narrowly won by 22 runs, was Bangladesh’s first Test in nearly 15 months.
While Australia’s refusal to tour partially explains the dearth of Tests, the bigger problem has been Bangladesh’s poor record since gaining Test match status 16 years ago.
Their victory in the second Test was only their eighth in 95 contests — and the first against a full-strength side from a major country.
Before the match, skipper Mushfiqur Rahim had pleaded for more teams to play Bangladesh, saying that the only way they would would improve would be if they could get more games under their belt.
It was a point echoed on Monday by Mohammad Ashraful, one of Rahim’s predecessors who just returned to domestic cricket after serving a three-year ban for match fixing.
“We need more Test matches to improve,” Ashraful told AFP, saying the series proved that Bangladesh could now compete against the best.
“I just hope our players will get this opportunity and they deserve it.”
Even though the defeat will have dented the mood in the England camp ahead of their eagerly-awaited tour of India, Bangladesh fans were swift to praise skipper Alastair Cook and his team for making the trip.
After watching a preceding ODI series from the sidelines, Cook flew back to Bangladesh for the first Test only days after the birth of his second child back in England.
Writing on Facebook, Bangladesh fan Rajib Hasan hailed Cook for agreeing to return to the fray even it meant he only had “his baby in his arms for a couple of minutes”.