February 7, 2017 6:18:45 am
Sometime in May 2015, External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj saw the Parliament unanimously pass the bill for operationalising the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, 41 years after the accord to ensure proper demarcation of the border was signed. During the debate, Swaraj had spoken about the changing dynamics between the two countries, especially how India was looking at its neighbour now: “The big brother is arrogant while elder brother is caring”. It’s a sentiment that is yet to translate to sporting frontiers, though. Especially in cricket.
For a long while now, India (read fans, media, TV, broadcasters, and cricketers to an extent) have treated Bangladesh as its little brother. It was understandable in many ways. The political history between the two countries, the sense of privilege that comes in when you think of yourself as the liberator of the other country, the difference in size, and in cricket terms, the headstart India had that spanned decades — all led to the arrogance.
It’s so entrenched in the psyche of Bangladesh cricketers that the feeling of slight comes out very often. Many trolled Mushfiqur Rahim, the current Test captain, for tweeting like Suresh Raina’s nephew after India’s exit in the T20 world cup. A neutral would probably say that Bangladesh can’t even be blamed for some of the reaction. It’s not even the overt arrogance but how it’s embedded in niceties and assumptions that has got their goat.
Sample this. Sometime in 2001, an18-year old Mashrafe Mortaza was at the Cricket Club of India by the famous Marine Drive. Sea, sun, and downtown Mumbai — it should have made the teenaged tourist feel good, but Mortaza experienced one of his early slights from India. Raj Singh Dungarpur, the flamboyant CCI president, gave a short speech to the players. “Lose, no problem, but play well and lose well”.
Years later, Mortaza would remember the casual way his team was dismissed — at the 2007 World Cup, after Bangladesh had sent India out of the competition.
“Next day, CCI 120 all out. Next match — CCI 160 all out.”
It wasn’t just the administrators, but also the Indian players. One of them is the current India coach. The story goes something like this: Anil Kumble bumps into Mortaza and has a friendly gripe about how India don’t have enough time between the 2007 World Cup and the tour to Bangladesh (which was to follow immediately). Mortaza saw it as embedded arrogance.
“Kumble’s statement almost implied that they expected India to reach the final. He didn’t say it to spite us but I was struck by the arrogance embedded in the statement. Here the tournament was still to begin and Indians were already expecting a berth in the final. It certainly fired us,” Mortaza would say later.
Who can forget Virender Sehwag’s famous statement in 2010, three years after the World Cup debacle! “Bangladesh are an ordinary side. They can’t beat India because they can’t take 20 wickets.” It obviously didn’t go down well in Bangladesh. Jamie Siddons, Bangladesh’s coach, didn’t hold himself back. “His comments might bite him on his bum in a few years’ time. It might even hit him in the bum in a week’s time. We are definitely not an ordinary side.” In the same series, it was an Indian batsman who was put in hospital by a Bangladeshi — Rahul Dravid went down to a Shahadat Hossain bouncer only to cop a blow on the helmet.
More drama came during the last World Cup. A promotional advert aired by the official broadcaster showed a Pakistani fan’s endless wait to beat India at the tournament. India defeated Pakistan and Bangladesh, before they lost in the semi-final and more than Pakistan, it was Bangladeshi fans who showed more glee at India’s exit. Nearly 200 fans, most of them from Bangladesh, called up the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, and as soon as the staff would pick up, the callers would sing: “Mauka mauka! Kya hua mauke ka? (What happened to the opportunity)?”.
Then of course, came Mushfiqur Rahim’s maniacal laughter in text at India’s defeat in the ICC World T20 semi-final last year. It can be safely said that Bangladeshi fans are probably the most emotional lot in the subcontinent. Tears and joy erupt easily in the stands, and sometimes even in the press box, when their country wins or loses. It’s a passionately parochial sentiment — something that sport often makes fans invest in so emotionally that it defeats reason.
In a couple of days, Rahim would lead a Bangladesh team in a Test in India. For long now, India’s refusal — for that’s what it is — to host Bangladesh in a Test series has only added to this emotional cocktail. Even now, they have been just squeezed in for one Test match. It’s this context that makes this one-off Test a more emotional spectacle for at least one team and its fans. If Dungarpur were alive today, he wouldn’t say what he said all those years ago.
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