Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Melbourne | March 19, 2015 8:38 am
The phone lines between Dhaka and Melbourne have been busy of late. In the run-up to their first ever World Cup quarter-final game, Bangladesh cricketers often get calls from friends, family, fans and someone who they all refer to as ‘Aapa’. For the uninitiated, ‘Aapa’, or elder sister, is the term of endearment used in the Bangladesh dressing room for Sheikh Hasina, a known ‘Tigers’ fan and prime minster of a nation anxious about one very important cricket game. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
While India start as outright favourites for the knock-out match, the dream of an upset is expected to keep Bangladesh up all night on Wednesday. Rarely has a World Cup quarter-final mattered so much to so many.
The other day when ‘Aapa’ called Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza, she advised him to not get “intimidated” by the Indians at the MCG. “She usually calls the captain or the manager. Few days back, she told the skipper that she was proud of them and also asked them to be fearless,” says team manager Rabeed Imam, adding that cricket is the unifying factor for the nation of 150 million.
Like elsewhere in the sub-continent, the idea of sport working as a glue to bind a divided nation isn’t a cliche in Bangladesh. Earlier this month, after the England win that saw Bangladesh enter the quarter-finals, Khaleda Zia’s BNP, Hasina’ long-standing rival, gave a call to temporarily pause the campaign against the government. This was done so the nation could celebrate as one. Reports say it was the first time the BNP had halted hostilities against Hasina’s Awami League. “The hartal will be called off again for a few days if we win against India. All political parties will celebrate together,” says a senior Bangladesh journalist.
Some newspapers from Dhaka described Bangladesh’s entry into the knock-out stage the nation’s biggest sporting triumph since Independence. It’s tough to imagine what a possible win against India will mean to the nation. Even Imam can’t, though he does paint a picture of the country before the game.
“I can visualise Bangladesh on Thursday. The game starts at around 8.30 am so there will be mass bunking at schools, colleges and offices. Giant screens will be set up, restaurants will make a killing and there will be impromptu parties at street corners,” he says
The team management has ensured that except for important calls from home, the players are cut off from the mood in Dhaka.
“Players stay away from social media. They need to focus on the game. In a way it is good that we are away from home. I remember our game against India in the 2011 World Cup. There was a crowd outside the team hotel at 3 am. They had surrounded the bus and it took a long time to reach the stadium. They just love the team there,” says the media manager.
Bangladesh went on to suffer a huge loss, but that hasn’t affected the popularity of the cricketers among those on the streets and in the PMO. It’s this support that Mashrafe acknowledges before the game.
“The last 15 or 17 years they have always been with us. Doesn’t matter if we win or lose, they always come to the field and keep supporting us,” he says.