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Published: April 15th 2006
Bangladesh is the world's most densely populated country (three times more than Japan) one of the world's poorest, and recently subjected to separatists bombing courts and police stations which all combine to promise a most interesting visit. My initial impressions of it's capital, Dhaka a city with 12.5 million inhabitants, was that it was far cleaner than any comparable Indian city and the poverty that can be so obvious on the sub-continent appeared less so here.
Journeying into the old city was a real experience, for it was home to the most congested streets I have ever seen: pedestrians, men and oxen hauling carts, cycle-rickshaws, autorickshaws, buses (both single and double-decker), cars and trucks all formed a seething mass that squeezed through the narrow streets. The traffic system was unique to Dhaka - for by using one's hand in a small rocking motion and gesturing to the miniscule section of open road - would indicate "that space is mine" and with it cycle rickshaws could halt trucks and pedestrians stopped battle-scarred buses. After my journey to the old city with an autorickshaw driver called Shalim, I concluded that he had attended the same driving school as Ali in Jaipur -
see The Coloured Cities
. It was a frenetic drive through some incredibly tight traffic and I don't know whether I was more impressed with Shalim's speed through these streets, or the fact that he collided with only one other cycle rickshaw during our journey.
The main reason for being in Dhaka was to see Australia's first ever test match on Bangladeshi soil - the national team is known as the "Bangladesh Tigers" or what the television promoted as "mortals battling the giants". Due to a last minute change of venues (the original choice was not ready in time) the ground was now at the other end of town, which necessitated at least an hour's ride along with other members of the 'Waving the Flag' contingent along the disorganised roads and even more chaotic intersections, whilst enjoying typically irreverent Australian banter with fellow flaggers. The traffic was incredibly dense and almost daily we would be involved in or witness some 'contact' between two vehicles or a pedestrian. However, not only were the streets congested with traffic, I had never seen so many people visible in one place before - sure I have been in bigger cities, but here the whole population appeared
to be on the streets at the same time. It didn't matter which part of the city we were in, there were thousands upon thousands of Bangladeshis waiting for buses, congregating in markets, walking towards some destination or just loitering.
Arriving at the ground on the first day saw our visit begin inauspiciously as the Australian flag was inadvertently being flown upside down. However, the situation improved when we were greeted by the Bangladesh Government's Sports Minister who welcomed and thanked us for visiting his country. The ground was quite sparse compared to their Australian counterparts - no clock, let alone a television screen, the scoreboard was a very flimsy structure that would blow down in the next monsoon, and the stand coverings were made of purple and green fabric supported by creaking bamboo poles. The only commentary that my radio could find was to pickup the television's internal frequency which not only included the commentary, but the director's instructions to the camera operators: "Standby two", "Standby three", "Wipe to red", "Closer on Ponting", "The crowd again" and "I want to see the bowler's reaction."
We sat in the 'Club House' section of the ground which was obviously
the more refined area as it was the only part of the stadium not fenced in by barbed wire. More noticeable than the barbed wire though was the excessive military/police presence - I have never seen so much security at a sporting event ever - in fact I have never seen so much at any other place. There were police, army and the elite forces - the Rapid Action Battalion - who were most sinister in their black uniforms, dark sunglasses and black bandanas. For a ground that holds only 20,000 people, the 1000 fully armed personnel did seem a trifle excessive. Though the forces were tense in the early part of the game, they become more relaxed and friendly as the game progressed, though I am still unsure of the intention of the friendly policeman with the longing gaze who gave me his phone number.
As the occasional prayer call wafted across the ground, the game unfolded. After Bangladesh won the toss and batted, they scored an unexpected 1/144 in the first session. Our disbelief turned to despair because at the end of the first day they were 5/355. After being dismissed for 427, the Australian team spent
the rest of the test match slowly clawing their way back into the game, until they needed 307 to win the game in the fourth innings, which they reached with only three wickets to spare - and it was only in the last hour of the game that the Australian team had finally wrested the ascendancy. The Tigers had been tamed, but it was a far more difficult effort than many had predicted. That evening we all attended the monthly 'BBQ Banquet' at the Australian High Commission which was also attended by most of the Australian cricket team, which provided many opportunities to mingle with the giants of the game.
As great as meeting the Australian team was, the most memorable moment occurred on day two of the match, when the Australians were teetering on a rather pathetic 3/50 and looked in danger of losing the match, three flaggers ventured to the outer sections of the grounds (where a ticket only costs 60 Australian cents) away from the 30 other Australian supporters also attending the match. We walked along to the section near the scoreboard and were greeted by an amazing reaction - even the Indian test supporters looked
mute by comparison. People were being kept behind a rope barrier by yet more armed guards - but they surged as far forward as they were allowed - waving, yelling, wanting to shake our hands and receive our autographs - it was absolute pandemonium. Though we wanted to get closer, as soon as we did, the crowd became even more frenzied which caused problems for the young children and also made the security guards more than a little anxious - and this is an emotion I did not wish to evoke in a group of men with very large guns.
Just as we leaving, Pete from Blacktown went to the solid wall of local supporters and shouted "Bangladesh!" and commenced waving the Australian flag - the local supporters responded by repeating "Bang-la-desh, Bang-la-desh, Bang-la-desh!" constantly whilst clapping and waving. I stood next to Pete and continued to shout the "Bang-lad-esh" chant whilst also waving the flag, as the crowd to continued to chant and clap with increasing intensity. This continued for almost a minute, at which time, I raised both hands in the air, fist clenched in one, the Australian flag defiantly in the other and shouted at the
top of my voice "AUSTRALIA!!!" - as if to rouse the Australian team from their lethargic performance at the time. The audience of about 1000 people, either responding to the Bangladesh chants or my very large Australian statement, cheered and applauded in thunderous tones - and it caused a chill to travel along my spine. After a giant wave to the assembled masses - we left to return to the Club House. The large shout of "Australia!" and the reaction it received still echoed through my ears. "Australia" - I considered what this word meant to me and how very fortunate I am to have been born in a country which wants for very little and affords me with more opportunities than is provided to most of the world's inhabitants. "Australia" - the word lingered in my consciousness - yes, it is time to come home.
Tot: 2.404s; Tpl: 0.067s; cc: 14; qc: 30; dbt: 0.0315s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.4mb