The Rise and Rise of the Tigers
By Padya Paramita
March 23, 2019
WHEN I think about home, I think about family, I think about food, and I think about cricket. Since the ICC Cricket World Cup of 1999, which took place during a typical sweltering hot Bangladeshi summer, cricket has always been a part of my life. Our national team was on its way to winning its first big international match. The players represented a new generation of athletes; they were young and hungry, just starting to be recognized.
Twenty-eight years into independence, we were going to have another victory over Pakistan, this time in cricket. Each time Bangladesh inched closer to victory, I heard emphatic roars from the group of family friends that had gathered in the living room. I was banging pots and pans with spoons while my grandmother chased me around the dining room. Our upstairs and downstairs neighbors echoed the celebratory cheers. The people of Bangladesh may not always agree on national, political, or social issues, but when it comes to our love for the Tigers, we have always been united.
Because our nation was formerly a British colony, Bangladeshis often grow up with the rules of cricket instilled in them from a young age. In cricket, a bowler throws a ball at a batsman, who then tries to score points, or runs. Each bowler can bowl six consecutive balls. After the six deliveries, the umpire calls ‘over’ and a different bowler from the same team bowls six consecutive balls, in his own over. No bowler is allowed to bowl two overs in succession. The rest of the players from the bowling side are on the field, waiting to catch loose balls that the batsman hits. Each side has to play two batsmen at a time. A batsman can score runs by literally running from one end of the pitch to the next (and switching ends with his partner), or by hitting the ball out of bounds. However, the batsman can be struck out if the bowler knocks off the stumps, or wickets, behind the batsman, or if anyone from the bowling team catches the ball when the batsman plays it in the air.
Cricket can be played in one of three formats, each with two teams of eleven players per side. Test cricket started it all in the late nineteenth century. Opposing teams dress in all white jerseys and play for five days of ninety overs each. As people’s patience shrank and innovation grew, One Day cricket was invented. A One Day game, played in colored jerseys, allows each side to bat for fifty overs. The twenty-first century upgrade to One Day is the Twenty20 format, where the game is condensed and each side bats for twenty overs. The ICC World Cup is played every four years in the One Day format, whereas the separate Twenty20 World Cup is held every two years. I love One Day cricket, and how it allows the players more time to showcase their talent. As exciting and quick as Twenty20 games are, they leave teams, especially ones as young as Bangladesh, more susceptible to losses, since the players’ rush to score higher runs increases their chances of striking out.
In Bangladesh, a cricket match is always cause for people to gather. Restaurants offer special discounts on food, households hang the national flag out of the window, and the streets become crowded as people try to leave work in time to catch a game. When there is a home game, people march in thousands to the stadium, their faces covered in paint. Sometimes the face paint is the red and green of the Bangladeshi flag, and sometimes it is yellow and black stripes, to represent the team, the Royal Bengal Tigers.
The advent of social media has added a new layer to the excitement of sharing cricket matches with friends: during a Bangladeshi cricket game, fans fill up their friends’ newsfeed with commentary about almost every over of the game. At any tense or exciting moment, my timeline fills up with dozens of posts either critiquing a bowler on allowing the opponent to score more runs than necessary or sarcastically praising an opponent fielder for dropping a catch. During a game, everyone with a smartphone suddenly becomes a guru, offering the players advice on how to perform under the pressures of the game.
When I was growing up, victory didn’t come easily to the Bangladesh national team. Having only gained independence in 1971, we were a young team and new to the sport. In the 2000s, our total number of victories were a mere handful in almost a hundred one day games. Every time we won—perhaps once or twice a year—it would make all the national headlines and people would run to celebrate on the streets, no matter how irrelevant that match was in the bigger picture of international rankings.
The 1999 victory against Pakistan changed a lot for us. It ranked us among the ten teams that play Test matches, a place that has to be earned due to the grit and resilience needed to play Test Cricket. Although we lost most of our early Test and One Day games, our players and fans would go into each match with renewed hope, cheering for the Tigers louder than ever.
Things really began change for Bangladesh’s national team in 2007. That year, our World Cup team consisted of a new generation of fearless players. In their first match of the tournament, Bangladesh defeated its neighbor and cricketing giant, India. This victory was in part thanks to star performances by three players who would go on to become some of our greatest players ever: Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, and Mushfiqur Rahim. Having beaten India and Bermuda in the group stages, Bangladesh qualified for the second round for the first time ever. We went on to defeat powerhouse South Africa, but were eliminated after losing to the other six teams. It was a start.
The Tigers’ rise wasn’t exponential. We still lost quite a lot. But, compared to the earlier seasons, there was hope. Every game, the Bangladesh team, led by this golden generation of youngsters, fought hard. We weren’t an easy opponent anymore. We gave the big teams a run for their money. In 2009, Shakib Al Hasan was ranked the number one all-rounder (a player who is both a bowler and a batsman) by the International Cricket Council. Our wins became more consistent, and the passion of the cricket-crazed people of Bangladesh grew. By 2010, Bangladesh had managed at least one One Day match win against every Test-playing nation. We were no longer small fish; we were genuine threats. It was the dawn of a new era.
The team finally began to capitalize on their potential starting around the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. I was in my second semester of college in the U.S, and I would wake up in the middle of the night to watch the boys of Bengal put up stupendous performances, sealing victories against Afghanistan, Scotland, and England, fighting strong in a losing effort against co-hosts and eventual runners-up New Zealand. Even though we were eliminated in the quarter-finals, the World Cup struck up a spirit that I had never seen before. We watched with pride as Bangladesh began a run of victories, defeating Pakistan, South Africa, and India.
Celebrating just two wins a year is thankfully a distant memory—today, we play to win, and we have a higher winning percentage every year. Bangladesh has yet to win a major international tournament, but we’re close: we were runners up of the Asia Cup in three out of the last four tournaments. The boys learn from these losses, and our Tigers’ appetite only grows. While I may no longer live in Bangladesh, I’m still connected to my country through Cricket. I clear my schedule during a match. I lose sleep, put on my jersey, and FaceTime my parents as we yell at the screens together. We are long overdue a grand victory—the upcoming 2019 ICC World Cup in May would be a fabulous place to start. ❖