By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
The locals have made a rousing party out of the ICC Women’s World T20, and it’s only going to get louder
When the empty stands are little more than giant concrete blocks that echo every word, every stroke in the middle, it’s poor advertisement for the game. Which is why the players were particularly delighted at the response they got. "It was one of the biggest crowds I've played in front of," gushed Suzie Bates, the New Zealand captain, while Sana Mir, the Pakistan captain, added, "We've all heard of how passionate the Bangladesh fans are, to experience it in real is something else."
Bates had to scream to get the attention of the fielders in the deep during the course of New Zealand’s game against Australia. "I've never really lost my voice at a cricket game before, today I did," she laughed. She’s not quite complaining – it’s a worthy exchange for the infectious enthusiasm that drives people to watch even the women's game. "We all want to play in front of big crowds. It's great to see this kind of atmosphere."
Even the organisers in Sylhet might have been caught a wee bit off guard by Sunday’s crowd – after all, it wasn’t as if the home team was playing – but the food stalls did big business and, of course, the merchandise sellers went home smiling. "We've been on duty for over two weeks, but this something none of us expected," said a security officer. "This kind of crowd here in Sylhet is good to see. You will see a full house when Bangladesh plays."
In modern times, various sporting events have earmarked specific tunes as a part of their identity. The theme song of the World T20 – 'Char Chokka Hoi Hoi', which roughly translates to 'Let it rain fours and sixes', was an instant hit among all the spectators – schoolchildren, middle-aged men and women. One wouldn't have been mistaken in thinking the Sylhet stadium was hosting a big dance party, and the cricket was merely a sideshow.
While the fans sang and danced, the players soaked in the applause and the adulation. Post-match ice baths are a norm these days, particularly after an intense game in the heat, but these players were happy to make an exception, staying back to chat with fans, mostly students who had returned home from college in London, and, in keeping with the flavour of the month, obliging requests for selfies (or ‘usies’, if you will).
While the players were at the centre of the carnival, the large media contingent wasn’t left behind either. Frequent questions to the players and foreign journalists by the local media and fans revolved around how the facilities in Sylhet were compared to other international venues. The pride brought on by a positive assessment was all too evident.
If you've followed Bangladesh cricket on television over the years, you would know that the noise, fervour, colour and festivities if their team wins is unimaginable, and the gloom spreads quickly with any loss. But it is their neutral side that rekindles the hope that cricket indeed binds people at all times.