Yes, it has been a while since I posted anything new here and nearly forgot how to write for fun until I had the fortune to attend a cricket match in Dhaka. That’s when inspiration struck.
Cricket. For people who have actually heard of it as a sport and not as a crop-killing insect or American cell phone service for the elderly, cricket rests high atop the pantheon of the most boring athletic activities known to planet earth.
In the minds of many, or at least mine, cricket welcomes comparisons to other traditionally upper-class games of privilege and snobbery like polo, croquet, or bridge. All are probably enjoyable for the participants, but for the casual spectator of sports, they all fall miserably short in satiating the appetite for witnessing the beauty of the human body falling violently to the turf during a heart-pounding two-minute drive in American football or the thrill of Game 7 in the World Series.
When I was younger, I had heard about cricket but never actually saw the game played. Referred to as a “gentleman’s game,” I knew it had English roots and therefore assumed it was basically lawn bowling with middle-aged, monocle-wearing British chaps smoking pipes and doing something with a ball. Turns out, I was mostly right. At least back then.
Now, I have come to understand that cricket, due to Great Britain’s colonial heritage, is actually a sport that fuels the dreams of kids and adults alike in India, Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, South Africa, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Moreover, cricket is a wildfire that has swept throughout the South Asian subcontinent and become a way of life for well over a billion people.
Having spent several years now in Bangladesh, I have become quite familiar with the gentleman’s game and have nurtured a growing appreciation. In some ways, it is a lot like my favorite sport baseball, except there’s less running, less bases, no foul balls, and more ridiculous celebrations after recording a single out than most baseball players would exhibit after winning the World Series.
This weekend, I had the great fortune of witnessing this cricket craze firsthand. Not in London, not in Sydney, but in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Like everything else in Dhaka, traveling to a cricket match involves chaotic cacophony coupled with dense masses of people crowding every possible plot of open space, nook, or cranny. Usually between moving vehicles of varying speeds. Dealing with this inevitability must be weighed each and every time one makes a decision to step outside. The craziness in itself is not so bad, but when it results in hours-long gridlock every day, it can really derail the most well laid-out plans immediately into the swarming dusty pit of a nightmare in hell (what we call ‘traffic’ in Dhaka-speak).
Getting into the stadium proved as difficult as navigating the Dhaka roads. Unlike sports arenas I’ve been to, the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium requires fans to enter the premises ONLY through the prescribed gate as noted on the ticket. Our tickets advised us to enter through Gate 1. However, after trying gates 5-2 in that sequence, we finally gained access to the stadium. After making it to our seats with relative ease, we settled into the match two hours after the first pitch without having missed much.
Instead of trying to explain the rules, I’ll just point out a few of the highlights:
– We saw Bangladesh hit exactly two “sixes” or home runs (in baseball, that would be good; in cricket, that is not so good).
– The fans in Bangladesh know ‘The Wave’ and demonstrated it several times throughout the game.
– It’s almost like baseball. Maybe I’m becoming delusional from overexposure to the arsenic-laden water supply or a deadly swarm of microscopic brain worms, but it is kind of sort of like close to baseball. Almost.
– My daughter Gemma was featured prominently on the JumboTron during the match. I am also told the telecast had some zoom-in shots of the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed American baby girl in the stadium. We even received an up-close and personal introduction to the most famous Bangladesh national cricket team fan and de facto mascot, The Tiger Man.
– Traffic and a 3.5 hour round trip to watch a sporting event: To say traffic is bad in Dhaka is an understatement of criminal proportion. On normal days, it’s bad. On holidays, it’s bad. Only when the country is on complete lockdown during political turbulence (read: violence) is it possible to use the gas pedal without clamping down on the brakes every time the car moves six inches. And man oh man, I kind of miss those days. With the total time involved, including the time of the game–12 hours with travel time should one choose to view the entire match–it would be akin to living in Las Vegas and driving to Anaheim to watch the Angels play baseball. Instead, I live 5 miles from this stadium, Mike Trout plays baseball 10,000 miles away, and there is not a single beer stand in the entire stadium (or country).
– Which brings up #2: No beer. For American readers, imagine baseball games without having beer. Or hot dogs, nachos, or tacos. But especially beer. Not bad, actually. But imagine if baseball games were 18 innings, time between pitches was at least 60 seconds instead of 10, and you had no idea who the hell you were watching. Beer would certainly help, much as it does for one’s significant other or non-baseball watching friends who go along with you to baseball games for the social aspect. Which usually involves beer.
The Key Difference, in a Nutshell: Grabbing your crotch in baseball is part of the time-honored tradition of our nation’s pastime. Grabbing your crotch in cricket will get you suspended indefinitely.
Would I go again? Yes, if I can travel by helicopter to and from the stadium.
Twitter summary in 140 characters or less: Cricket is good, but baseball is best; need a chopper and hops to enjoy with the rest #BideshiProblems