Gripping contest atones for Hartal

For two days the whipping boys of international cricket stood toe-to-toe and gave each other a good whipping, and never flinched.

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe traded blows without being able to land a decisive hit in the first test at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, 10 kilometres from the city centre.

On the third day that all changed with the introduction of left-arm spinner Taijul Islam into the attack, for the second over of the day. Sixteen overs later he had claimed the best bowling figures by a Bangladeshi in test cricket and the third-best for a left-arm spinner, 8-39.

Thoughts of an easy home victory disappeared even more quickly when they lost their first three wickets without a run on the board, chasing just 101 for victory, but they got there in the end as a third consecutive 10 000-plus crowd held its collective breath in between cheering for every run. It was thrilling stuff, comfortably making up in entertainment what may have been missing in quality.

Although the players couldn’t possibly have known how important it was to put on a show worthy of test cricket, they will come to learn of it soon enough. Every time they take to the field from now on, they are playing for their futures. Not just their futures as cricketers, but their nations’ futures as participants in the international game.

The ICC no longer administers a Future Tours Programme (FTP), which used to guarantee some fixtures for the teams ranked ninth and 10th out of ten in the world game. But when the BCCI decided to rip it up in March this year, it was every country for itself.

By the time India, Australia and England had filled the prime spots in the calendar with bloated tours for the next ten years, there was barely time for South Africa to be squeezed in, never mind the likes of Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The West Indies, meanwhile, may have blown themselves off the calendar entirely by walking out of their tour of India last week.

There appears to be no appetite to include these two nations in any meaningful international cricket, and there is only so long they can keep playing each other. Srinivasan and his chambermaids from England and Australia, frankly, don’t care what happens to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. And there is no sign of anybody with influence or compassion on the horizon.

All that is left for the players to do is use the small shop window that this tour affords them to prove they can be of value, and the first test was a good start.

On the second day, the opposition political party declared a national strike – a ‘hartal’ – and they have been known to turn nasty with looting and various forms of disruption to whatever traffic does take to the roads.

It meant a super early start for the television production team (commentators included!) in order to travel to the stadium with a police escort, and arrive almost two hours before the teams. Those 9:30am starts make for long days anyway, but Sunday may have been a new record.

On a different note, over the last decade, South Africa has been represented in more and more bars and restaurants around the world by the excellent (and beautifully priced) Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc. Castle Lager has been there for years, too, but an honest table wine that travels well has now become a regular and a popular one.

It has become my unofficial measuring tool for how hilariously over-inflated prices can be when demand exceeds supply. The record was held by Barbados for a long time at $35 during the 2007 World Cup until an optimistic Indian restaurant listed a bottle at $40. But that mark has now been smashed by the La Vinci Hotel in Dhaka.

Holding the bottle in much the way a priest holds a baby for a blessing, the barman carried it to me and said: “It is $55, Sir.” “That’s okay,” I replied, “I was just asking. You can take it back.”

For the uninitiated, that’s about R600. They cost R40 back home.


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