Shooting from the hip

I was not counting towards it (13000 runs) but when it comes on the giant screen, you can't miss it. Yes, it is nice but more than that it is about getting runs for your team. - TENDULKAR-AP I was not counting towards it (13000 runs) but when it comes on the giant screen, you can't miss it. Yes, it is nice but more than that it is about getting runs for your team. - TENDULKAR

Virender Sehwag touches a raw nerve with his comment on Bangladesh being an ordinary team. The local media is in a flap, patriotism is triggered and ‘national affront’ is whispered, notes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

January 15: “Bangladesh, be surprised,” says a tourism campaign banner at the Zia International Airport in Dhaka. A sense of familiarity is triggered on hearing Bengali all over the place. Are we still in Kolkata? The spell is broken when the man who hands over a cup of tea asks: “From India?”

Soon another short-haul flight to Chittagong, the venue of the first Test between India and Bangladesh. From the next seat, Tamim turns around and says: “Rabindranath Tagore is from here; Jyoti Basu is from here. We are one people. I love Indian cricketers, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Mahendra Singh Dhoni… but we love Sourav Ganguly the most. He is Bengal tiger!”

The Chittagong skyline flickers through the window. Tamim chokes and says, “I might cry. I am seeing my family after two years. In Saudi Arabia I make a lot of money but I am not happy.” The angst of the migrant worker, whose money-order partially props up Bangladesh’s growth, is understandable.

January 16: There is a pastoral air around the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium. Outside, cows graze, women draw water from a nearby pond, tufts of smoke billow out of a few adjoining factories. Peace everywhere until Virender Sehwag touches a raw nerve. “Bangladesh is an ordinary side,” he says. When asked to explain, the Indian opener says, “because they cannot get 20 wickets.” The local Bangladeshi media is in a flap, patriotism is triggered and ‘national affront’ is whispered.

The Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan adds to the drama: “Oh, Australia and South Africa are better teams than India.”

The day wanes and M. S. Dhoni is ruled out with a back spasm. Sehwag is the captain, sparks are bound to fly.

January 17: A thick blanket of fog greets the few who turn up to see the first day of the Test. A delayed start does not deter Bangladesh bowlers’ enthusiasm as Indian batsmen, with the exception of Sachin Tendulkar, struggle. The word ‘ordinary’ starts as a whisper and then gets louder in the press box as the local reporters reveal their hurt over Sehwag’s remarks.

“They are his views, ask him,” a peeved Tendulkar says later in the evening. It is a day when he gets past 13000 Test runs. “I was not counting towards it but when it comes on the giant screen, you can’t miss it. Yes, it is nice but more than that it is about getting runs for your team,” he says.

Bad news trickles in from West Bengal. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu is no more. Television journalists rush to his ancestral home in the countryside as tributes pour in.

January 18: Chittagong is a bustling port city with a confluence of cultures and the dialect of Bengali spoken here draws a bit from the neighbouring Burmese. Narrow roads are chock-a-block with cycle-rickshaws, imported cars and CNGs. Yes CNGs, that’s what they call autorickshaws here.

Poverty and affluence are seen cheek by jowl as in any Indian city but Test cricket remains a dull attraction and not many turn up though noise is churned up by school children clutching free passes. Tendulkar scores his 44th Test hundred and all is well with Indian cricket.

January 19: The local papers are full of war of words between the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her predecessor Khaleda Zia. The Prime Minister stresses that her recent trip to India and the deals signed will provide economic rewards for Bangladesh. The counter-argument hints at a sell-out of national interests. In a large section out here, India is a caring patriarch but there are some who allege that the neighbour is a petulant big brother.

Chittagong port is supposed to be opened for the transit of Indian goods and it whips up hoopla and heartburn. On the ground, the Indian bowlers crack the Bangladeshi resistance.

January 20: “Every time I walk out to bat, I presume that it is my last innings and give my best for the country,” Gautam Gambhir says. The opener has just scored his ninth Test century, fifth in a row, and is upbeat about India winning the match. The sun too seems to finally shed its winter cloak though night temperatures dip and journalists seek warmth in piping hot Bengali cuisine and a few glasses of amber coloured liquid.

January 21: India wins the Test. Sehwag avoids queries on his ‘ordinary Bangladesh’ remark. The questions are repeated and an exasperated Sehwag says, “I still think they can’t get 20 Indian wickets.”

Mushfiqur Rahim, who scored a hundred in a lost cause, quips, “Indians called me a school boy.”

There might be an edge in the post-match press conference but earlier in the day, there was a picture postcard moment — the Bangladeshi flag and the Indian tri-colour being sold with equal gusto outside the venue.

January 22: To Dhaka ahead of the second Test and a miracle happens. Sun TV is spotted on the local cable and soon a mini Tamil Nadu is recreated in the hotel room while Ilayaraja’s numbers from the laptop make for a stirring background.

News from the Indian team management states that the injured V. V. S. Laxman and S. Sreesanth are being monitored. Hopefully they will recover. The music continues.