Episode 49: Why crowds roar for the Tigers of world cricket

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Whether in victory or defeat, Bangladesh’s cricket team, the Tigers, have some of the most passionate supporters in the world. Athar Ali Khan is a former Bangladesh international players and selector, now a freelance commentator. He explains how and why their cricketers have captured the hearts of their nation on its fifty-year journey since independence, as the latest guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their cricket-themed podcast. In Peter’s absence for family reasons Roger Alton is the replacement opening bowler.

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After describing the latest, negative, events in Bangladesh’s experience of the pandemic, Athar analyses the devotion of Bangladeshis to sport, and why cricket took over from soccer as its main outlet. He traces the dramatic impact of the country’s victory in the 1997 ICC Trophy, which led to its entry into the 1999 World Cup and then into Test Match status. Athar vividly describes the team’s greeting at  Dhaka airport by the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, and their subsequent open-air reception with half a million people.

He describes his personal journey into cricket, as part of a family with five cricketing brothers, and his role in one-day international teams for Bangladesh in the 1980s and 1990s. He assesses the impact of a tough coach, the great Indian all-rounder Mohinder Amarnath, who demanded a professional approach. Athar describes the performance that earned him a Man-of-the-Match award against Sri Lanka (he still feels guilty about being chosen ahead of a young Aravinda de Silva.) He shares his early memories of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence from Pakistan and its origins on grievances over language and economic and social opportunity – including in cricket. He tells the amazing story of Roqibul Hasan, a teenaged opening batsman selected by Pakistan, who staged a pro-independence demonstration on the face of his bat.

Athar describes the early struggles to establish cricket in Bangladesh after independence, and pays tribute to the help given by the then British High Commission and an early sports patron, Sheikh Kamal. The early days saw no organized women’s cricket, but the national women’s team has made big strides since its foundation in 2007 and was recently awarded Test status. Women’s cricket now has deep roots in the country.

Athar analyses the factors behind Bangladesh’s long early struggle to establish itself in Test cricket: it had more success in one-day formats. It was held back by an under-developed first-class structure. The country’s fortunes have improved especially at home, with memorable victories over Australia and England, but it is still held back by slow pitches, and a consequent lack of pace bowlers and batsmen equipped to play them. He gives his personal assessment of Bangladesh’s long-serving opener Tamim Iqbal, and of its brilliant young new all-rounder Mehedy Miraz Hasan.

Athar describes the current vibrant cricket scene in Bangladesh, and the pathways for talented young players, especially those trained at the state-sponsored BKSP multi-sports academy. The players still attract passionate expectations from fans and media, huge excitement at their victories, deep disappointment at their defeats. However, he detects a growing realism from fans about their team: they know that it must be beaten at times, but they demand that it stays competitive in all formats of the game.

Athar’s freelance commentaries and analysis can be heard in English on his own channel Athar Declares. https://www.youtube.com/hashtag/athardeclares

The literary event of the year is imminent: the publication of Wisden Cricketers Almanack.  Peter and Richard invite listeners to submit their nominations for the Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year to obornehellercricket@outlook.com. They will present the results in advance of Wisden’s Please remember that players cannot appear twice in the Wisden Five, to avoid wasting a nomination!

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Previous Episode – Episode 48: The man who discovered Eoin Morgan (and other stories)

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Peter Oborne, Richard Heller & Roger Alton

Roger Alton, guest host for this episode, was formerly editor of The Observer and The Independent, and is currently the Sports Columnist for The Spectator. He has been a cricket enthusiast since watching it at the Oxford University Parks in the 1950s and took part in the legendary Wounded Tiger tour of Pakistan.

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.

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