World Cup Fever!

“I have been literally standing in line for three days for the world cup tickets, and finally got them. It was grueling, standing in line for hours but it was worth every bit of effort because I got two tickets for the World Cup for me and my best friend. It’s history in the making and I am going to be part of it,” says an ecstatic Abdullah Al Junayed, a 22 year old BBA student from North South University who is the envy of all his peers.

Junayed is not the only one caught up in feverish excitement about the World Cup. The entire country seems to be in a festive mood since the first week of February. This year for the first time ever, Bangladesh gets to co-host the ICC World Cup. This tournament is the biggest international sporting event Bangladesh has hosted since its independence in 1971 and organisers want to make absolutely sure that the players, officials and spectators enjoy the event. Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium is hosting six matches, including the opening clash between Bangladesh and India on Feb. 19. Two others matches are scheduled to be played in Chittagong, the second largest city. The opening ceremony, which is to include a performance by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, is taking place at another stadium in the capital.

Never before has Bangladesh hosted an event of this magnitude and big corporations along with the BD government are trying their best to make the fair city of ours look somewhat presentable. The streets are sparkly clean; there are paintings, banners, decorations and sculptures springing forth everywhere depicting our support for the home team. So far three music videos have been released and a giant bat has been erected on airport road to keep the morale high for team Bangladesh. The BD government itself seems to take this event more seriously than expected; the security around the city has been dialed up several notches, and there is an aggressive crusade to keep beggars and mosquitoes off the streets.

Brigadier Nasir Uddin, Dhaka City Corporation’s chief health officer, said that “Hundreds of workers were spraying stadiums with insecticides and draining stagnant waters and drains where mosquitoes breed” as part of the drive. No doubt the efforts to make our country look good are admirable, but there’s a thing called spreading the butter way too thin. Certainly cleaner streets are a welcome change, but is new chrome polish on the divider poles really necessary?

The bottoms of footpaths have been painted to look like zebra stripes, the tacky bamboo barriers protecting dying plants have been painted green and red (the plants are still dying though), the lampposts and street lights have been welded with extensions so they can support flower pots; which are also painted green and red. Even the Bus Owners Association has decided to repaint all their old and recently painted buses so as not to look cheap. If one wasn’t born and raised in Dhaka and didn’t know for sure where he was, one would think he’s stuck in traffic inside the mythical candy land. Jokes aside though, in Chittagong the Mayor is apparently paying the beggars to keep them off the streets just to add to the décor, now that is some good old fashioned deshi hypocrisy right there.

Finally, Stumpy the world cup mascot is looming at every corner carrying the world cup countdown card, letting everyone know when the gigantic sporting-event will begin. Rumors are going around that all the Stumpy statues will explode into fireworks and drop caramel coated candy from the sky when the clock hits 00:00:00.

The giant corporations and banks are not the only one who are trying to milk the event for all its worth, small entrepreneurs and businesses are also getting in on the action. Tickets are going up for auction in the dark shady corners of the internet. Amit Seal Ami, a cricket fanatic and a 12th grader from Notre Dame College claims to have bid as high as 20000 BDT for world cup tickets. “A friend forwarded me a link to an online forum where tickets were going up for auction, I had to check it out and after confirming it was for real I placed 20k on ticket originally worth 1000BDT and was still outbid.”

Most of us can empathize with Ami and understand his desperation to watch the event live from inside the stadium, but there are some who prefer to watch the game indoors, and have grand plans of their own. If anyone is possessed by the world cup fever, it is the teen and the young adults. “I plan on going to Mint with my friends and just relax and watch the game on a giant screen. Although I’m not sure about the relaxing part, especially during the match between Bangladesh and India.” Says an overenthusiastic Shahriar Alam Rifat, a 23 year old grad student from NSU. Mint and almost all popular lounges around the city have suddenly fashioned themselves after sports bars (minus the booze of course) just to get into the world cup spirit.

Many young people are arguing themselves hoarse debating the composition of the team, analysing tactics and picking apart opposing teams. Shahed, a marketing executive, meets his friends every evening after work to brainstorm on the Bangladesh team’s chances. In what is building up to be the big occasion of the World Cup, the opening game against India, it won’t be a bad idea to give Nazmul Hossain the first over, they agree, given that there’s little hope in Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s full recovery.

Nazmul is, after all, the most experienced pace bowler in the 15-man Bangladesh squad. But one of the group gloomily points out that it looks more likely that Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain, Tigers’ men in form in international cricket, will spearhead the attack during the February 19 clash.

Another pundit chips in that it is a bit strange that the man who made his debut in 2004 (against South Africa in Nottingham) has only played 34 one-dayers. But they agree that Habiganj-born Nazmul was always a stop-gap option, never really given a stretch to prove himself though hardly ever disappointing with his performance.

Rubel and Shafiul, on the other hand, are the regulars in the line-up with the former having cemented a place despite having a few off-days. Shafiul though has a lot to fall back on, especially his ability to bowl better with the old ball. His yorkers in the death overs are vital as more often than not, the opposition team takes their Batting Powerplay in the last five overs against Bangladesh. Rubel, too, is fine in the end overs but as he is the fastest bowler among the Tigers, the vital time for him would be with the new ball, the armchair experts agree.

Such storms in the tea cup are the norm as Cup Fever reaches its peak. Everyone who can afford one is desperate for a giant TV and sales at the biggest showrooms have gone up quite a bit. For the older and more mature crowd, mammoth plasma TVs are a top priority on their wish list this year because of the grand sporting event. Everyone agrees that Bangladesh is the team to watch this time and after the legendary and spectacular “Banglawash” everyone has their hopes up. Spirits are running high and there’s a constant adrenaline rush in every cricket fan, which includes almost every other Bangali. The unfortunate few who don’t get cricket and can’t understand what all the hoopla is about, they are doomed between two options, either being a part of the crowd and pretend to be excited about the grand event or to be left out and be socially awkward.

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