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Thu Apr 24 08:03:01 SAST 2014

SA's role in growing Bangladesh cricket

LUKE ALFRED | 20 March, 2011 00:000 Comments
Morne van Wyk of South Africa celebrates the wicket of Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh during the ICC Cricket World Cup match between South Africa and Bangladesh at the SBNCS in Mirpur on March 19, 2011 in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Image by: Lee Warren

Had he been alive to witness it, you feel sure that Eddie Barlow would have been a little tearful at the start of Bangladesh's game against the Proteas yesterday.

At one time or another, Barlow coached at least seven of their starting lineup when he worked here as a development coach, growing their talent and self-belief when they were youngsters. Shakib al Hasan was a Barlow charge, as were Shahriar Nafees, Rubel Hossain and Mohammad Mahmudullah.

Barlow coached at a time - from 2000 through to 2005 - when Bangladesh were desperate for acceptance into the global cricket family. He is remembered in these parts as someone who believed in the Bangladeshis as they wanted to believe in themselves. He came here and lived among the people and played no small part in their early development. He is fondly remembered, possibly revered.

Developed they have. There is a cricket hostel behind the main grandstand at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium which houses 50 of the country's best young cricketers. They are fully subsidised and have access to the fine field and nets. Cricket is growing here, with more league and club cricket being played than ever before. Former icons of the world game like Chaminda Vaas and Arjuna Ranatunga come to play and visit, and thanks in part to the recognition foisted upon Bangladesh by the ICC, cricket has eclipsed the previous most popular sport, football.

"Soccer has become a power game," says Abu Salim Babla, the Proteas' baggage master and co-ordinator for the first division of club cricket for the greater Dhaka metropolitan area. "Subcontinental sides can't control football because we are naturally slim. We eat spices. Power is not our game, so we turn to cricket."

While the future glows with a radiance felt keenly by all Bangladeshi fans, it is not without challenges. This is a poor, in places almost feudal economy, and with the waterlogged nature of the land, dry fields are a problem.

There is plenty of passion and will to succeed. What they lack is a template for sustained success. Still, they are in a cricket-mad corner of the globe, and will be strengthened by regional combat with India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

This World Cup has been a wonderful moment for Bangladesh, compared at times to the war of liberation and subsequent succession from Pakistan in 1971. It is that important in the developing story of this proud country.

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