I have been watching matches on TV since the 1996 Cricket World Cup. My love for the sport developed from watching the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Brian Lara smashing fours and sixes on the small black and white TV we had back in my hometown in Sylhet. But, for some reason, I was not being able to catch a live match from the stadium. Even in 1998, when a number of international events were held in Bangladesh, we, who lived far away from the capital, had to stay content watching those on TV.
A number of international series were being held in Bangladesh after the Tigers got Test status in 2000. But the opportunity for me to go and catch a live match never came in those days as none of those games were played in Sylhet. However, I did start watching live domestic matches from the 2001-02 season. The National Cricket League was held at the Sylhet District Stadium and we used to flock to the ground after bunking classes to see stars such as Khaled Mahmud, Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Rafique in action. And yes, back then, the domestic leagues used to be played in front of packed houses, unlike current times.
I got the experience of catching a live international match as late as 2008 when New Zealand toured Bangladesh in October that year. The Tigers at that time were in tatters, losing a number of players to the Indian Cricket League (ICL). I remember that the third match of the series, held in Chattogram, was the first match that I caught live from the venue.
But today I will share the story of a different game. I often used to travel from Sylhet to Chattogram to meet someone special, who eventually became my life partner. It was 2011 and I was in Chattogram and this time we both had the opportunity to see Bangladesh taking on England in an enthralling World Cup fixture live from the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium.
Bangladesh, brimming with confidence, elected to field after winning the toss. The Tigers restricted the three lions for a modest 225, courtesy of some excellent bowling from the three spinners -- Shakib Al Hasan, Abdur Razzak and Nayeem Islam. The whole stadium was waiting to become a part of history after such a dominating performance in the first half.
But things changed when Tigers came out to bat. Bangladesh lost eight wickets for 169 runs and thousands of spectators just saw the opposite side of the coin in just a matter of hours. Some among the crowd, the overly enthusiastic ones, could not hold their anger and started leaving but only after cursing the players. Even we were in dilemma: should we watch the agonising defeat or should we leave? But we stuck around and for that we will ever be grateful to our own judgment. And why should we not be? The ninth wicket partnership between Mahmdullah Riyad and Shafiul Islam had just changed everything.
Mahmudullah's responsibility was to keep his wicket while Shafiul made us realise for the first time that he too could bat, playing the role of the aggressor. We all knew that the match was hanging in the balance with Mahmudullah being the last hope for Bangladesh. Mahmudullah also knew that and even if he did not, the crowd did their part to make him realise that all hopes lay with him as thousands of people from the stands played the role of a coach and started shouting, "Riyad, please stay till the end."
Our excitement spiked just as Shafiul smashed a four or a six. It was something indescribable how we celebrated by hugging even strangers in the field after Mahmudullah hit got the winning runs by hitting a four.
By the time we were returning after having made our way through the celebratory procession, we witnessed that people who watched the games at home had thronged the streets of Chattogram. Some were even as crazy as to be wanting to take pictures with us, the ones who saw the triumph live, as if we also fought the incredible battle!
Since then I have watched a lot of games as a fan and covered a lot of matches as a professional journalist, but the win over New Zealand in 2011 will always remain special to me.