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Asia Cup brings back memories

The recently concluded Asia Cup and the forthcoming World T20 in Bangladesh drew me back to 1998, the year of my first tour to that country. I was assigned by this newspaper to cover the Wills International Cup. In later years, this mini World Cup ended up being called the Champions Trophy.

I had been warned about Dhaka’s chaotic ways and this concern found merit when I couldn’t get out of the airport due to a strike called by an opposition political group.

Pleasant view: A bird’s-eye view of the Bangabandhu national stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Pic/Stu Forster/ Allsport

Not long after my 7 am arrival, I had company in the form of a group of journalists from the Gulf. One of them — an influential Dubai-based writer — refused to stay put at the airport arrival lounge and called Pakistan’s former captain Asif Iqbal, who was part of the organisers, and explained our plight. Asif managed to speak to the airport authorities and we were soon ushered into a room for VVIPs. It was still unsafe to venture out so we decided to catch up on some sleep.

While I struggled to rest, I noticed Michael Holding entering the room. I offered him a seat. Like me, he too had nothing to do so I grabbed the opportunity of requesting him for an interview. As usual, he spoke his mind and was emphatic about how Brian Lara was not playing to potential. Holding said: “He took things for granted because he was the world record holder. He thought being a record holder he could just go out there and get runs. Even Viv Richards, the greatest batsman I ever saw couldn’t do that.” The strike on the streets had helped me ‘open my account.’

In a few hours, we were told it is safe to leave the airport for the hotel. My fellow journalists ensured I could manage to laugh in the pressure of covering a mini World Cup, The late Pradeep Vijayakar used to practice his radio commentary while in the press box and often used to yell out “well caught” and “he’s bowled him” much to the irritation of deadline-pressurised journalists who were forced to stop tapping away at their laptops and get back to watching the action.

Just before India began their campaign against Australia, a news agency journalist based in Mumbai (let’s call him JB) was sent as replacement for his Kolkata-based injured colleague. Dhaka was not a place JB was looking forward to visiting, but he had no choice. Adding to his problems was the fact that he could be accommodated in a very small room at the media hotel.

On match eve, JB and me made our way to the Indian team’s hotel where captain Mohammed Azharuddin and coach Anshuman Gaekwad were addressing the Press. We chose to travel in a rickshaw to the Sonargaon hotel. Having been to the team hotel the previous day, I found this journey longer even after considering heavier traffic. JB asked the driver why he was taking ages but we couldn’t understand his explanation. Suddenly, he uttered “hotel,hotel.” This was certainly not the Sonargaon. To my dismay and disbelief, I discovered that this was the very same hotel from where we started our journey. JB did everything but strike the driver. Ultimately, we opted for a comfortable Toyota car to reach our destination.

We reached the press conference after it had started. Azhar was being asked how he felt to become the world’s first player to play 300 one-day internationals. The captain went on to thank several people who helped him achieve the feat including his wife. And before Azhar could complete his answer, JB asked aloud, “which wife?” A section of the media was in splits. Good old JB had truly arrived.

While the tournament was overall well organised, one organisational snafu was hilarious. Umpire Dave Orchard arrived from Karachi after umpiring in the Pak vs Aus Test series and on opening the door of his room, he discovered it was already occupied. Poor Orchard had to wait for another two hours in the lobby to get a room.

The next time I visited Dhaka was in April 2000 for a festival match. The trip was meant to be a junket. But it ended up being work, work because on arrival, I was bombed with news of Hansie Cronje’s phone conversations with bookies.

The whole evening and night was spent getting reactions from players. I decided to visit the coffee shop for a bite and bumped into a shocked BCCI biggie Raj Singh Dungarpur, who insisted Cronje would not get involved in anything remotely sinister. We relished our sandwich and Rajbhai insisted on picking up the tab. I can never forget his words: “I must pay. Not that there is anything to celebrate about tonight.”

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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