Bangladesh Tour 2016
Bangladesh: To go or not to go
To Go or Not to Go that was the question. I probably made my mind up to do both Banglasdesh and India tours back to back when they where first announced; being a stubborn old man my resolve to go was further strengthened with the foreign office advice and two players refusing to travel. My own safety was obviously very important so on the advice from my friends at Howzat Travel I booked into the team hotels; as according to the Banglasdesh Cricket Board we as supporters would be offered the same level of security as the players and support staff.
My flight schedule into Dhaka arrived late evening leaving me with two options: book an overnight room and fly the following morning or take the free bus transfer offered by Etihad to Chittagong - saving a few £'s the latter was booked. Well the coach had seen better days and the driver obviously had a hot date to get home to. However, I was well looked after by my fellow Bangla passengers, who insisted on sharing food and ordering from the menu at the half way stop. I had very little sleep due to the ‘hair raising driving’ but we all arrived in one piece.
I had two priorities on arrival: match and train tickets. This involved the ‘tuk tuk’ price negotiation with a driver for a trip to the station which probably means a 50p discount on a £1 trip - it's always the same but somehow you feel better for it.
You can't buy Bangladesh rail tickets in UK but with seven days before my return to Dhaka was confident I'd sort it when I arrived, how wrong I was, no sir full sir, go to see the the station master sir. I enter a large grand room where a man sat, surrounded by his minions, who offered tea and allowed me to explain my dilemma - no problem sir go with this man back to the booking office. The norm always in this part of the world is to use ones elbows to get to the front of any queue. My man was an expert in the this and within 10 mins was on the way back to the hotel - success!
England's operations manager was in the lobby and a quiet word and day one tickets were secured. By this time more supporters started to arrive including four lads from Birmingham, 'Chalkie from Abu Dubai and Ian from London - a barrister on sabbatical - more tickets no problem. Reg Dickinson (ECB Sercurity) was our next port of call who introduced us to Bulan the convoy controller a few more words and yes he had arranged an extra vehicle in the convoy just for us supporters. By this time six hours time difference and little sleep over the past 48 hours time had taken its toll - an early night was needed.
The first day of the Test dawned. As always great excitement with clusters of people in the hotel lobby, players from both sides, media, supporters etc. As we headed out our entire way to the transport was lined with police, army and SWAT teams it was a very impressive display of force. Three coaches for teams and support staff plus a fleet of mini buses for everyone else. As we moved away the convoy was surrounded with outriders, roads closed and guarded during the 8km trip to the ground. Checking into the the ground was easy for us as we had already passed through security in the convoy. We positioned ourselves slightly above the England dressing room wth a lovely cool breeze to make it all the more delightful.
Slowly, other England supporters started to arrive traveling manly in tuk tuks all having endured the teeth-jarring, wild swerves and turns that would certainly keep you amused for the entire trip. We now totaled about 25 including Stuart Kemp who organized the complimentary tickets from the BCB, Henry lead singer, Nervous Dave who never arrived on time and missed the last day completely, Digby who stopped on the way to Qingdao (that's somewhere in China). Flags in position and the first rendition of Jerusalem rang out across the ground to great intrigue from the locals. Haseem Hameed's family had travelled in force mum, dad, brother and sister but it was Ben Duckett who finally ‘got the nod’ to open with Cook, Graham his dad was there with vigour to cheer on this unexpectedness and delight of the UK supporters.
The cricket ebbed and flowed but finally Ben Stokes capped a supreme all round performance with two wickets in three balls as Bangladesh's hearts were broken. This had been an absolutely enthralling performance. The match will of course go down in history for the record number of DRS reviews and Dharmasena’s decisions constantly challenged on 16 occasions with eight reversed!
Our evenings were spent in the Chittagong Club next door to our hotel - reasonably priced food and beverages were the main attraction; a perfect position and very hospitable people once we had adhered to the club rules of no shorts, shirts with collars and definitely no flip flops. Stuart and Digby are now traveling home with new 'made in Banglasdesh' footwear !
One of our Banglasdesh friends from the cricket Razvee who is a Marine Engineer between ships organized a great day out in a mini bus with a driver, checking out the sights and sounds of Chittagong. We finished up watching the sun set over The Bay of Bengal. The four lads from Birmingham and I enjoyed a farewell drink before they departed home and my onward travels to Dhaka commenced.
Up early for my 7am train which departed exactly on time. A comfy window seat with A/C - not too shabby for £8 plus interesting enterainment on a big screen - movies which the locals all seemed to be enjoying. Breakfast was served! No prizes for guessing I declined this offer, one thing not to miss though was the tea served in a china cup & saucer, milk was a spoonful of condensed just a little sweet. Five and half hours later exactly on time we alighted at the airport station near Dhaka which worked well for me as my hotel was only 4km away. Before the train even stopped my bag was been carried on some chaps head, down the platform. Finally my bags and I were reunited after the obligatory taxi bartering session - they do have meters but always sorry sir not working!!!
My chosen hotel was the Raddison which was great but a bit far out of town, tickets and transport again the first priority; luckily the same convoy man was also in charge here so a word and all was sorted for the next morning. Stuart again had secured complimentary tickets from the BCB which involved going into town. Now I had been warned that Dhaka traffic was bad but this was serious - 90 mins for 8 km I could walk faster but would be drowned as it was now tipping it down. Everyone was in the same boat literally . Finally we all made it - tickets distributed and we found a type of sports bar on top of a building construction site that played very loud music; not my type but hey ho go with the flow and the food was good. I left the younger ones to enjoy the fun.
Day one in Dhaka and the normal expectation at the start of another Test - surely it would not match Chittagong. The now familiar sight of troops surrounding the hotel and en route to the ground with full road closures. My allotted transport was in the back of an ambulance at the rear of the convoy - an interesting experience. Our numbers had swelled to about 40. John an independent Howzat traveler, Scott Shaw & Robin Evans arrived via Istanbul this morning, Gemma & Graham arrived last night along with two guys from Singapore and some local UK contractors.
Again an utterly absorbing contest. Bangladesh claimed ten wickets on day three in the final session to secure an historic first Test victory over England. The teenager Mehedi Hasan, who finished with another six-wicket haul, 12 in the match to spark scenes of jubilation at Mirpur.
The Banglasdesh Cricket Board supplied complimentary tickets plus ensuring we had ample supplies of free bottles of water and spotless toilets I can't praise then enough. Yes I was staying in a hotel with heavy security but many independent travelers made their own way to the ground every day and walked about freely with no fear whatsoever. I've felt more threatened in other supposedly more safe countries throughout the world. British High Commission personel were there on duty most days in the grounds offering assistance but it was never required to my knowledge by the supporters.
In conclusion it's been a fascinating experience and certainly worth the effort. The Bengalis have gone out of their way to ensure we all had a safe and pleasant stay. Every single person we met was just so pleased we came to visit their county.
I'm now off to India for the next five Tests in Rajkot, Vizag, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai. I just hope the cricket is as good as in Banglasdesh.