Away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city Dhaka, the North Eastern Bangladeshi town Sylhet will provide you a quaint feeling. The lush green valleys, the Surma River, and a subtropical climate make it a perfect tourist destination. However, along with all its beautiful attractions, the newest allure of the city has to be the picturesque Sylhet International Stadium, situated in the middle of Lakatura Tea Garden.
Previously known as the Sylhet Divisional Stadium, the venue had a complete makeover ahead of the World T20 2014, which Bangladesh hosted. The stadium, which is located three kilometers away from the city centre, got the nod from ICC as an ODI venue in that year and hosted Men’s and Women’s matches during the T20 event. Later in 2016, it was one of the venues for the ICC Under-19 World Cup.
During its renovation, the main pavilion building and the media centre were constructed, floodlights were installed and seating arrangement in the stands was modified. The venue currently has four dressing rooms and all are equipped with all modern day facilities. Until last year, this ground used to have the capacity of hosting 13,533 spectators but the recent construction of couple of stands has increased that number to almost 18,5000.
The most attractive part of the stadium is the newly built, Bangladesh’s first ever grass bank pavilion, known as the ‘Green gallery’. It adds a different flavour to this venue. In terms of the scenic beauty amongst the cricketing venues in sub-continent, the name of Sylhet International Stadium has to come just after the HPCA stadium in Dharamsala in India.
Unlike the hot and humid Dhaka and Chittagong — Bangladesh’s two most popular cricket centres, the pleasant weather at Sylhet is perfect for cricket. Fast bowlers will love the early morning mist over here. The open stands allow the breeze to come through which can be helpful for the players. Nights are chilly in Sylhet, so under lights once again bowlers will have their say. There are as many as five centre wickets and four side wickets along with top-notch practice facilities.
Overall, all the necessary infrastructures are available here and thanks to the conditions, fans can expect a decent contest between bat and ball at this venue.
Sylhet is well connected by air, road and railways with Dhaka and the city has two five-star hotels, which provides no logistical concerns when it comes to hosting international matches. Being a tourist place, a big-ticket match can attract a lot of spectators from all over the country and it can boost the economy of the entire region.
However, despite such beautiful setup and world class facilities, Sylhet is missing the taste of International cricket. Despite getting the ODI status three years back it is yet to host a 50-over international fixture. In fact, after the six men’s and 23 women’s matches in World T20 2014, the ground has not hosted any international fixture (Apart from the few Under-19 world cup matches in 2016).
Recently, the local media reported that the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) was considering to allot an ODI at Sylhet during the upcoming home series against Pakistan. But, the Pakistan Cricket Board is yet to provide a green signal about the tour of Bangladesh.
In the last week of April, there was a mild earthquake and Kalboisakhi (Heavy storm) hit the Sylhet and unfortunately, some sections of the media centre and president’s box of the main pavilion of the stadium were damaged. However, the local authorities had reacted promptly and work has already begun to repair the damaged areas.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the historical significance of the game of cricket, Sylhet always has a special mention.
A cricket match was held in Sylhet way back in 1845.
On March 3, 1845, the ‘Sporting Intelligence’ magazine of England carried a reasonably lengthy match report between ‘Sepoy’ and the European cricketers. The article mentioned that the match was being played at Sylhet. Till date, cricket historians regard this game as one of the oldest recorded cricket matches played in the sub-continent.
Thus, the city has history, tradition, cricket culture and modern amenities to host regular international fixtures. But, so far it has kept falling behind in the race against the more established centres like Dhaka and Chittagong. Bangladesh are slowing emerging as one of the epicentres of Asian cricket after India and the number of home games the Tigers are playing off late, BCB can easily allocate one or two matches per year to Sylhet.
In fact, the setup over here is perfect for a Test centre. The concern authorities can easily approach ICC, seeking Test status for this venue.
However, unfortunately, under present circumstances, it seems cricket fans of this region have to wait a bit more to watch high-quality international cricket sitting in the stands of the exquisite Sylhet International Stadium.