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The people of Dhaka love street foods. They love their evening adda. They love their family. They love to criticise the politicians. And they cannot live without worshipping their cricketing heroes.

The days when soccer dominated in Dhaka

Somewhere in the mid 80s, life in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, came to a standstill. For the last couple of days, Dhaka already transformed into a festive city. Two arch rivals in club football, Abahani and Mohammedan Sporting Club would log horns in the final of a football tournament and it triggered a massive euphoria among the fans of capital city. The buildings were glorified with the flags of both teams and even the rickshaw driver was seen to drive his rickshaw with the flag of his favourite team wrapped in his body – buying a jersey was not as easy as today in those days.

The destination was the Dhaka National Stadium, now the Bangabandhu National Stadium (BNS).  Inside the stadium, the scenes were eye-popping. Such a large stadium was not enough to hold the pressure of a partition crowd. The stadium was jam-packed as if the whole of Dhaka had gathered to greet their heroes. The noise was unbelievable. In fact, it was not just a mere noise, but the music of a sports carnival which scripted a beautiful bond between each and every person of Dhaka.

Fans are trying to enter the BNS defying the tighter security to watch the match between Abahani Krira Chakra and Mohammedan Sporting Club. Image Courtesy: Facebook page of Dhaka – 400 years history in photographs

In those days, soccer was the ultimate sports in Bangladesh and in Dhaka, any football tournaments were celebrated with a dash. The sights of a Sheikh Salahuddin, Lutfar Rahman Binu, Monim Munna, Kaiser Hamid, Sabbir, Kanon or Sheikh Aslam would drive the fans crazy. Without a doubt, they were the favourites of Dhaka crowd and were demi-gods in this part of the world. They were the stars whom the young fans worshipped and always wished to emulate.

The legendary Mohammedan Sporting Club during the mid 80s. Behind, a jam-packed crowd at BNS. Image Courtesy: Facebook page of Dhaka – 400 years history in photographs

But sadly, the dawn of the 90s witnessed the end of the golden days of soccer in Bangladesh and in Dhaka, elite sports named cricket would become the heart and soul of each and everyone. At present, cricket is the game of mass in Bangladesh. Neither BNS would remain as the centre of sporting carnival in Dhaka nor Kaiser Hamid or Munna would remain as the heroes anymore, but a new stadium named Shere Bangla National Stadium at Mirpur would become the destination of sports carnival in Dhaka and a bunch of fearless kids would bear the tag of Tigers.

It’s a pity, soccer failed to keep pace with cricket’s dynamic progress. There had been many conspiracy theories about soccer’s downfall in Bangladesh, but if one does not upgrade and brand the sports appropriately, a downfall is evident.

But let me not waste time on soccer’s sorry state in Bangladesh, but I would like to focus on the main topic. I wish that the respective officials of Bangladesh soccer, maintain their ethics to revive the sports in this region. That’s all. Let not elaborate more.

The Dhaka crowd is special

It is always said, Bangladesh owes a lot to the crowd of Dhaka for developing a certain sporting culture, which helped to push Bangladesh’s motto in achieving the coveted Test status to a greater extent. I am focusing more on Dhaka as because this city of mosques and colorful people has always been the centre of major international events and if any crowd deserve a big hurrah for their warm and friendly attitude then it should be Dhaka’s one.

Of course, being a Dhakaities since birth, I have had the privilege to witness the heroes and crowd favourites of Dhaka.

A section of Dhaka crowd during a cricket match. Image Courtesy: The New Nation

In the good old days, in any sporting events, the BNS was always seen filled to the brim – the crowd always cheered for the neutral teams, which used to send a wonderful message about the hospitality of Bangladesh across the globe. The Dhaka crowd is ruled more by emotions and friendliness rather than facts. It not only supports the great teams, but also bear the history of rooting for underdogs.  They love and respect the great players, but when others thirst for their approval, they don’t shy away from pouring their love for them. Yes, I cannot deny about some of the ugly incidents, but the amount of passion and love displayed by the Dhaka crowd makes those incidents irrelevant.

Like the crowds in Mumbai, Lahore or Colombo, Dhaka has its own favourite sons. The heroes which the crowd in Dhaka worship and goes crazy whenever they are sighted. It’s a love story between a massive crowd and a particular player, which cannot be expressed in just a few words.

The favourites of early days

Even during the days of soccer extravaganza, the crowd at Dhaka cheered for their favourite cricket stars as well.  One of them was Yousuf Babu, who was one of the beloved ones of Dhaka crowd. Babu was well known for his aggressive stroke-play and of course, any crowd would love to relish the sixes and fours more rather than a typically composed knock. A mass crowd is not always filled with the purists of the game and thus, Babu’s attacking instincts were always a treat for the people present at BNS. At times, he would even surpass the aura of Raquibul Hassan. Certainly, Babu’s name echoed around small cricketing fraternity of Dhaka.

Yousuf Babu. Image Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune

The glory of Babu started to wane and it was replaced by a bloke named Gazi Ashraf Hossain aka Lipu. As a matter of fact,  Lipu had a huge impact amid the soccer mania of the 80s. As a batsman, he was well-equipped to face the best of attacks and he could round his arms as well when it was needed.  Moreover, as a fielder, he could be regarded as one of the finest in the history of Bangladesh cricket.

The aspect of Lipu’s batsmanship, which made him a crowd favourite was his ability to chip in with some important knocks for his club Abahani. Time and again, Abahani were bailed out by Lipu’s innings-during-crisis and the next day, a photo Lipu with moustache would claim a place among the big names of Bangladesh soccer in national dailies.

Gazi Ashraf Hossain. Image Courtesy: BBC Bangla

Very soon, three young cricketers named; Mihazul Abedin, Aminul Islam and Akram Khan would carry on the legacy of Lipu and would become the beloved ones of the Dhaka crowd in late 80s and whole of 90s. Minhazul’s courage, Aminul’s composure and Akram’s dam-care batting would help Bangladesh cricket to progress a lot.

Akram Khan. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

You know, the Dhaka crowd loved them a lot and these guys used to attract a lot of people to watch cricket in the late 80s and early 90s. Three of them witnessed the rise and fall of a cricketing nation, whose journey was not rosy. Three of them relished the advancement of Bangladesh cricket and certainly, Bangladesh cricket will be indebted to these three for a long time to come.

Ashraful, Rafique and Aftab Ahmed

The coveted Test status was achieved on November 10, 2000. It dawned a new beginning in the history of Bangladesh cricket. New heroes emerged to overshadow the old ones and cricket won’t remain just a game for a Bangladeshi.

Mohammad Rafique and Mohammad Ashraful. Image Courtesy: New Age

Amid the heavy defeats and mind-boggling cricketing displays, Mohammad Ashraful and Mohammad Rafique rose above the rest to win the hearts of people of Dhaka and whole Bangladesh. They represented the struggles of a working-class group who would break down sweat day in and day out to bloom a smile on the faces of their family members. Even in a defeat, a fan would leave the stadium with a smile on his face as because, either Rafique bagged two or three wickets or smashed a quickfire knock as a tail-ender or Ashraful took the opposition bowlers to the cleaners with his scintillating stroke-play.

Aftab Ahmed. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

Aftab Ahmed joined the party in the earlier part of the last decade and boy, he was extremely loved by the people of Dhaka. He was an admixture of Akram and Aminul Islam. Like Akram, he could murder the attack in the twinkle of an eye and under pressure, you would invest in him like you did in case of Aminul Islam. A few years later, a bloke named Shahriar Nafees would become the darling of Dhaka. But both Aftab and Nafees lost their mojo with the progress of time.

Mashrafe the Boss

Until now, very few would be able to challenge the aura of Mashrafe Bin Mortaza aka Mash. His love and affair with the Dhaka crowd and whole of Bangladesh are almost two decades long and day by day the love and respect towards Mash are only increasing. Dhaka witnessed Mash as a rookie in 2001 and from the first ball he bowled in Test cricket, he became the hero of Dhaka.

The first sight of Mashrafe created a lot buzz in Dhaka. None of us in Dhaka ever witnessed any bowler bowl with such a deceptive pace on the cricket field. The determination in his eyes and extraordinary fearless body language became the hot cake in no time. The time for idiolising the foreign cricketers was over and it was time to fill the wall of your bedroom with the poster of Mash.

Mashrafe Bin Mortaza hugs a fan who entered the stadium during the third ODI against Afghanistan in 2016. Image Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune

For Dhaka and Bangladesh, Mash is the symbol of courage and the ideal person to emulate. Or him each and every fan is equal. He never says ‘no’ to any fan, but his “jaadu ka jhappi”(magical hug) is for all. Even if a crowd escapes the tighter security to enter the field, Mash would not allow the security guards to take sterner steps towards him, but he would accept his hug and calm down the situation. This is the scenario wherever Mash goes to play or attend a social function.

This is Mash for you and for the people of Dhaka, Mash is special, as his bond with this crowd is the oldest of all – a story of sheer love and emotion.

Shakib Al Hasan, the ultimate love

But even the aura of Mash could come under threat in Dhaka. You know, there is one bloke named Shakib Al Hasan, who could overshadow the persona – Mashrafe – in no time.  The guy is a flawed genius. He is disliked once and then he forces one to love him again. It’s an interesting cycle, which has started since the latter part of last decade and is still on. Over the years, this cycle of love and dislike have become a part and parcel of Dhaka crowd.

As soon as a fan starts to criticise Shakib harshly, the maestro would dish out an eye-popping display to earn the love and respect of Dhaka in no time. Even, you cannot but fall in love with Shakib’s whims and arrogance. His argument with the opposition players or umpires or whims off the field give the journos a scope to slice this man, but for a fan, it’s not all about slicing him. It’s about earning that sheer amount of gung-ho and daring attitude, which is needed to survive in this critical world of cricket. But a Dhaka fan never wants Shakib to be ugly.

Shakib Al Hasan celebrates the fall of a wicket against England, second Test, 2016. Image Courtesy: India.com

From a personal point of view, Shakib is the ultimate love of Dhaka crowd and he takes it to a different level. He not only earn the accolades of crowd, but he engages the whole crowd with him as well. His salute to Ben Stokes and the ‘aeroplane’ celebration against England and Australia involved the whole of Dhaka. As if the whole of Dhaka was celebrating with Shakib. Well, in fact, the whole of Bangladesh was behind Shakib.

New heroes are emerging in Bangladesh cricket. Cricketers like Mustafizur Rahman and Mehidy Hasan Miraz are the new toasts of this cricket crazy nation, but still, they are yet to script the ultimate love story with the Dhaka crowd.

One day either one of them or someone else will overtake the mantle from Shakib and Mashrafe but at present, the love story of Dhaka crowd with Shakib and Mashrafe would continue.

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