Bangladesh isn’t very big. Less than 150,000 square miles, which is bigger than only 14 other countries. It’s 8th in population though, with 160 million people. The country also boasts the longest stretch of unbroken sea beach on earth, as well as the planet’s largest mangrove forest. There are 700 rivers and 8,000 kilometers of inland waterways. There are tigers, panthers, crocodiles, black bears, gibbons, elephants, black giant squirrels, cobras, boars, pythons, 6,000 different plant species including 5,000 flowering plants. It is small and beautiful and crowded.
The population is mostly Bengali muslim with a smattering of Hindus and Christians, and most of the people live in the country’s urban areas. There government is a unitary parliamentary republic (a president, a prime minister, and a parliament). Humans have lived in the region for over 20,000 years. The Mauryan Empire ruled the region for centuries before being succeeded by the Gupta dynasty in the 3rd century of the Common Era. The dynasty oversaw the invention of chess, the concept of zero and the theory of the earth orbiting the sun. Sanskrit language and culture flourished.
Islam came at the beginning of the last millennium, and the British East India company in 1757. The British partitioned Bengal in 1909 which created Eastern Bengal. And then in the following decades Indian independence grew fiercely in the region. During World War 2 the Bengal Famine claimed the lives of over a million people. In 1947 British India was partitioned and the Bengal region became East Pakistan, with East Bengal being Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan state. But they were dissatisfied with West Pakistan, and in the 1950s the first signs of an independence movement began. And that movement began in earnest of after the elections in December of 1970 with civil disobedience erupting across the state.
On March 23, 1971, the Bangladeshi flag was hoisted for the first time.
On March 26, 1971, the Pakistani military attacked East Pakistan. The army massacred hundreds of thousands (possibly over a million) Bengalis during what is know as the Bangladeshi Genocide. Millions more fled to India. There was international outcry against the actions of Pakistan, and inspired the first benefit concert: The Concert for Bangladesh, led by former Beatle George Harrison.
During the war, the Bengali government governed in exile in Calcutta, India, leading the fight back against Pakistani forces. The war last nine months and ended with Pakistani surrender. Bangladesh was admitted into the UN in 1972, and the country was recognized by Pakistan in 1974.
After independence the country was ravaged by the war and poverty. A nationwide famine occurred in 1974. But the economy has ramped up over the last 15 years and the poverty rate has been halved since 1990, and the per capita income has doubled since 1975. Political instability is still an issue, but the country is included in the Next Eleven–11 nations predicted to have the world’s largest economies in 21st century. They also are one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping forces. The people are educated and the culture flourishing.
Cricket is beloved in Bangladesh. The country played its first World Cup in 1999 and the next year they were granted Test status. In July 2010 they beat England in an ODI for the first time, and later that year they beat New Zealand. In 2011 they co-hosted the World Cup with India and Pakistan. And in 2012 they won a five ODI series over a full strength West Indies. They don’t win very often, but when they do it’s always special.
Yesterday in Birmingham, England, they played India in their first ever semi-final match in a knock out tournament. In the group stages they had seen their first two matches abandoned due to rain but took care of business in the their third and final group match, beating the World Cup runners up New Zealand with lovely centuries from Shakib Al Hasan and Mohammad Mahmudullah overcoming a shaky start from their openers. Against India, however, they didn’t quite have enough. Their batsmen seemed to feel the pressure and took shots they didn’t need to take. And part time Indian spinner Kedar Jadhav created panic in the ranks and they were all out for 264, which was never go to be enough. And so today, instead of preparing for a final, they are packing their bags and heading home, looking ahead to a visit from South Africa in the fall.
It wasn’t the dream ending, but it was a dream tournament for 11 men who live alongside rivers and tigers, whose country has seen famine and flood and war, but which still soldiers on. A beautiful country that plays beautiful cricket. Home to a cricket team that traveled 5,000 miles to watch it rain and beat New Zealand as tens of millions of their countrymen back home cheered them on, and another thousand in the stands that one Tuesday in June in Birmingham when they didn’t have quite enough against India. A day they will never forget, no matter the result.
This hasn’t been a good tournament, it’s been a great one, and it’s been a great one because of Bangladesh.