Cricket: Bangladeshis hit the right balance

Enthusiastic crowd at Chelmsford shows right mix of celebration and jubilant support. By Simon O'Hagan
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The Independent Online
AFTER SIX matches that have been distinctly lacking in final-over drama, you could argue that the cricket World Cup has yet to come to life. Certainly the tournament opener between England and Sri Lanka did little to create much sense of occasion, and the weather has borne out many people's fears that mid-May was too early to stage an event that really needs a backdrop of high summer.

So it has been down to the crowds to provide the all-important dimension of colour and excitement, and in this they have not failed. At times they have gone a bit further than that. The ebullience of India's supporters at Hove on Saturday and that of the Scots' at Worcester on Sunday was in each case overshadowed somewhat by unsavoury incidents in which players were jostled by spectators.

Getting the balance right between fully involving the public - the "carnival of cricket" philosophy that has been put at the heart of the event - and attending to the needs of players was never going to be easy. The problems so far encountered have had a lot to do with the smallness and layout of the non-Test grounds, where mingling between players and spectators is at times almost unavoidable. In choosing to sit out in front of the pavilion at Hove on Saturday, India's players were virtually having to move out of the way between overs as members of the crowd wandered back and forth.

But it is no coincidence that these are the sort of grounds that provide the best atmosphere. There was another example yesterday at Chelmsford, where Essex's headquarters, playing host to the Group B match between Bangladesh and New Zealand, resounded to the ecstatic cheers of flag-waving Bangladeshi supporters when their team did so much as take a comfortable single down to fine leg.

This was one of the last of the group matches to sell out, but come the day interest was such that, not for the first time in this tournament, the ticket touts were out in force. Essex had gone through the Bangladeshi High Commission in stressing the need for people to buy tickets in advance, but hundreds still turned up without any, and were disappointed.

Bearing in mind the number of Bangladeshis who live in east London, it was the nearest thing to a home fixture for the team, and their followers, who made up a good two-thirds of the ground's 5,500 capacity, were determined to make that advantage count. "It was amazing," Steve Fleming, the New Zealand captain, said. "We had them at 70 for 7 and you would have thought they had scored 240."

By no means all were British Asians. Some 500 supporters have made the trip from Bangladesh, where cricket has flourished so much in the last 20 years that Dhaka now has one of the biggest and best stadiums in the world, and a semi-professional league has attracted the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Wasim Akram, Arjuna Ranatunga and Neil Fairbrother.

Taking heed of the organisers' instructions for counties to reassess their security arrangements in the light of the weekend's incidents, the Essex secretary, Peter Edwards, reported that there were 20 police officers on duty (normally there would be only two or three) and double the usual number of stewards at 45. "I think everyone's really enjoyed themselves," Edwards said. "It hasn't been easy, because most of the people in the ground have never been here before and don't really know where they are going. But it's been a pleasure to host the match."

The general non-consumption of alcohol undoubtedly made the authorities' lives easier, and the fact that the Bangladeshis took a resounding defeat so well was very much to their credit. If occasions like this are repeated up and down the country over the next few weeks, the World Cup organisers would be right to feel that they had achieved something.