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The future is ours

  • Published at 05:39 pm June 13th, 2017
  • Last updated at 05:07 pm June 15th, 2017
The future is ours

Growing up in London in the 1980s and 1990s was very confusing for British-born Bangladeshis.

Our migrant parents were diligent, retaining their desi culture at home, and yet our Western-style education was very different to a child from Dhaka or Sylhet.

We ate pie and mash with knives and forks at school and yet, when we came home from school, we ate ilish maach, shatkora mangsho, daal, and bhaat with our hands. We were mockingly called “British-born Confused Desis,” unsure of our roots or cultural loyalty.

There weren’t that many reasons to be proud of Bangladesh in the UK of the 80s and 90s. Even though the Sylheti Bangladeshi community had become wealthy through the food-catering business, they were always branded as “Indian restaurants” and Bangladesh was portrayed in British media as a poor nation savaged by corruption and cyclones.

And yet, one fine summer day in 1999, Bangladesh’s cricket team beat Pakistan in a World Cup match and everything changed. I was in Northampton that day to witness that historic victory and it remains one of my life’s most cherished memories.

I screamed “Bangladesh” for eight straight hours, experiencing feelings and emotions I’d never felt before: Giddy, euphoric, ecstatic, selfless joy -- that’s what patriotism felt like and it was unlike anything I’d ever felt when my birth nation England won anything in sport.

I decided that day that I was to be a lifelong fan of the Bangladesh cricket team.

Since that day 17 years ago, there have been many similar days of joy that the Bangladesh cricket team has brought me.

I found myself in Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka in December 2004 when Bangladesh won their first ever international game at home, beating India by 15 runs.

It was the game that consisted of a tenacious piece of end-innings slogging by Aftab Ahmed and announcing himself to the country, and a match-winning bowling performance from a young Mortaza. In 2005, when I was in Cardiff, the Bangladesh cricket team made the BBC headline news as they convincingly beat Australia.

That is what is so pleasing about Bangladesh cricket team’s achievement in reaching this semi-final: They are simply the most visible example of the capability and progress of Bangladesh’s young adults and youth

But it was still very difficult to be a fan of Bangladesh, as they only won a game every 12-18 months and were mostly embarrassed with thrashings from other top international teams.

A resolute supporter

But the role of a supporter is to support, and I remained resolute in that role and task. And miraculously, the team got better, the wins became more regular, and the defeats less harsh. There was progress.

And I was extremely lucky to live and work in Dhaka between 2013-2016 when the team made its transition into a truly competitive world class team, becoming virtually unbeatable at home in ODIs and T20 cricket, winning matches and series against every team that visited.

It’s in that period that I also saw how strong grassroots cricket had become in Bangladesh, which will provide a sure and steady supply of players to take the team forward for many years to come.

All of this feels like a build up to the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy. After a superb and convincing win against New Zealand and some luck with the weather, Bangladesh find themselves in their first ever international tournament semi-final against India, a very important juncture in the journey of this team.

Constantly improving, growing ever more confident and capable of competing on the world stage against other nations, Bangladesh’s cricket team is a genuine manifestation of their country in every sense.

No longer the “basket case of Asia,” Bangladesh has an economy, which is one of the world’s most consistent and quickest growing, regularly beats UN progress targets on issues such as child literacy and women’s development, and is rapidly transitioning from being an internally facing rural economy into an outward looking digitally savvy export-led economy.

The most visible example

Most importantly, the young people of Bangladesh can successfully compete with other young people from all other countries in the world across many fields with our cricketers being a prime example.

That is what is so pleasing about Bangladesh cricket team’s achievement in reaching this semi-final: They are simply the most visible example of the capability and progress of Bangladesh’s young adults and youth.

They are a true representation of their generation, one filled with ambitions, aspirations, and abilities to make their mark in this 21st century world.

The young people of Bangladesh give me a genuine reason to be proud to have Bangali heritage and roots.

I’ll be in Birmingham’s Edgbaston Cricket stadium on Thursday to support the Bangladesh cricket team again. I’m dreaming they will overcome India and make it to the final.

I genuinely believe they have a good chance and can do it. But if they can’t, that’s also OK.  Because I know this is a journey to greatness, and one day very soon, these wonderful young people from Bangladesh will become world champions -- I have no doubt whatsoever about that.

And in that journey, they act as an inspiration and role models to an entire young generation of Bangladeshis who will achieve similar acclaim in their own fields. Joi Bangla.

Toffael Rashid is a global marketing professional.

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