By Azad Majumder | April is the month of some of the historic achievements of Bangladesh cricket. Twenty-one years ago in April 1997, at the Kilat Kelab Ground in Kuala Lumpur, Bangladesh cricket team took them to a new height by lifting ICC Trophy to trigger a kind of celebration that many countries would find hard to match. It was their first stepping stone towards many, more successes as the country eventually got the Test status and established it as one of the forces to be reckoned with.
The journey was not rosy nevertheless as Bangladesh’s pre-mature Test status in 2000 also brought few embarrassments along the way. It took Bangladesh many days to learn how to cope up with their new-found status both on and off the field. The second Test against Australia in 2006 showed where Bangladesh stood as a cricket playing country, in terms playing quality cricket and hosting a major Test-playing country.
Gillespie’s record double ton
Many people will remember the Test at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium for the maiden double century of Jason Gillespie as nightwatchman. But it was more than that. The Test match, which began on April 16, created a permanent laceration to the hearts of Bangladesh sports journalists that would probably never heal.
Bangladesh had nearly caused a big upset in the previous Test in Fatullah, where Australia survived only through the greatness of Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. Until this game, many cricket pundits had urged the International Cricket Council to strip them of Test status. Naturally, Bangladesh were highly charged up despite their heart-breaking loss in Fatullah. The fans got extra enthusiastic. As a result, thousands of people headed towards the ground on the first morning of the second Test in Chittagong.
Bangladeshi police not ready
Bangladeshi police were not perhaps ready to handle this pressure. An hour before the start of the game a police sub-inspector ordered two photojournalists to leave their transport and walk nearly half-kilometre with their heavy gears. Shocked and surprised photojournalists were not ready to listen to the instruction. It resulted in a heated argument, prompting sub-inspector to take one journalist on his collar and slapping him along with few kicks.
As the news spread in the press box, the situation turned really bad. Journalists came down to the ground, seeking an immediate apology which never came. Reporters and photographers staged a sit-in protest at the ground much to the bewilderment of Australia cricket team and match referee Jeff Crowe. Perhaps for the first time in the history of cricket, the start of a Test match was delayed by 10 minutes due to this kind of protest.
Journalists left the field after a request from match referee but the press box remained volatile during the entire opening session. Some senior police officers promised to bring the guilty sub-inspector to the press box during the lunch break while a few others were very reluctant to do so.
Ricky Ponting comes to rescue
Journalists noticed that police were not sincere enough to apologize for the behaviour, they got agitated once again. In the meantime, the then deputy commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police Akbar Hossain arrived in the scene and during an argument, at the lunch break he ordered his police force to charge the journalist with a baton. Some police personnel seemed to have been just waiting for the order. They started beating the journalists indiscriminately in a manner as if they were punishing a criminal gang. Some journalists ran to the other side of the ground to save them from police assault, some took shelter in the dressing room of Australian team. Ponting came to the rescue of one reporter, offering him with a handkerchief to wipe off blood from his forehead. Millions of people watched the scene on TV as the game was being broadcasted live.
When the atrocity ended, over a dozen journalists had to be taken to the hospital. Some others were found crying in the press box. The BCB officials were unsure about how to react. Some tried to console to journalists while some others clearly took pleasure in the entire episode.
Bangladeshi media decided to boycott the coverage of the game. Apart from the representative of international media, no journalist covered the event in the remaining four days. Senior police officers came to the hotel later in the evening to seek an apology. A peace meeting held in the next morning. Chittagong police commissioner promised to take action against the responsible officers and the journalists in Dhaka soon join the protests.
A few months after the incident police compensated journalists for their treatment costs, broken cameras, laptops and phones. Some journalists refused to accept the compensation because for them it was not just a few material damages, rather a kind of insult that could never be compensated. The wound was deep inside the heart as journalists thought they would get a better treatment from the BCB for the support they had offered during their time of need.
The game ended with Bangladesh being treated brutally by Australia when Gillespie hit a 201 and Mike Hussey made 182 in a very quick time. Gillespie will remember this Test match for a double century, which ironically also turned out to be his final Test match. Ponting will remember this for 25 percent fines he received for improper conduct as he sought a review of a third-umpire decision against Aftab Ahmed. Mohammad Rafique will remember the game for hitting three sixes to Shane Warne in a single over and Abdur Razzak will remember it as his debut Test. But Bangladeshi journalists will remember the start of the Test as a doomsday.