Hello from India after having just finished seeing England win a cricket series abroad! No, honestly...
As you might expect I've been following quite a lot of sport since coming to Asia- but in truth it hasn't been all that great until recently.
It began with baseball loving Taiwan where the games were quite high scoring but that was mainly because the pitching and fielding was so poor. Then it was onto the Philippines where due to the American influence basketball is massively popular. The NBA is on TV all the time and I found myself watching a lot of it; however when I tried to watch a top level local game it was almost painful they were so bad. Despite a population of 90m and the games huge popularity they're not exactly the tallest nation in the world and seeing a collection of them and 5th rate American NBA dropouts struggle to hit scores beyond 70 (they just miss a lot) meant I was quite pleased when the football season restarted.
Whilst Richard Scudamore is somewhat loathed in England- trust me he's pretty good at his job. I didn't realise quite how much the Premiership is geared towards the Asian market since I came here but it's really quite astonishing. All the kick off times on Saturdays are decided based on which games can be shown at what times in Asia. The premiership has put so much effort into marketing itself here the other European leagues are way off the pace, in pretty much every country in the region the Premiership dominates Saturday and Sunday nights in bars and in quite a few places they put the games up in cinemas. The net effect is that you have advertising hoardings in Vietnamese at Prem games, Chang sponsoring Everton and why so many teams are sponsored by online gambling sites (of course the betting is much of the attraction here). Unfortunately unlike in Latin America they don't really seem to understand the game very well though; in 9 months I've yet to meet a single person who doesn't support one of the Big Four and of those 90% are Utd or Liverpool fans. I've lost count of the number of times when someone has started a convo about football with me only to quickly reveal they only know the names of a handful of the biggest players and just don't seem to take in any details. Watching the games in bars can be quite annoying as they cheer according to the position of the ball, so even if there are a few meaty tackles flying in or a neat passing interchange taking place- if its in the middle of the pitch they pay no interest but will then start whooping wildly as the action gets near the touchline, even if the ball just rolls tamely out for a goalkick. Oh and also the pundits on the telly are ex Singapore and Malaysian players who in commentating on the English Premiership make the likes of Shearer and Keegan seem like the most insightful football brains imaginable.
Again, despite having huge, footie obsessed populations the standard of football in Asia is laughably bad.
Whilst much can be put down to the weather stopping opportunities for playing sport (I tried to play football in Singapore and even at 9 in the morning just died after 10 minutes) it is bewildering how they have so many people here and yet between them have still to produce a single top class player. The local leagues are depressing to watch with 4th rate Africans and 12th rate Brazilians easily outclassing the locals in a predictably poor spectacle. Seeing Thai media describe Bryan Robson as the saviour of the Thai national team is perhaps a neat summary of the game here.
Therefore it was with immense anticipation that I came to Bangladesh to see some live top level sport for the first time in months.
It was the fulfilment of a boyhood dream seeing England on tour although in truth those dreams tended to involve the MCG or Kensington Oval rather than the ugly Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong. However, being the opposite of a ladies man, fairly well travelled and essentially unable to talk about anything other than football and cricket its fair to say I've never felt more at home than amongst the ranks of the Barmy Army. There were about 200 or so in Bangladesh and it really was a special experience watching the cricket here. Every day would follow a similar routine of biryani for breakfast, taking my shirt off in the sun within 2 minutes of entering the ground, a rousing rendition of Jerusalem (yes I know the lyrics are a joke) b4 continuously hurling racist abuse at anything that looked remotely Australian whilst watching the cricket for 7 hours. Being a Muslim country there's obviously no alcohol in the ground (or anywhere except a few hotel bars) but the atmosphere was great with the singing atmosphere from the England fans more than matched by the raucous but extremely welcoming locals.
Security was really tight I guess due to the Sri Lanka incident in Pakistan, we (the England fans) were given an armed guard around us and around both grounds there were a few hundred soldiers keeping an eye on things as well as amusing sets of stewards whose job it was to make sure the locals didn't molest us too much.
The actual cricket itself was wonderful as both tests went 5 days and whilst I always thought England would win both there was still enough competition to keep it interesting.
I saw Bangladesh play several years ago at Fenners and whilst they were entertaining to watch bat they simply didn't look like they could take take 20 wickets at test level- and that's still a fairly neat summary of them in this series.
Bangladeshis are a tiny race and ICL bound Mortaza aside they've simply never produced a seamer who can regularly take wickets. The first day in Chittagong started ominously as despite winning the toss Bangladesh made the unfathomable decision to bowl first on a pitch Jonathan Agnew described as 'one of the most unresponsive England have ever played on'. England had picked an incredibly conservative team of 7 batsman, 3 bowlers who are very useful with the bat and in Steve Finn a 20 yr debutant seamer. Predictably England racked up a huge first innings score and it looked like there would be maybe 8 very one sided days of test cricket. But then with so few bowlers to call on we struggled to bowl Bangladesh out in the heat, had to bat again and the locals showed a degree of resistance that I've never seen before in the final innings. They really worked hard, especially the tiny wicket keeper Mushfiqur who only came up to Broad's elbow and at lunch on the fifth day we'd gone over 2 sessions without taking a wicket. Swanny managed to clean up the tail however and became the first England spinner since Laker to take 10 in a match.
The biggest grumble most England fans had about the first test was the quality of the Bangladeshi fielding. We'd been watching loads of IPL games in the evening and the fielding at the top level now is simply superb. Seeing the likes of AB de Villiers seemingly putting together a audition tape for the greatest fielder of all time it really was deflating to watch Bangladesh lose maybe 30 runs on the first day alone due to misfields. Another slight bugbear with Bangladesh is the defeatist attitude they still have in cricket. Despite being 150million strong they still see themselves as minnows of the game and many seemed simply pleased to be playing England rather than competing with them. Both the Captain and Coach seemed hopeful of only draws at best and the same useless phrase of 'getting better with every game' is still being trotted out despite them having test status for 8yrs now.
Twas a needlessly close match and it was nice to see Tredwell get a chance in the 2nd test but rather than Carberry most of the Barmy Army thought Trott should've been dropped with his average fielding, tedious batting of 1 run every 2 overs but mainly due to the fact he's actually a Saffer.
Due to the lack of quality seamers Bangladesh instead pack the team with 4 spinners most of whom can bat a bit, along with their extremely exciting opener Tamim Iqbal the wagging tail put on over 400 first innings in the much more impressive national stadium in the 2nd test in Dhaka. England then slowly put out a professional performance as we slowly overhauled the Bangladesh total and bowled them out 2nd innings to leave just enough time to knock 200 off in 50 overs to win the series 2-0.
Captain Cook was impressive with 2 centuries but without doubt KP is still the best batsman to watch, as soon as he gets to the crease the ball starts to reach unusual areas and even the locals were cheering some of his shots, though not as much as when he got bowled on 99 in the first test!
It really was a fantastic experience from watching cricket somewhere so random, to hanging out with the barmy army and chatting with the locals about the state of world cricket. My def highlight was on Day 4 of the first test when in a soporific final session we managed to sing the Barmy Army song for half an hour straight- much to the delight of the locals who tried to compete with us the whole time. Oh and 10 days cricket cost me a total of 2 pounds so value for money I think!
I'm now in India where I hope to check out some IPL games and see some more top level sport after such a long drought.
All the best