Of swings and spins
Reading all the arguments about Shakib Al Hasan’s decision to send India to bat in the opening match of the Cricket World Cup gave me an eerie feeling of deja vu. I have heard this kind of passionate argument before — I kept thinking to myself. No, not on sport field, but something much more serious. But where?
Then on Friday, while watching the match against Ireland, it hit me. The public mood swing, the emotional spins, I heard/read/saw all of this exactly two years ago, in the bloody, tragic, brutal two days in February 2009. No, I am not trivialising the Pilkhana massacre by comparing it with a mere cricket match, because I am not making such a comparison. But the public reaction during these matches can tell us a lot about the sorry state of our public discourse.
Should Shakib have chosen to bat against India? That the fielding decision backfired is self-evident, but this doesn’t prove that it was the wrong decision. We simply don’t know the counterfactual of Bangladesh batting first on 19 February 2011. But this doesn’t stop people from speculating, from spinning conspiracy theories — the most outlandish I heard was that the match was fixed, the subservient Awami League government couldn’t have India lose the first match.
Much more serious than a mere cricket match is of course the conspiracy theories that one hear about Pilkhana — it was the dreaded war criminals trying to topple the Awami League, or far more frequently these days, it was Awami League and its Indian masters trying to destroy our valiant armed forces. One gets the drift quickly.
Just like Shakib’s toss, the decisions taken by the Prime Minister on 25 February 2009 can be debated endlessly without any conclusion — we simply don’t have the counterfactual of what would have happened if a ‘war’ was fought. We could, however, try to answer some basic questions — when were the 57 officers killed, what information did the PM have when most of the killings took place, what intelligence did she have about the risk of a countrywide revolt or the strength of the rebels etc. It shouldn’t be too difficult to answer these questions — in a close-knit society such as ours, any researcher with the energy could find the answers from their own social circles. If one can show that a majority of the officers were still alive when the PM made her decision, and she knew (or should have known) that they were still alive, and there was news of any mutiny outside Dhaka, then it would be pretty damning for the PM.
But no. Who needs fact-based analysis when strongly held opinion would do? Hasina made the decision, so it must be the right one. Nothing could have saved those 57. Anyone suggesting otherwise must be supporting war criminals. Or, Hasina made the decision, so it must be wrong. Obviously those 57 could have been saved, if only Major Rana was around. Sadly, even the most insightful Bangladeshi blogger fails to get beyond this kind of opinionated spins.
If the India match was an exercise in spin, the Ireland match reminded me how wild the public sentiment swings are in Bangladesh. Within a matter of hours, in Facebook, cricinfo, Bangla blogs and personal conversations, I saw the mood shift from ‘huge victory’ to ‘useless fools’ to ‘corrupt people’ to ‘I always knew we would have won’. Two years ago, I saw the pendulum of public sentiment swing from supporting the ‘downtrodden BDR against the corrupt fat cats of the army’ to ‘the valiant, patriotic forces against the agents of insert-your-favourite-enemy’. Very few people on Friday night even entertained the possibility that Ireland was playing very well, that the wicket was low and slow, that Bangladesh could reasonably be expected to defend 205 in that pitch. Very few people in February 2009 said ‘let’s wait and see how things unfold before offering our opinions’. No. Facts and figures are not suited for our genius. Why, fact-based analysis is positively un-Bangladeshi.
I don’t want to be accused of being un-Bangladeshi. So let me instead offer you some completely unsubstantial wild guess for World Cup semifinals (previous guess here) after the conclusion of Ireland-Bangladesh match (and before the Pakistan – Sri Lanka one).
– Bangladesh vs Australia in Colombo on 29 March; and
– Sri Lanka vs South Africa in Mohali on 30 March.