Before the start of the T20I series between Bangladesh and Pakistan, an incident created a controversy. The national flag of Pakistan was hoisted during their practice sessions at the Academy Ground in Mirpur which irked a lot of Bangladeshi fans with many suggesting it to be a political message. But the visitors controlled the damage by saying that it had become a norm since Saqlain Mushtaq took over as their coach.
But that's not the only controversy involving the flag that has rocked Pakistan's ongoing tour of Bangladesh. Just days after many fans wanted the cancellation of the series because of the flag controversy, a considerable number of fans were seen turning up at the Sher-E-Bangla National Cricket Stadium (SBNCS) in Mirpur carrying the national flag of Pakistan.
Not all of them were Pakistanis or people of Pakistani origin. The number of Bangladeshi people donning Pakistan jerseys and carrying Pakistan flags was quite a lot. When the home crowd is supposed to make things difficult for the visiting teams, the Pakistan team, in the T20I series, received ample support and encouragement from the Mirpur gallery.
At least three Pakistani cricketers spoke fondly of the overwhelming support from the people of Bangladesh. Fakhar Zaman stated that it felt like they were playing in Pakistan. Former Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi mentioned multiple times that Bangladesh is like their second home.
Other teams don't receive this kind of support when they tour Bangladesh. What's more interesting is that a lot of Bangladeshis show their support to Pakistan even if they are playing Bangladesh in Bangladesh.
Let's delve deeper into the issue and try to find out the reason behind a lot of people supporting Pakistan over Bangladesh.
Interacting with the groups of people supporting Pakistan at the SBNCS, it can be said that roughly there are three types of people who prefer Pakistan to Bangladesh.
In the 1990s and early 2000s when Bangladesh weren't a force to reckon with in cricket, people used to lend their support to the teams of the subcontinent especially India and Pakistan. During the nineties, Pakistan used to regularly thrash India and they had a group of star players whom a lot of people idolised.
"The main reason I think is inheritance. A lot of our ancestors were born and grew up in Pakistan. Probably they also possess the love for Pakistan and show that by carrying flags of Pakistan and wearing jerseys."
A fan at the SBNCS said, "We grew up watching Pakistan play extraordinary cricket. They had many star cricketers whom we loved to watch and that's the reason we have supported Pakistan since childhood. It's not that we hate Bangladesh. We have come to watch our favourite team play. We won't be sad if Pakistan loses to Bangladesh though."
The third group is supporting Pakistan over Bangladesh out of anger and disappointment. One of the spectators expressed utter frustration and said, "There's no reason why I will continue to support Bangladesh. Players seem to have lost interest in playing. There is no teamwork. The bigger problem lies in the cricket board. The players may have problems with the board but can't they forget all these while playing and remember that they are representing the country? It's better to support the opponents of Bangladesh rather than supporting this team."
Another reason why a lot of Bangladeshi people like Pakistan is the anti-India sentiment. Many people in Bangladesh think that India and the BCCI are destroying cricket and the Indian team is getting an undue advantage from the ICC. It, sort of, began in 2015 with a controversial no-ball call in the World Cup quarterfinal and people started to believe that India adopts unfair means to win matches. There is an ancient proverb: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and it's obvious why people who hate India love Pakistan.
Religion might be another reason behind this. The majority of people in Bangladesh and Pakistan share the same religion - Islam. Renowned Pakistani writer Osman Samiuddin once wrote that even the Sri Lankan Muslims also support Pakistan.
Cricket has never been just a game in the subcontinent. Look at India and Pakistan and you'll understand how political relationships influence cricketing relationships. Former Bangladesh cricketer Raqibul Hasan is extremely disappointed to see so much support for Pakistan in Bangladesh. Raqibul, who famously walked out to open the innings with a bat that had a 'Joy Bangla' sticker in 1971, said, "The people who are supporting Pakistan in Bangladesh-Pakistan matches don't know about the history. They haven't read the true story in their textbooks. For a long time, the true representation of history wasn't there in textbooks. Had they known about our bitter relationship with Pakistan, they couldn't have done that."
"The main reason I think is inheritance. A lot of our ancestors were born and grew up in Pakistan. Probably they also possess the love for Pakistan and show that by carrying flags of Pakistan and wearing jerseys," he added.
Raqibul mentioned that the recent performance of Bangladesh can also turn some fans against the team. "Yes, the fans may be a tad disappointed with the team's performance. But that doesn't mean they will support the opponents. For example, in India-Pakistan matches, you can support one of these two teams. But when Bangladesh is playing, you cannot show support to Pakistan. That's unacceptable."
For someone who showed the courage of taking a strong stand against the Pakistani oppressors in 1971 as an 18-year old, it's painful for Raqibul Hasan to endure this much love for Pakistanis from Bangladeshis. "My heart aches when I see youngsters showing their love and support to Pakistan despite having easy access to the history of the country and the Liberation War. It's shameful," he concluded.