For most British Bangladesh and Pakistani followers of cricket, interest in the World Cup ended last Friday, and brutally so for Bangladesh. A 94-run win for Pakistan was not enough to stop them sliding out of the World Cup, but they left with more pride ultimately, than Bangladesh who found relying on the gifts of an extraordinary individual was not enough in a sport built on team ethics, sacrifice and mutuality.
As someone of Bangladeshi roots, I attended the game clad in the national colours of green and red. I support England passionately in any sport, except this one. It’s a characteristic common in many British Asians that highlights the identity crisis they can sometimes experience, the sense of being culturally shipwrecked. Englishness is seen as an ethnicity, more exclusive than the idea of being British. Supporting the country of their south Asian roots doesn’t signify any sort of political betrayal, as the far-right would undoubtedly allude to, but simply illustrate the complexity of having multiple identities.
For me, it was less so about being unable to resonate with Englishness. This is something that is perfectly compatible with who I am. England is ingrained into my soul, into my sense of self. It is my attachment to this land, to the people, the sense of shared values, space and history. National identity can create common bonds and a sense of solidarity, to prosper together. Being English can be the beautiful tonic to many things. But for me, to support Bangladesh is simply to connect with my roots, my attachment to my family, the language I speak and find safety in. Bangladesh as a land is a stranger to me, and yet another home. East London with its rich Bengali presence is more of a home than anywhere else in England because of this dual cultural heritage. I could not find this anywhere else in the country, or even in Bangladesh itself.
With that in mind, I proudly supported Bangladesh in the World Cup. Of all the countries to go out to, Pakistan was the worst. They are to us what England is to Scotland. There is the animosity of 1971’s war, the bitterness at being once called East Pakistan. There is today however, a neighbourly, kindred relationship between the British generations unburdened by that history. Rivalry rooted only in knowing that there is a difference despite a shared cultural root. It makes it everything.
Many supporters went into this game apprehensively. The Lords became a sea of rippling green, transported, it seemed, to somewhere in south Asia. The atmosphere crackled and coursed with electricity. Some people were nervous because of the violence that erupted in Pakistan’s game with Afghanistan. What would happen here where there was a historic tension? Bangladesh is currently enduring political turbulence and many of the grievances are tied to what happened in 1971.
But not for a moment did it pan out that way. Instead, what we saw, was what would have made the generation of 1971 weep. Bangladeshi and Pakistani families were sitting together, adorned in their colours, flags stirring in the wind, chants and songs cascading throughout, flowing in a constant stream. But it was all conducted in mutual respect. There was playful pokes, but nothing that veered into the sinister. And when, in my section, Bangladeshi fans became demoralised and quiet as the game rapidly swung away from them, Pakistani fans began cheering their own players to boost them. At the end, Bangladesh’s fans applauded both sets of teams.
This is not anything spectacularly surprising. After all, these people have lived together for years in Britain. Being British as an overarching identity framework has been enough to smoulder many differences. But a crowd waving these two flags was still something, a reminder of how deep differences can be bridged. And often, sport can be a roadmap.
Throughout this World Cup, the support of the Pakistani fans was notable, in victory or defeat. For example, Taiyba Aftab is a law student from the Midlands, but has been to every single Pakistan game this World Cup. She was always on Twitter rallying support, finding tickets for fellow Pakistanis, and whipping up insane atmospheres on match-days. She explained to me, when I asked her why she didn’t support England, that it wasn’t about disloyalty or lack of integration, but Pakistan was what got her into cricket. It wasn’t about family or roots necessarily, as it was for me, but her love of the team, her team. She speaks lovingly of their team captain, Safraaz, who she calls “Kaptaan” and her hero is the Pakistan cricket icon Shahid Afridi, who regularly broke Bangladeshi hearts. There were many people like Taiyba, for whom supporting the country of their roots was their way of expressing love for another country they belonged to.
Partly it was also a recognition that these countries are, in the political and economic sense, underdogs against England’s more established might. And they are minnows in other sports, so the opportunity to see them in a World Cup is slimmer.
There are many people who might have seen this match and shaken their heads as British Asians seemingly neglecting the British part of their identity. That would be wrong of them to see it that way, as it is about embracing the other aspects of what makes them who they are. And we should celebrate that people still feel strong cultural ties, which at their beautiful core, are immaterial and simply about what binds us together with someone else.
The 2018 football World Cup reminded me I was English and British. This cricket World Cup reminded me I was English and British and Bangladeshi. And I’ve never felt more content about this than now.