Chittagong a combination of heaven and hell

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2014

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OPINION: "This is your first time in Bangladesh, sir? How do you like Chittagong? It is a beautiful city, no?"

And the answer would have to be no. You're too overwhelmed, even frightened, to register anything of beauty in this city where so many live such hard lives.

The Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, though, is an oasis of tranquillity. Practice days are simply heavenly, in the air-conditioned luxury of the vast press box, with its faultless internet, hot and cold running everything and smiling nodding staff, all eager to brew you a cup of tea or take away your plate.

Aside from the occasional sound of leather on willow, all that can be heard is the eternal grumblings of fellow journalists. Blissful.

The other beauty of training days is that you can use the main gate. Match day means access by Gate 3 only, which is down a long alley and then alongside a slum for a few hundred metres.

Some hessian has been put up to protect the privacy of all, although it can only obscure so much. Opposite the shacks is the stagnant, green water of a pond-cum-puddle where a mother bathes an infant.

You don't suppose any of those hundreds of families camped beneath the corrugated iron roofs are part of a residents' association who campaign to make sure the ZACS, as the ground's known, only hosts so many night events a year. Funny the things we complain about after buying a house adjacent to a sports ground.

Some of the children from the slum made their presence known while New Zealand were beating England on what was Saturday night, Bangladesh-time. They'd caused a ruckus in the alley and were brought into the ground.

After having their ears boxed and being whacked on the back of the legs with a cane, they were deposited back out the gate. A couple argued the toss and copped further blows.

Humanity has a lot going for it, but there are parts you'd prefer you hadn't seen.

There are dozens of journalists here and the beast needs to be fed. Match day or not, that means press conferences - and plenty of them.

These quotes can be used now, the other ones have to be held back for tomorrow. He's not coming, but such and such is here in his place.

Before any of the players can sit behind the microphone, half a can of insect repellent is unloaded on the stage to quell the threat of mosquitoes. Perhaps that's why most of the designated talkers are reluctant to open their mouths - they fear gagging on air thick with bug spray.

South Africa's AB de Villiers stops talking to try to slap a mosquito between his hands. He eventually gives up and returns to whatever he was saying about his team's defeat to Sri Lanka.

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Back up the stairs to the press box again. What? The chicken samosas have arrived? It would be a shame to miss those.

- Wellington

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