It may surprise a lot of people when they know there's a sport called Pesapallo and Bangladesh are the current world runners-up in it. Bangladesh's highest achievement in the sports arena on the world cup stage is undoubtedly the ICC Under-19 World Cup triumph in 2020. Comes next, the lesser (or maybe, hardly) known runners-up place in the 10th Pesapallo World Cup in 2019. Can anyone remember Bangladesh playing in any other world cup final other than these two? Probably not.
The baseball-like sport was first introduced in Bangladesh four years ago. The General Secretary of Bangladesh Pesapallo Association (BPA), Talha Yubayer, along with the Treasurer Azam Ali Khan began the journey in July 2018 with almost 70 players.
According to Talha, nine national competitions and four coaches' training have been organised in the country so far. And almost 1700 players have been trained.
Similarities and differences between baseball and pesapallo
There are nine players on each team, nine innings per game. After three hitters strike out the teams change places—these are the fundamental similarities between Finnish pesapallo (also referred to as 'Finnish baseball) and American baseball.
But there are significant differences as well.
The major difference between pesapallo and baseball is how the ball is pitched. In pesapallo, the ball is pitched vertically by a pitcher standing next to the hitter. The ball is thrown vertically, at least one metre above the batter's head.
The pitcher stands next to the hitter and throws the ball straight up a minimum of one meter. In addition to a team's regular nine batters, they also maintain three "Jokers" (as in wild-card) who can step in, if needed, to bat out of sequence. If the batter can't hit thrice, he will be dismissed.
Also, the shape of the field and the bat's design is different. Baseball's bat is usually made of wood while pesapallo has fibre bats.
'Surprising' international achievements and the current state
Bangladesh kind of started with a bang in pesapallo. In less than a year after its birth, Bangladesh hosted the first Asian Championship in May 2019 and became champions among five teams. Two of those competitors - India and Nepal - had been playing the game for quite some time.
A few months later, Bangladesh pulled off something beyond expectations. They came second in the 10th Pesapallo World Cup in India, on their first-ever outing. Among the three categories, Bangladesh secured third place in the men's category and runners up in both women's and mixed categories.
"It was beyond our expectations. We only had our training for a month under a Finnish coach. And we had no sponsors as well," Talha told The Business Standard (TBS).
But since then, Bangladesh couldn't participate in any other international event due to the Covid situation. The current sixth-ranked (also, the top-ranked in Asia) national team is now preparing for the 11th Pesapallo World which will take place in Finland in August next year.
Because of its similarities in technique with cricket and the fast, exciting nature of the game, a lot of young people are now choosing pesapallo in Bangladesh.
"It's an anaerobic game with very little waste of time. Each game takes two to two and a half hours max which makes it exciting for the spectators," Talha said.
"Since it's a game of bat and ball and the techniques are quite similar to cricket, young people are showing more interest to play the game. Also, pesapallo is cheaper than cricket in terms of accessories needed," he added.
Usually, 14 teams - three services teams, six district teams and five clubs - participate in the local championships, mentioned Talha.
World Cup participation in danger due to financial crisis
The 11th Pesapallo World Cup is just a year away and the current runners-up are not quite sure whether they will be able to make it to Finland in time. Lack of sponsors and money is a huge problem for the pesapallo team.
"We hardly have any sponsors. Flying to Finland with the whole team and staff is very costly and we may need almost 60-70 lakhs BDT. We haven't seen any interested sponsors yet," Talha looked upset as he uttered the words.
"We hardly have any sponsors. Flying to Finland with the whole team and staff is very costly and we may need almost 60-70 lakhs BDT. We haven't seen any interested sponsors yet."
"We want to be the champions (in Finland). But we are confused about whether we can have a preparatory camp and participate in the WC due to the lack of money," he added.
While the lack of money is a big threat to Bangladesh's rise in pesapallo, the BPA is also waiting to be officially approved by National Sports Council (NSC).
"We haven't got the approval from National Sports Council. We already sent formal letters and we are hopeful of getting the affiliation soon. Our achievements are not nationally recognised because we don't have the affiliation from NSC."
Apart from that, the lack of a stadium is also an issue for the pesapallo team. Paltan Stadium is the only place where they train and play matches. They often get interrupted by local cricket or football matches, and players' security is also a concern there.
Despite the early success pesapallo is having a hard time moving forward with all the potential in store. The sooner NSC officially approves BPA and solves the problems, the better for pesapallo and our sports arena.