All the best to NCL
Cricketers from all over the country are putting the final touches to their preparations for the upcoming season, with the best of the crop getting ready for the first phase of the National Cricket League (NCL) which begins on September 29.
The tournament kicks off a long season of domestic and international cricket in the country that includes the NCL one-dayers, the Dhaka leagues and a smattering of international series, leading up to the 2011 World Cup. After the mega event, some more tournaments are lined up to satiate the needs of the game domestically.
But there is a noticeable lukewarm response towards the first-class competition itself. Firstly, the timing of the tournament and secondly, the national players' absence is being pointed out as flaws.
It is believed the discarded national players, hardened professionals and young thrusters, who make up the six divisional teams for the tournament are not bright enough to give the country's only first-class competition the lustre it deserves.
The schedule of the first phase (in the middle of the New Zealand one-day series) is also derided, as the need of the hour is one-day cricket, they believe. One first-class player was heard saying as recently as yesterday that he would rather prepare himself for the Premier League than the four-dayers.
But the man behind the change of schedule is quite sure that is it the right decision, considering the complex aspects of the upcoming season.
"The board had asked for more one-day cricket for the national players and keeping that in mind, we decided to schedule the four-dayers during this time," said BCB tournament committee chairman Gazi Ashraf Hossain.
"It would have been nice if they [national players] played but now it means that they can play almost 35 one-dayers, something that the coach [Jamie Siddons] also desired," he added. The Tigers play two five-match ODI series against New Zealand and Zimbabwe and in addition, will be playing a further 25 or so domestic games in the NCL one-dayers and the Premier League.
This, the availability of so many one-dayers, is only possible because the first-class competition is being held from late September.
The former national captain also emphasised the need to play longer-version cricket during October and November.
"The conditions are ideal for first-class cricket now. The green wickets will provide a proper test for the batsmen and if they can master the condition, they can thrive when the wickets flatten out in late-November and December.
"I think it is better to play the one-dayers in that period when the batsmen will get confidence ahead of the World Cup. Certainly, it would not have been soothing for the batsmen to stage the one-dayers in October when the wickets are green," said Ashraf.
He also talked about resting the Tigers as there is also a proposed series against Australia after the World Cup and the A-team will be off to South Africa during the same time. "To keep them fresh, we will keep most of the one-dayers involving the national players near Dhaka so that they can get back to their residential camp and spend their rest days working with Siddons," informed Ashraf.
While the interest of the board would be on the welfare of national cricketers before a massive event , the domestic game should also be somewhere in the top of BCB's priority list. The first-class competition has long been ridiculed due to its playing quality, the amount of money involved and the overall lack of earnestness of the players.
But Ashraf believes something large is brewing in the domestic game. "I think the current state of first-class cricket has rolled down a bit from a hill, so to say. The policy is certainly towards getting the standard to a higher peak in a few years time," said Ashraf.
The policy that he is talking about is to empower the regional associations. In one of the first actions taken in this regard, the BCB gave the divisional sports associations the right to select its own players. While this will surely create imbalance among the squads, Ashraf points out that it will surely smooth out in a few years.
"Now it creates a bit of a problem because teams like Sylhet and Barisal are still struggling but from the Academy and Under-19 level, they can improve in 2-3 years and I'm confident it can get better," he said.
Ashraf thinks the tag of 'picnic cricket' on the first-class tournament is harsh in this day and age.
"No one can say it is picnic cricket anymore. The competition level over the last few years has gone up. Chittagong played the final last year and I thought that was interesting. The best available players are playing first-class cricket," he retorted.
He informed of a Tk 3.5 crore fund for the 'development of regional associations' that is being overseen by board high-ups and Ashraf considers it enough for the divisions to develop infrastructure, coaching and host tournaments.
"Now Barisal is almost ready to host NCL one-dayers and who knows, from next season they could be hosting first-class games," said a hopeful Ashraf.
If the powers that be have reason to trust their method, it is heartening.
The domestic game has always been the ugly child of Bangladesh cricket ever since the country gained Test status and having reached its lowest point in 2004, the amount of cricket has certainly gone up in the last few seasons.
Now is the time to hope that the standard too, is taking a long trek up the hill.