Bangladesh Premier League 2012 March 1, 2012

Shakib impresses, mix-ups and controversies don't

We look back at the highs and lows from the inaugural Bangladesh Premier League

The Shakib impact
On a day when everything went wrong for Bangladesh cricket (with the semi-final mix-up), Shakib Al Hasan's game rose above everything and reinforced his status as the country's sporting icon. The valiant innings, facing a big chase, was more than just the unbeaten 86 he scored off 41 balls; it made sure cricket reared its head rather than the other big C (controversy).

In fact the Khulna Royal Bengals' BPL campaign was a reflection of how their icon player thinks: no fuss, just cricket. Shakib's influence was prominent on a team that didn't have many big stars, unlike the others.

It is also hardly a surprise that Shakib's authority on the field was exactly how he likes it. He was the man in charge and gave the owners every reason to cheer about. He bowled crucial spells, captained with a lot of gusto and scored runs whenever a finishing flourish was required.

Left-arm spinners carry the flag
At the start of the tournament, there was concern among the franchises, the media and even the public about whether the Bangladesh spinners and batsmen would be able to handle the pressure. A majority of the batsmen didn't, but the other lot stood up to the challenge and showed Bangladesh has more quality left-arm spinners than imagined.

Seven out of the fifteen bowlers who have taken 10 or more wickets in the tournament are left-arm spinners, born and raised in Bangladesh. Dhaka Gladiators' Elias Sunny topped the list (equal with Mohammad Sami, who also took the tournament's only five-for) with 17 wickets but what was more striking was the manner in which he outbowled Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal in the semi-final.

Sunny and the other capped left-armers apart, the likes of Arafat Sunny and Saqlain Sajib, and to some extent Nazmul Islam and Monir Hossain, were surprisingly disciplined. They kept the sixes to a limit.

Muttiah Muralitharan wants Bangladesh to promote other types of bowlers, but with so much emphasis and faith in left-arm spinners, diversifying may take a while.

Gayle leaves his mark

Several batsmen went past his tally and scored at a quicker pace within days of his departure, but none could beat Chris Gayle's 26 sixes or batting average of 96.0. Nor could they score two hundreds or top the 116 he made against Dhaka.

His records give him a super-human aura in the BPL (double the batting average than the next best, having played half the number of matches).

The value of Gayle for the BPL, and the Barisal Burners, cannot be measured in money. Apart from being one of the few bright spots in the tournament, his sheer entertainment value means he will remain the marquee name that the BPL will use to attract more Twenty20 superstars for the next edition; and all for $551,000 per season.

The favourite imports
From Wasim Akram bowling a fateful no-ball that trickled to the boundary in a famous Abahani-Mohammedan incident, to a 13-year-old Imran Nazir playing taped tennis-ball cricket in Kalabagan (a neighbourhood in Dhaka), Pakistan cricketers have been part of Bangladesh's domestic cricket ever since the leagues allocated a foreign quota.

In the Dhaka Premier League, 80-85 per cent of that quota is filled by Pakistan cricketers, mostly batsmen who can also bowl 10 overs of spin.

So it was hardly a surprise that the franchises packed them in their squads and the players responded with all seriousness, especially with the IPL door shut for long. Some, like Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed and Kamran Akmal wanted the selectors at home to take notice ahead of the Asia Cup. Shehzad was playing for Victoria Sporting Club alongside Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal while being picked for the Barisal franchise. Jamshed (Old DOHS) and Akmal (Brothers Union) were also in Bangladesh at the time of the players' auction.

Senior pros like Azhar Mahmood (now a British citizen), Imran Nazir and Mohammad Sami simply turned back the clock; Sami picked up the only hat-trick of the competition while Nazir and Mahmood played a vital role in the Gladiators becoming champions.

Threat of corruption
Sunday evening was when the BPL started to go into a chaos. Sajid Khan's arrest from the grandstand of the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium not only opened a can of worms but it put the future of the tournament in jeopardy. The Pakistani national was arrested for suspected involvement in fixing in the BPL. With Mashrafe Bin Mortaza reporting an approach from a fellow cricketer regarding potential spot-fixing, the BPL, too, is not free from the threat of corruption.

Proper investigations would bring closure, sweeping the matter under the carpet would affect the future of the competition.

Mother of all mix-ups
As if the arrest wasn't enough, the BPL scored a second self-goal the next evening. In a bid to put the record straight, BPL chairman Gazi Ashraf Hossain went to the press box to clarify the semi-final situation. By proclaiming that Chittagong Kings are through, he automatically cancelled out the previous evening's announcement (by Channel 9) of the Barisal Burners' qualification to the semi-finals.

What happened next can only be described as messy. The Barisal ownership protested the decision and in the middle of the night, with some members of the media present, the BPL technical committee overruled its chairman's words. After the Barisal-Rajshahi semi-final, Mike Proctor, the BPL match-referee and technical committee member, offered a full explanation but didn't make just as much sense.

The question remained: if there's no head-to-head for three teams, why did the technical committee take Dhaka, Chittagong and Barisal into account in the first place?

Crowd trouble
The last two days, especially the evenings, had the Mirpur venue packed to capacity. But what happened to the famed Dhaka crowd or the full-house that is guaranteed in Chittagong? For most of tournament, the stadiums were only half-full. After the Dhakaites snubbed the first half of the tournament, it was expected that a change of venue could do the trick but even in Chittagong, the crowd only turned up on the weekly holiday and when the Kings played.

The next edition could see Sylhet hosting a few games but the general consensus of keeping fewer matches in Dhaka and Chittagong isn't likely to be entertained, given the logistical trouble in housing so many cricketers and television crews.

The virus
It was like an epidemic that remained till the end of the tournament. In the final itself, six chances were missed including two in two balls by Mohammad Mithun at deep square leg. One of the commentators theorised that it was tough to spot skiers in Mirpur, though how so many great catches were taken in the past at the same venue remains another futile point to ponder.

The best explanation could be fatigue. Each team had to play a minimum of ten games in less than three weeks so training went out of the window. An hour before each game, there were some fielding drills but that was about it.

All six teams employed experienced fielding coaches, but one isn't sure they'd like to be named.

Edited by Siddhartha Talya

Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka