BPL organisers bullish despite negative press
The Bangladesh Premier League begins its second season on Friday amid hope and expectation but also controversy and the wrong sort of headlines. The organisers will tell you not to judge BPL 2013 on its first week and it is true to an extent - all debate on the tournament's success or otherwise should be on hold until the replacements for the Pakistani players arrive.
The build-up of controversial issues over the last 11 months includes that of unsigned contracts, unpaid players from home and abroad and the pull-out of Pakistani players. It has culminated in the tournament beginning with mismanagement as the dominant theme and the amount of negative press about the BPL has already affected its image as a burgeoning Twenty20 competition.
The organisers too have changed after the Bangladesh Cricket Board's elected body of directors had finished their terms, and hence the new BPL governing council hasn't had enough time ahead of the tournament to put together a neat organisational unit. Instead, they were inundated with claims from unpaid players and running after franchises to sign the contract. Immediately after these issues were tackled, they had to deal with the Pakistan Cricket Board's hushed reluctance to send their players and the pull-out happened a before the opening ceremony.
The organisers, especially the new men in the BPL governing council, are confident of a successful tournament despite the setbacks. "Commercially, the BPL is in good health. We have more sponsors than from the last edition. The issue that is bothering us is the arrival of replacement players," said BPL secretary Ismail Haider Mallick.
"We have the likes of Kieron Pollard and Brett Lee lined up, but we are not sure when they can fly in. That'll be a problem for the franchises who depended on the Pakistani players."
There is still optimism about the tournament's viability among the financial backers and team owners as well. Tanjil Chowdhury, director of Prime Bank, the title sponsor, feels that there is no reason to pull out of the competition at this hour. "I don't think the cricket will be affected without the little glamour. It is not the end of the world. I think cricket has become a commercial success in Bangladesh, but this is definitely a problem," he said.
Some have cited the little impact the absence of the Pakistani players had on the IPL from the second season, but the BPL is not as financially strong as its Indian counterpart, and many questions have been thrown about its integrity, value and productivity.
While introducing Brian Lara as his team's brand ambassador, Chittagong Kings owner Sameer Quader Chowdhury was slightly more robust in his judgment of recent events. But Chowdhury is relatively in a better position than the other owners. He only has to replace two Pakistani players in Imran Nazir and Wahab Riaz, while Khulna Royal Bengals is still searching for a minimum of seven replacements.
"I don't think the value will depreciate in any way. If you notice, internationally, Pakistan players don't play a lot in other tournaments either so I don't think the value will decrease in our case," Chowdhury said. "I have heard that it's extremely difficult for other teams. I think if the decision was not taken yesterday but around 10 to 20 days back, we wouldn't have had so many problems."
The BPL has been criticised for many things. When it was first pitched, the tournament was viewed as a hindrance to the brimming talent pool in Bangladesh cricket, seen in many quarters as a trouble-maker rather than a tournament to churn out a new production line of players. It was expected that the players would appreciate the enhanced pay cheques but that too hasn't materialised for the locals. Cricket's popularity in the country will hold the BPL but any more of last season's shenanigans would tip it over the edge.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent