Local players lend edge to BPL
The high point so far in this season of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) has been the performance of local players. The presence of some big international Twenty20 players notwithstanding, the spotlight has been on the hitherto lower-rated local cricketers who have performed well to shed the tags of 'longer-version' and 'shorter-version' specialists.
Batsmen like Shahriar Nafees (Khulna Royal Bengals), Nasir Hossain (Rangpur Riders) and Jahurul Islam (Duronto Rajshahi), and spinners Sohag Gazi (Sylhet Royals), Abdur Razzak (Rangpur Riders) and Enamul Haque jr (Chittagong Kings) have been the success stories of the first two weeks with their consistent performances throughout the tournament.
Even more prominent has been the success of uncapped batsmen and bowlers who were scoffed at for their lack of technique against quality pace bowling or, in the case of bowlers, a lack of imagination against technically sound batsmen. Their willingness to step up a level from domestic cricket was also questioned. This season, the performances of Shamsur Rahman (Rangpur Riders), Sabbir Rahman (Barisal Burners) and Nazmul Hossain Milon (Sylhet Royals) along with Rajshahi's left-arm spinners, Taijul Islam and Naeem Islam jnr, have made a strong case for local players.
Shamsur has been one of the nearly-men of Bangladesh cricket, often coming close to being selected for the national team. He has always batted in the top order, but hasn't got the results when it mattered. In this BPL, however, his performances are exactly what he has worked for in the last eight years. He has scored runs against good bowlers in important situations. Of the four half-centuries he has scored this year, two have been in victories for Rangpur and he is among the top run-scorers of the tournament.
"I have been doing well in this tournament, and there's no question about my hunger for more runs. I want to make at least six fifties," Shamsur told ESPNcricinfo a few hours before Rangpur were thrashed by Dhaka on Tuesday. Shamsur made just one run in the game and the team's fortune could well be traced back to his batting at No. 6 in this game. But he believes the tournament has given him a lift. "BPL has given my batting a boost. I am playing with and against some top cricketers and it has reflected in my performance," he said.
Like Shamsur, Sabbir and Milon have been vital for their teams. Both players have big-hitting roles and while the former has been promoted up the order regularly, Milon has been reserved for the slog overs. Sabbir is known mostly for his performance that pulled Bangladesh out of a tight jam against Afghanistan in the Asian Games gold medal match three years ago. Since that moment in the limelight, Sabbir has had few chances to perform. In Khulna, his thrill-a-minute 69 almost pulled off an improbable win against Riders. He has since done fleetingly well at No. 3 and a big score beckons. With the ability to bowl leg-spin and sharp fielding skills, Sabbir looks promising as a lower-order hitter for Bangladesh.
Milon isn't the best fielder and his wrong-footed medium pace has certainly seen better days. But he still has the ability to clear the rope and close out tight games. His contributions have played an important role in three of the Royals' six wins so far. He has a big reach and likes to play the ball down the ground, going after poor deliveries that fall in his half.
Taijul and Naeem have been the surprise packages. The pair were last-minute picks for Rajshahi after the Pakistan players pulled out of the tournament. The spin duo stepped up immediately, bringing their side a win against all odds in their first game. Despite lacking experience, the youngsters have often kept it tight and taken wickets frequently, even with the new ball. Both have a similar build and almost similar actions and, according to senior figures in the team, have shown plenty of heart in the last two years. Naeem has also had to overcome question marks over his bowling action during the Under-19 World Cup in Australia last year.
Of these five players, Taijul and Naeem have a long way to go, while Milon can hope to make it to the national Twenty20 squad. Shamsur and Sabbir too have a realistic chance of playing for Bangladesh in the near future.
Despite his bright chances, Shamsur doesn't want to think about selection, but also refuses to rule out the possibility: "So far, I am batting the only way I know, and it has been quite successful. I am not thinking about the national team but I know there are two tours just after the BPL, so it is natural to keep an eye on selection. But it is at the back of my mind for now."
This season's BPL was supposed to have a big question mark hanging over the quality of cricket played after the withdrawal of Pakistan players. The performances of the local cricketers, particularly of the unheralded ones, have given it legitimacy in the eyes of fans.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent