Associate players prove their worth
The stipulation that each BPL team had to contain at least one player from an Associate nation in the first season had produced unremarkable results. Alex Kervezee, Kyle Coetzer, Rizwan Cheema, Niall O'Brien and Hamid Hassan played only nine matches in all. Denmark's Freddie Klocker did not even get a game. There was no such rule this year, but the franchises did not ignore talent from Afghanistan, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Chittagong Kings picked up Netherlands' Ryan ten Doeschate, while Rangpur Riders secured the services of Ireland's O'Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall. Khulna Royal Bengals signed the Afghanistan pair Shahpoor Zadran and Samiullah Shenwari, and Sylhet Royals got Ireland batsman Paul Stirling and Afghanistan's Mohammad Nabi. Later, Barisal Burners added another Afghanistan player Hassan to their roster. Of these eight players, Nabi, Stirling and Zadran stood out with their performances and the stories they brought along.
After the Royals had lost Andre Russell due to an injury, their search for an allrounder stopped at Nabi. The demand for the offspinner had come from the team's coach Mohammad Salahuddin, who has been vindicated by Nabi's performance.
He took 2 for 15 in the first match to give the Royals a controlled start against Barisal Burners - a 33-run win. Two more tight spells were followed by his first significant contributions with the bat. In a big chase against Chittagong Kings, Nabi's sense of occasion came forth. His 43 wasn't smash and grab as they chased 173 runs to win, but a more measured effort that gave his side their best win in the tournament's first phase. He had a lull in the next four games before picking up two three-wicket hauls against the Kings and the Khulna Royal Bengals. Nabi has done well at the start of games, having opened the bowling on several occasions. He quickly realised when to slow down his pace or push the ball through to defend against attacking batsmen.
"Nabi made a good start to the tournament, and after a slow period in the middle, he has again started doing well," Salahuddin told ESPNcricinfo. "He is a good cricketer with a lot of variations and it is clear he understands the game quickly. He carries out the plans that we set for him for every batsmen."
Stirling's robust technique and no-nonsense attitude has helped him score on the pitches in Bangladesh. More often than not, he kick started the Royals' innings with a flurry of boundaries and hasn't seemed weak against spin. However, he has had the habit of not making the best of a start. Stirling started off with 50 but for the next eight games, he didn't pass 38, before making 66 against Khulna towards the end of the campaign.
Salahuddin has observed Nabi and Stirling throughout their BPL campaigns and didn't spot much of a difference between them and cricketers from Test nations. "I don't see them much different, they seem to catch on-field situations quickly. I think they are very hungry," he said. "Their attitude has helped our team do well. They have team feelings, and never seemed like outsiders to me. I think they make good team-mates."
Chittagong Kings' change of fortune has been due to ten Doeschate's experience. He has made three fifties so far, one of which - an unbeaten 95 against Khulna - could have been a hundred had he paid more attention to a personal landmark than the team's situation. Rangpur didn't get what they expected from Kevin O'Brien's bat but his bowling has been steady. Niall O'Brien has done well as batsman and wicketkeeper whenever the need has arisen.
Zadran has been a revelation on these wickets, especially in Khulna's home games, in which he bowled two measly spells - 2 for 9 against Rajshahi and 3 for 21 against Rangpur. The left-arm fast bowler's pace, bounce and ability to use the angles from over and around the wicket have brought wickets and also rattled batsmen. There is talk of some of the Afghanistan players, especially Nabi and Zadran, returning for the Dhaka Premier League, which is likely to begin in April.
The initial decision to include Associate players was, according to the BPL organisers, a nod to Bangladesh's past as an Associate. It remains so, and goes to show that the world of cricket isn't only for the privileged. There is room for everyone.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent