Abahani-Mohammedan derby missing traditional buzz
The run-up to Thursday's Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League match between arch-rivals Abahani Limited and Mohammedan Sporting Club in Mirpur has been marked by a lack of buzz, unlike the excitement seen between the 1980s and the early 2000s.
There is little interest around the match even in the vicinity of the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, the venue for the game, a far cry from the frenzied atmosphere that would mark such derby days before Bangladesh became a Test-playing nation. The match has drawn large crowds in the past but the advent of international cricket since the 2000s has affected interest around it.
Abahani captain Tamim Iqbal, however, has stressed that the contest was highly regarded by players on both sides. He hoped the traditional rivalry could bring out the best in his underperforming team as they take on table-toppers Mohammedan. Abahani are sixth on the table with three wins in five matches, while Mohammedan have four wins in as many games.
"We all have that feeling among us that we are playing Mohammedan tomorrow," Tamim said. "I am also sure it is the same for the Mohammedan players as well, that they are taking on Abahani. There's that relishing prospect among the fans as well, so it all amounts to a challenge. We will definitely take it positively. We have to play much better cricket as a team. We have won three out of five games so we know we haven't played our best cricket."
The erosion of player loyalty to a particular club has also taken away some of the sheen from the Dhaka league, specially after the draft system this season in which only clubs had the choice of picking players.
Tamim also acknowledged the issue, comparing it to the experiences of former Bangladesh batsmen Minhajul Abedin and Akram Khan who played for Mohammedan and Abahani respectively for close to a decade.
"The draft system is the main reason why players can't decide which club they want to play for," he said. "It is a fact that if I play for a club for five years, I will develop a feel for it.
"I am sure that Akram uncle or Nannu bhai felt that way as they played in a club for 10-15 years, but both sets of players today are aware of the club they are representing."
Tamim said that the players were aware of the history between the two clubs, which also extends to football and hockey.
"We know the importance of these traditional clubs and the fact that there is also history between each other," he said. "There's extra importance to this contest for the officials, media and fans too. And it is present if these two clubs are playing cricket, football and hockey."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84