Players welcome BCB's contracts decision
The Bangladesh Cricket Board's (BCB) decision to give contracts to 120 cricketers from January 2013 is being welcomed as a step towards finally making cricket an inclusive sport, dismantling the "winner-takes-all" system and decentralising cricket in the country. Cricketers say it will take the sport to the grassroots as it has not done in the past four decades.
The development was a huge boost to the morale of many cricketers who have endured financial uncertainity. For one such domestic performer, Enamul Haque jr, the rest of his cricket career promises to be different.
"It is a positive move for Bangladesh cricket," Enamul told ESPNcricinfo. "For the next generation of cricketers, it will be a massive encouragement. There is always the motivation to play cricket and to play for the country, but to have a salary is a massive boost. When we used to play in the Under-19s or Academy, there wasn't much money so this will help the youngsters."
Enamul, a 27-year-old left-arm spinner, was the leading wicket-taker in the 2011-12 National Cricket League and is also the only Bangladesh bowler to take more than 300 first-class wickets. Enamul, however, hasn't played for Bangladesh since 2009 and had to play club cricket in England for sustenance.
"When I saw the news last night I was really happy. I can see that everyone here in the Bangladesh A camp is equally delighted," Enamul said. "It should have happened a few years ago, but finally the board has taken this decision. In Sri Lanka I think 70-odd cricketers are contracted with the board."
Another fringe player Shamsur Rahman, who has never played for Bangladesh but was the third highest run-scorer in this year's first-class competition, echoed Enamul's sentiments. However, Rahman hoped to see the initiative implemented soon, primarily because the BCB has often talked about decentralisation but never gone forward with it.
"It should have happened before but I'm happy that they have finally taken this initiative. I would urge them to fulfil this, and not just keep it as a proposal," Shamsur said. "It will create a lot of competition for places in the tournaments, players wouldn't just turn up and play. And I can predict that the level of competition and quality will go up with this new system."
Despite being a popular game, cricket in Bangladesh has always maintained geographical and economic exclusivity. It was a Dhaka-based sport that had players mainly from colleges and universities with affluent backgrounds. Gradually, the game gained popularity in cities like Chittagong and Khulna; the biggest boost arrived between 1997 and 2000, when Bangladesh won the ICC Trophy and gained Test status. But the Dhaka leagues, with the advantage of superior infrastructure, have been the major attraction for professional cricketers. Although, cricket tournaments are played at union and divisional levels, the lack of organisation meant that major districts, like Mymensingh, were left without a proper cricket completion for years.
The introduction of the National Cricket League (NCL) in 1999 didn't make much of a difference and only the national-level cricketers benefitted financially from the BCB contracts. However, the payments have increased significantly in the Dhaka Premier League over the years with a few uncapped cricketers earning up to Tk 20 lakh ($25,000) per season, the average being Tk 5 lakh ($6250). In comparison, the players in this season's first-class competition got Tk 10,000 ($125) per game in the first round, Tk 15,000 ($188) in the second round and Tk 20,000 ($250) in the finals, prompting the media to dub the NCL as a 'picnic tournament'. The proposed salary structure would give much-needed financial security to the players.
The decision, which requires a financial commitment of Tk 35 million ($437,500) per year according to board chief Mustafa Kamal, came after the BCB secured a sponsorship deal worth $14 million for the next four years with the Sahara group.
Apart from the players' benefitting, the BCB's decision to appoint former cricketers as operations managers in different regions is likely to bring professionalism in the organisation of regional cricket.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka