Teething problems ahead of new-look NCL
Bangladesh's 2012-13 domestic season will kick-off with a new-look National Cricket League, with the opening match between defending champions Rajshahi Division and Dhaka Division starting October 14 to be played with the pink-ball and under lights at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.
But even the novelty of the new ball or the introduction of two major steps - franchise system for the teams and the players' salary structure - have failed to ensure anything but the typical build-up to the country's only first-class competition. Six of the eight participating teams are only beginning to train less than two weeks before such a grueling competition, while the Bangladesh Cricket Board is expected to finance half the number of teams.
Indifference towards the first-class game has meant that the BCB were able to woo only four companies to buy franchises, ESPNcricinfo has learnt, two of which already own teams in the Bangladesh Premier League Twenty20s and the 50-over competition, the Dhaka Premier League. It is also not clear which of the first-class teams will have franchisees. The other major step - the salary structure for the 105 first-class cricketers that was announced in August and set to be implemented from the new season - is also designed to inject much needed motivation for the players in the longer version. But the long-running infrastructural deficiencies in many parts of the country have stymied most of the cricketers to stay indoors rather than train in proper facilities.
Essentially, a squad preparing for a first-class tournament needs at least two months to prepare. It begins with heavy fitness work. Cricketers these days also spent a considerable time in the gym during the off-season, but those living in the smaller cities in Bangladesh do not have access to such services. Even proper cricket training can be troublesome for many of them as facilities at the stadiums are not maintained properly or made available to the region's top cricketers. The BCB-provided budget for the divisional authorities only allows running of practice for a few weeks ahead of the competition.
The Chittagong players have tried to begin early but have not been helped by poor facilities at the MA Aziz Stadium. Last season's runners-up Khulna Division and Barisal Division have done training haphazardly with only the players based locally taking part in organised training while those settled in the country's capital have been training separately. The two Dhaka-based sides - Dhaka Division and Dhaka Metropolis - haven't started a camp despite the availability of excellent facilities. Players from both teams have informed that they usually start 7-10 days before the competition, while Rangpur Division began their training on October 1, exactly two weeks ahead of the tournament.
Only the first-class cricketers in Rajshahi have taken up it upon themselves to train during the off-season and in the lead-up into the pre-season, a model followed by senior cricketers in Sylhet only in the last two years.
Rajshahi Division have held their tradition of beginning training well ahead of time, at the academy the players help built. "The players have been training for a few months," said former Bangladesh captain Khaled Mashud, who is still involved with the Rajshahi divisional cricket team. "We have been training since the off-season for the a long time now, but it is better these days since there's the academy. This place helps run the training smoothly. The players use the facilities at the cricket academy: the stadium's outfield, nets and gym."
Sylhet too have started early with senior cricketers Rajin Saleh, Alok Kapali and Tapash Baisya running the show at the divisional stadium. "We have trained for the last four months. We have paid for it ourselves, whatever that we have needed starting from practice balls, netting, etc," said Saleh, whose cricket academy is heavily used for the divisional team's training camp.
But the weather hasn't been kind to the team that finished third in last season's competition. "This region has more rainy days during the summer so it has been frustrating. We are a divisional side but there is no indoor facility, so we have to be patient with the weather," he said.
The BCB's tournament committee is confident of the October 14 start, but they are yet to receive the consignment of pink balls to be used for the opening match, which would also mean rushed preparations for Rajshahi Division and Dhaka Division who will be playing the game under lights in Mirpur, a first-ever in the country.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh