Space crunch hurting several DPL clubs
Junaid Siddique's rocket of a throw missed Mushfiqur Rahim by a whisker. The Bangladesh captain, leading Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club in the Dhaka Premier League, was resting just behind the fielding coach who was conducting drills. A few meters to their left, Soumya Sarkar's crisp cover drive got everyone to scurry in Mohammedan Sporting Club's tent. Away on the eastern side, Kalabagan Cricket Academy players' team bonding exercise was getting louder by the minute, and drawing attention. The two net practice areas were full, with several fully kitted batsmen waiting for their turn as four clubs were using the nets.
While all of this was happening, a senior Dhanmondi Club player told the fielding coach to stop the drills, wrap up and come for the team meeting. "That's enough for today. We don't want anyone to get hurt. We have a game tomorrow," he said.
Welcome to the National Cricket Academy ground in Mirpur, where most of the Dhaka Premier League clubs have their practice sessions - usually at the same time. The two practice facilities at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, the indoor and the NCA ground, is used by 12 clubs, leading to hurried and cramped training sessions - but no serious injuries yet.
Each team has a minimum of 17 players plus support staff and net bowlers, amounting to more than 100 people attending training sessions. Supporters of popular clubs like Abahani Limited and Mohammedan also turn up at times, while there are always fans hanging around for a glimpse of their heroes in a more informal setting.
It all adds up to an unbelievable chaos, something that cricket teams can do without. The move has also highlighted the lack of minimum facilities in the clubs around the country's capital, although they spend an exorbitant amount on players.
The facilities in Mirpur are the best in the country, with properly maintained pitches, bowling machines, indoor nets and excellent outfields. But there have been sessions when seven clubs have trained at the small NCA ground on the northwest side of the stadium.
As a result, there is very little time for each batsman in the nets, as they mostly take throw-downs. The bowlers too are given more time bowling at a single-stump rather than at the batsmen. The atmosphere has been quite different for the players who are slightly more concerned about being hit by a stray ball rather than making best use of their time in training.
Prime Doleshwar Sporting Club have regularly used the Mirpur facilities, but it hasn't been a comfortable time for the club that is looking to just stay afloat in the league. Doleshwar's general secretary Mushtaq Hossain said that they will improve their own club ground in the south of the capital, which will again be functional from next season.
"We have been training in Mirpur because the wickets in our club ground has not been maintained well," Mushtaq said. "It has not been an easy time for the players. We are always rushed because other teams have booked the nets soon after, or we have to wait for another club to start our sessions.
"The pitches will be improved in Doleshwar, which is a small village in the south of Dhaka. We would like to train on our own, just like we did when we were gaining promotions from Second and First Division leagues. We also provide accommodation to the players in our club."
While Doleshwar has a legitimate reason and its monetary situation doesn't allow them ground expenses as of now, other clubs with grounds like Abahani, Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club, Brothers Union, Khelaghar Samaj Kallyan Samity and the two Kalabagan sides are in affluent neighbourhoods, based in central Dhaka and some of these clubs have the financial backing to build proper cricket facilities.
Mohammedan Sporting Club, a major Dhaka club, has also been wandering around town for a few years in search of a proper practice facility. They have hardly used their own ground, located in Motijheel, which they now plan to turn into a commercial complex. They have also talked about a separate facility in Savar, on the north of Dhaka, where they hope to build a cricket academy one day.
"Of course it is a problem to train with five other teams. There is hardly any secret left. We can't surprise our opponents anymore, and all our planning has to be in team meetings rather than in our training," said one club official wishing anonymity.
Many of these clubs like Gazi Tank Cricketers and Prime Bank are corporate entities, and as a result don't have a ground in Dhaka. Cricket Coaching School is often based in the small Kalabagan ground, but they too have preferred Mirpur because they too don't have their own ground.
A look at most of these clubs venues reveal that the practice facilities are ordinary, with most being held in cement pitches rather than natural turfs.
Jamie Siddons, who was Bangladesh's coach between 2007 and 2011, was famously disgusted when he saw players drinking out of a bucket in one of these clubs. There are several instances and examples that point to a lack of attention to training facilities and more towards beating each other in building teams. Not many DPL clubs can claim to be fully responsible for a player's upbringing. They only buy the services of the talented ones.
The BCB has not been unwelcoming, because the Dhaka clubs are the biggest stakeholders in the board. The grounds committee has allowed all the clubs full use of the facilities, until the NCA or any other representative team requires the nets or the ground. Bangladesh Under-19 are at the academy quarters, preparing for their West Indies tour next month.
"The Premier League teams have been using BCB's facilities ahead and during the competition," BCB's grounds manager Syed Abdul Baten said. "They can use it unless our representative sides have to practice at the two facilities. Currently we have one residential camp at the NCA. But we have to accommodate the clubs, because they are important to our cricket."
But training in Mirpur is only a short-term solution for the clubs, and by extension Bangladesh cricket's grassroots. Since the city-based league is so vital to the cricketers' development, there has to be more emphasis on building facilities which can be used for 12 months, and not just by the top professionals.
Looking back and below should not be so strenuous, but it is less of a habit here in Dhaka.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here