Focus on internationals in NCL kick-off
Defending champions Rajshahi Division will hog half the attention when they take on Dhaka Division in Mirpur in one of four opening-day matches in the National Cricket League on Saturday. The other half of the attention will be on several Bangladesh players who are expected to play the first two rounds of matches after the Bangladesh Cricket Board made their NCL appearances obligatory ahead of the West Indies series.
The most notable appearance would be that of Tamim Iqbal, captain of Chittagong Division that takes on Dhaka Metropolis at the Shaheed Chandu Stadium on the opening day. Tamim hasn't played in the domestic first-class competition for the past five years. In fact, Chittagong haven't availed his services since he made his Test debut, the last time being in November 2007. Tamim is not the only one however.
Mushfiqur Rahim, Abdur Razzak, Mashrafe Mortaza, Rubel Hossain and Shakib Al Hasan have also been largely unavailable for the NCL over the past five years, all having played less than ten games each. Among these, only Razzak played last season while Mahmudullah, Nasir Hossain and Shafiul Islam didn't play a single NCL game in 2011-12.
Injuries in the case of Mortaza over the last few years and Rubel last season notwithstanding, scheduling difficulty has been the most used justification to explain the no-shows. Most of these players are touring or involved in an international series at home when the first-class tournament is on, but it has been seen on several occasions that the players themselves have been unwilling to play the less glamorous competition.
Shakib, who hasn't been named in the initial Khulna Division squad, will complete his Kolkata Knight Riders campaign in the Champions League Twenty20 on October 21 so he could be expected to make his first appearance for Khulna since December 2008 in the second round of matches from November 2. He played eleven games for Worcestershire in the 2010 season, but hasn't played domestic first-class cricket anywhere since then.
The lack of international-level cricketers in the NCL has upset the image of first-class cricket, and to an extent done disservice to the country's Test fortunes. A long-term solution is hardly on the horizon though later this season the franchise-based first-class tournament could see a lot of these players. Tamim, however, is likely to be playing Twenty20 and two first-class matches in New Zealand at the time.
Despite sharing the focus with the appearance of the Bangladesh cricketers, Rajshahi would be expected to make a winning start as they are the best prepared team having been in training for more than six months. Dhaka Division on the other hand are the least prepared, having held a short campaign for only two weeks leading up to the tournament.
Sylhet and Chittagong have also followed Rajshahi's route of preparation this season but Dhaka Metropolis, Rangpur Division, Barisal Division and Khulna Division have maintained tradition like the Dhaka Division side.
In the other two first-round games beginning on October 20, last season's runners-up Khulna Division play at home against Barisal Division while Sylhet Division play away to Rangpur Division.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh