Tushar Imran stood out among the 12 centurions in the opening round of the 2018 National Cricket League, with his twin centuries against Rajshahi Division in difficult circumstances, while Rony Talukdar and Ariful Haque racked up double-hundreds.
Tushar nearly accounted for half of Khulna Division's 210 all out with his first-innings 104. It wasn't until the arrival of the No. 9 Nahidul Islam, with whom he added 88, that he found support. Tushar followed it up with 159, with the help of 21 fours and a six, as Khulna fought hard to earn a draw. He added 250 runs for the third wicket with Anamul Haque, who also started the season with a century.
In Fatullah, Rony's third double-hundred came in Dhaka Division's second innings, in which he and Abdul Mazid shared a Bangladesh first-class record opening stand of 350 runs. They beat the previous best of 341 runs between Nazmul Hossain Shanto and Mizanur Rahman from the 2017-18 NCL. Rony made 228 off 252 balls with 18 fours and seven sixes.
Ariful's 231 was his maiden double-century, which arrived with the help of 21 fours and four sixes in a near-eight-hour stay at the crease in Bogra. In the same match, Barisal's No. 3 Fazle Mahmud missed out on a double ton, perishing on 195, having spent more than eight hours, and 424 balls while hitting 18 fours and three sixes.
The best news to come out of the bowlers' camp was legspinner Jubair Hossain's five-wicket haul against Dhaka Division, his first five-for in four years. Jubair had been a neglected figure in Bangladesh cricket ever since he burst on to the scene in 2014.
He played only a single first-class game last season, and largely spent the Dhaka Premier League List-A competition on the bench. In a bid to revive his career, Jubair has been working with a legspin bowling coach in the last six months.
Among the fast bowlers, Shahadat Hossain took his best match figures in ten years, finishing with 8 for 106 against Chittagong, and Shafiul Islam took a five-wicket haul in the first innings against a strong Khulna batting side.
Meanwhile, Afif Hossain doubled his first-class wickets tally with a seven-wicket haul against Rajshahi. Having dismissed Nazmul Hossain Shanto and Junaid Siddique in the top-order, he removed the last five wickets, although Rajshahi had a healthy 352-run lead.
Rajshahi Division knocked down Khulna Division, the defending champions, for 210 in their first innings in Rajshahi, a body blow for the side that has won the last three NCL tournaments.
Rajshahi's reply with the bat was even better, as they took a 342-run lead having posted 552 in the first innings. Mizanur Rahman and Jahurul Islam struck centuries, and with several substantial partnerships throughout the innings, Khulna had little respite.
But their powerful batting line-up responded to the deficit superbly, with Anamul Haque and Tushar Imran putting together 250 runs for the third wicket and taking the fight into the fourth day with eight wickets intact. Even after they fell in the space of four overs, Soumya Sarkar struck a quickfire century, only his second in first-class cricket and one that came after more than two years.
Khulna fought back hard and finished the game with 2.5 points. Rajshahi took 4.8 points, but they would treat this game as an opportunity lost.
Points to note
Twelve batsmen scored 13 centuries in the NCL's first round, an unprecedented start to a cricket season in Bangladesh. Almost the entire front-row of the country's first-class batsmen made good starts.
The bowling, however, wasn't as impressive, with only two fast bowlers, Shahadat and Shafiul, standing out with wickets. The usual cast of left-arm spinners took five-wicket hauls, although Jubair's first five-for in four years was a point of interest.
Players to watch
Among the Bangladesh players who were part of the Asia Cup squad, Soumya Sarkar and Nazmul Islam stood out with a century and five-wicket haul respectively.
The national selectors would also look at Anamul Haque (who was dropped from the Asia Cup squad), Mizanur Rahman, Abdul Mazid and Shadman Islam for Bangladesh's opening slot, as all four struck centuries.
Naeem Islam and Jahurul Islam also reminded the selectors about their form with centuries, while Sohag Gazi started the season with a century and four wickets in the match.