Numerous homegrown and overseas stars are set to dazzle in the sixth season of the Bangladesh Premier League, but issues that plagued the tournament during its inception persist, and a few new ones have cropped up too. Here is a comprehensive look at what to expect this time:
The ever-changing rulebook
Steven Smith can be forgiven for being confused. Shortly after Comilla Victorians signed him, the other franchises objected, because the rules stated that players signed outside the draft cannot replace those signed outside the draft. In this case, he was signed as a replacement for Sri Lanka's Asela Gunaratne. This forced the governing council to backtrack.
Eight days later, the governing council claimed other franchises relaxed their initial stance to allow one outside-the-draft signing to replace one of the two players signed outside the draft. Smith was now back into the fold again. For now, it looks as if this may be the last chapter of the rule-tweaking saga.
The BPL should be credited for solving issues relating to player payments and corruption scandals from the past. But such last-minute tweaking of rules time and again doesn't do much to improve the tournament's credibility, especially since the BCB has already been plagued by several cases of conflict of interest.
A political minefield
Nazmul Hasan, the BCB president, and Ismail Haider Mallick, the BPL member-secretary, are employed by the Beximco Group that owns Dhaka Dynamites. Salman F Ahmed, an elected MP from the ruling party, is the company's co-founder. Khaled Mahmud, a BCB director, is the head coach of the franchise.
Similarly, finance minister AMA Muhith is chairman of the company that owns Sylhet Sixers, while Mustafa Kamal, the country's planning minister and a former ICC president, owns the Comilla Victorians. Shahriar Alam, the state minister for foreign affairs, is enlisted as the patron of Rajshahi Kings which is partly owned by his company, Renaissance Group.
With the rich and powerful franchise owners also having significant roles within the BCB, it could potentially lead to further clashes and rule changes. As such, the Smith incident has not shown the board's rule-drawing capability in good light.
For instance, the Sylhet-Chittagong match in 2015 was delayed by more than an hour because the Sylhet franchise did not have No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) for Ravi Bopara and Josh Cobb. When the NOCs arrived after the toss, Chittagong refused to take the field since Bopara and Cobb had not been included in Sylhet's original playing XI.
After a lot of confusion, they were allowed to feature in the game, but there was more trouble when the Chittagong players walked off. Without the pair, Sylhet were unable to field the mandatory four foreign players, as required by the tournament rules.
In 2016, the BPL was forced to restart after rain played havoc with the tournament's opening fixtures, with the the first four games being washed out. While teams would normally have split points, there were reports that the BCB had arm-twisted team owners into playing re-matches.
With so many influencers with interests in the BPL, and a history of abuse of power plaguing the league, the stakes are high again with so many egos involved. Will the BCB and the BPL governing council have the steely determination to not bend backwards to facilitate favours?
The Mirpur slowdown
Some believe that the pitches at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium have tired so much that the entire square needs relaying. That the pitches often play slow and low goes against T20's entertainment dynamics. Teams batting first (in both day and night games) have scored at a run rate of 7.56 in Mirpur. The figure in Chittagong and Sylhet is slightly better at 7.76 and 8.03 respectively. Mirpur's numbers aren't helped by this fact, but that they host the most matches every season merits a mention.
On an average, Dhaka has hosted 28 games per season while Chittagong's average is 10. Sylhet last year and Khulna in 2013 hosted eight games each.
T20 slumber for local players
The BPL has switched back to seven local and four overseas players in an XI after going 6-5 the previous season. It obviously puts the spotlight back on Bangladeshi cricketers, particularly those not in the senior side. Teams, however, have a hard time measuring form among the local players, because they play little organised T20 cricket apart from the BPL. The country's senior cricketers will have a chance to either hold on to or find good form ahead of the New Zealand tour.
Battle for eyeballs with the BBL
The BPL will run concurrently with the Big Bash League, which means a number of players who have featured in the tournament in the past won't be available this time. Rashid Khan, Dwayne Bravo, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and Mohammad Nabi are among the players currently in Australia with the BBL.
However, the BPL does have its share of star power in AB de Villiers, Smith and David Warner (all featuring for the first time) as well as Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard and Luke Ronchi. TV viewers in India, especially, will have a hard time sifting through different broadcasts because a few games (especially the night BBL game and the early BPL game) may clash.