Considering the odds the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had to overcome to get the 12th version of the National Cricket League going, the first week of the tournament was a classic anticlimax. First, there was the issue of the availability of venues and with renovation and development for World Cup 2011 going on at the main grounds, the home-and-away format was sacrificed for neutral grounds and the duration of the event shortened. Then the New Zealand series put paid to the chances of the international stars participating in the league. As if that wasn't enough, a late monsoon pushed the NCL's start back by a week. When it finally kicked off, the three matches had a total of five completed innings as rain, courtesy a depression in the Bay of Bengal, forced an indefinite postponement of the tournament. Dhaka Division, however, weren't complaining after making good use of the three days of reasonable weather up north in Rajshahi against Khulna Division but the rains held sway in the other venues.
Despite having players of quality, Dhaka have not had the desired results in recent past. All that could change this year with a batting line-up boasting the class of Mohammad Ashraful, Mehrab Hossain Jr, Shamsur Rahman and the exciting talent of Rony Talukder, Shuvagoto Hom and Anamul Haque. Khulna on the other hand remain a shadow of their 2007-08 'dream team' without Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Abdur Razzak, Imrul Kayes and now retired Habibul Bashar, and they were under pressure from the start after putting Dhaka in on a true surface.
Having lost his place in the Bangladesh side, captain Ashraful hit a fluent 113 to revive his World Cup hopes. With the ball coming on to the bat nicely, Ashraful was unstoppable and after his exit, Hom, a stand-by for the New Zealand series, and the Bangladesh Under 19 wicketkeeper Anamul went after the Khulna attack to reach their maiden first-class tons as Dhaka surged to 496. At 191 for 6, Khulna were staring at the prospect of following on after Tushar Imran's promising 54 was neutralised by an Ashraful delivery. Khulna captain Saghir Hossain (65) tried to lift the spirits on day three, a tough ask with Dolar Mahmud and Syed Rasel already headed for Dhaka on emergency call-up to the national team. Left-arm spinner Elias Sunny polished off the tail to finish with 5 for 77 as Khulna folded for 277 giving Dhaka the batting bonus. Ashraful did not enforce the follow-on and when Dhaka batted again Shamsur punished the severely-weakened Khulna bowling on way to a rapid 102. Closing at 170 for 5 with a lead of 489, Dhaka must have fancied full points with a clinical last-day effort. The elements however, had other plans.
On a dodgy outfield battered by continuous showers in Jessore, champions Rajshahi Division were frustrated when just 15 overs could be bowled on a dry first day against Sylhet Division. On day two they found Enamul Haque Jnr (4 for 43) using all his experience and guile under a murky sky and on a sluggish pitch. Khaled Mashud's side were dismissed for 160 and the Sylhet openers were at the crease for around five minutes and two balls before the skies opened up. Not another ball was bowled as the game was washed out.
In Bogra, the towering Barisal Division left-arm seamer Shafaq Al Zabir impressed with an inspired new-ball burst that had Chittagong Division gasping at 3 for 16. Zabir was once considered the next great hope after Mortaza but could never live up to that billing. Here, however, he was in his element and had openers Gazi Salahuddin and Nafees Iqbal lbw by bringing the ball back in menacingly. Nazimuddin (91) steadied the innings but Barisal continued to take wickets at the other end. Chittagong were all out for 202 and Barisal closed the first day on 55 for 2. They limped to 119 for 6 in the 37 overs of play on the second day, but rain scuppered what was turning into an interesting tussle.
Player of the week - Mohammad Ashraful
Knowing that every innings matters if he wants to return to the Bangladesh side, Ashraful batted like a man possessed against Khulna. His timing, which had deserted him even in the Bangladesh nets, was back and there was a calmness and assurance about him that has not been on view recently. Dhaka had three centurions in the first innings but only one of them actually showed the way. Ashraful's captaincy was also imaginative and he was not shy in taking the ball in his hand when others couldn't make inroads.
Rabeed Imam is media manager of the Bangladesh Cricket Board