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Bangladesh players' strike, a year on: BCB says relationship with players 'cordial'

However, the players' silence leaves questions hanging

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
It has been a year since several Bangladesh players took part in a players' strike  •  BCB

It has been a year since several Bangladesh players took part in a players' strike  •  BCB

A year on from the players' strike that shook Bangladesh cricket, senior BCB officials believe that their relationship with country's cricketers remains "cordial". But the players have refrained from making any public statements about the strike, despite it being widely acknowledged that they had raised relevant issues which were affecting the country's cricket.
Their use of the word "respect" at the very beginning of their address to the media, on October 21 last year, touched a chord with the public. Players in Bangladesh have felt aggrieved for decades and last year, particularly after the World Cup, a few episodes in particular motivated them to take such a bold step. However a meeting with the BCB two days after the strike began, chaired by board president Nazmul Hassan, which led to the concluding of the strike, has seemingly had a long-term effect on the cricketers who were in attendance.
They have hardly followed up on their plan to redraw the leadership of the Bangladesh players' association, the Cricketers Welfare Association of Bangladesh (CWAB), which was the first point on their list of demands. When ESPNcricinfo contacted several cricketers who are either centrally contracted or under the first-class contract of the board, they refused to talk about the follow-up to the strike. The general feeling was that they were reluctant to stir up more controversy, and wanted to avoid the repercussions of any comments made by them which may be viewed as contrary to the board's stance.
Nizamuddin Chowdhury, the BCB's chief executive, said that the board is receptive to any approach made by the players, citing the example of how president Hassan has always been regularly in touch with players. He said that they are keen to listen to the players, whether they want to communicate at a personal level or through the players' body, the CWAB.
"I don't see any deterioration in our relationship with the players," Chowdhury told ESPNcricinfo. "They are the main stakeholders of the board. The board takes responsibility like a guardian. I don't think there was any gap between us. They had some issues, which we have addressed. The relationship between the players and board is always cordial.
"We have kept all channels open, whichever medium they want to use [to communicate with us]. There's considerable player representation in the current board, [more] than ever before. By constitution, there is players' representation in the board. Players have access to everyone in the board. You very well know that our president has a personal relation with the players."
BCB director Ismail Haider Mallick, who also heads the BPL's governing council, termed the players' demands "logical" and believes the board has taken steps to resolve some of the issues that were raised. Mallick said that they have brought back the usual domestic-player transfers, an open-market concept through which the players can go to a club of their choice in the List-A Dhaka Premier League within a set window, as opposed to the players-by-choice system, which was a type of draft wherein the clubs chose the players. He also said that they will revert to a franchise-based model for future editions of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), after a season in which the teams were owned by the board.
"Except the first-class cricketers' salary, a number of their demands have been met. We have raised the first-class match fees and the number of players who get monthly salaries.
"We have also removed players-by-choice in Dhaka Premier League (DPL) and returned the BPL to its previous format. They made some logical demands which were met positively," he said.
Mallick said it is a continuous process, and the board will deal with more issues in the future. "It is not a static situation. We haven't fixed everything. We will address issues whenever they come up again," he said.
One official, requesting anonymity, said that while the BCB has come across as genuine in its approach towards the players after the strike, the relationship is strained at the very least.
"The players made logical demands but their process wasn't great. They are no longer valued like they used to be, though the BCB remains sincere in their approach to solve the issues," the official said. "There are fewer personal favours now."
The differing opinions and the players' reluctance to comment prompt some questions. But there is no denying that the BCB began to meet demands less than a week after the strike was concluded. They increased match fees and allowances and raised provisions for travel, accommodations and meals in the first-class competitions. They have also committed to increasing the monthly salary for contracted first-class cricketers.
But the players have been mostly reticent about discussing CWAB elections and the overall restructuring that they had demanded. CWAB general secretary Debabrata Paul said that they have had only one fruitful meeting on this particular matter with the players in the past year.
"We have been in touch with the senior cricketers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic when we had online meetings about first-class cricketers... I would say that our relationship is in better shape than at any point in time."
CWAB general secretary Debabrata Paul
"Within a month after their strike, we briefed the players including Shakib Al Hasan, about our association's constitution," Paul said. "Shakib told us that they will get back to us in three days, but they didn't get back to us for two weeks. They wanted another meeting but they only sent [Jahurul Islam] Omi. Shakib didn't come to the meeting.
"But we have been in touch with the senior cricketers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic when we had online meetings about first-class cricketers. They have been quite active in five meetings so far. I would say that our relationship with the players is in better shape than at any point in time."
Paul said that CWAB remains on course to hold its AGM and elections as soon as players gather in the capital for the DPL.
Ideally, though, in the aftermath of a dispute between the players and the board, the players' association plays a central role in mediating a balanced working relationship between the two. CWAB has to be a more visible participant in the process, and work at reducing the apathy that the cricketers have felt towards them, leading to the protest in the first place.
That said, it is perhaps a positive sign that the strike has caused both players and administrators to be a little wary of relying too heavily on their personal relationship. A working partnership is what is desired by everyone involved, and the sooner it takes shape, preferably moulded by the players' association, the better it will be for Bangladesh cricket.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84