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The exodus of 13 players from Bangladesh to the Indian Cricket League - and into virtual exile from all official cricket - has been formalised with the unveiling in New Delhi of the Dhaka Warriors. The team, which will compete in the second season of (ICL) from October 10, will be led by Habibul Bashar, the former national captain, and includes recent internationals Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali, Shahriar Nafees, Farhad Reza, Dhiman Ghosh and Mosharraf Hossain.
The ICL's latest signings, who will be coached by Balwinder Sandhu, the former India player, include four players who have represented Bangladesh in the past - retired left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique, Tapash Baisya, Manjural Islam and Mohammad Sharif. The others are Golam Mabud, a reserve wicketkeeper after Ghosh, and Mahbubul Karim, part of the Bangladesh Academy team currently touring Sri Lanka.
The move is likely to have a significant impact on Bangladesh cricket, and the recruits have drawn the anger of their fans, some of whom have even labelled them 'traitors'. Bashar reiterated the ICL stance - players contracted are free to turn out for their country . "ICL never asked us to stop playing for our country," he said as the ICL launched their second season. "That is the main reason we joined the ICL. Perhaps people back home haven't understood properly."
Bashar was the first to be introduced as one by one each 'warrior' came on to the stage, dressed in green tee-shirts and dark slacks, with a sword in hand and a smile on the face. While a personal statement for each, it was also a show of strength for the league, which has faced many a hurdle since its inception. Kapil Dev, India's World Cup-winning captain and now chairman of the ICL's executive board, said he wanted to see these players represent Bangladesh, and be part of the league when away from national duty.
"They have come here to make their life," he said. "How can you stop anybody not to play cricket? How can you stop people from not getting educated as cricket was education for me. If somebody says you only play with one set of people then that is wrong. We are not in apartheid era."
Nafees, who at one point was seen as a potential successor to Bashar as Bangladesh captain, said he had the freedom to make his choice. "The player has all the right to choose what he has to do," he said. "I still believe I can play for my country. ICL is a new and unique concept to promote players, to train young guys and make them better cricketers. So I would like to take this opportunity and show what I can do."
He downplayed the monetary significance of joining the league. "As a cricketer my first and love is to play cricket," he said. "When I was growing up money was always secondary. I've sacrificed ten years of my life to play at the highest level."
The departure of Nafees, Aftab and Kapali will severely dent Bangladesh's batting, while Dhiman Ghosh was their first-choice wicketkeeper during the ODI series in Australia. Farhad Reza had played 32 one-dayers since his debut in July 2006 and left-arm spinner Mosharraf Hossain featured in the home ODIs against South Africa earlier in the year.
The ICL have also signed two of Bangladesh's most experienced players in Bashar and Rafique. Bashar is Bangladesh's most-capped Test player with 50 matches. He led the team in 18 of those, including the country's only Test win over Zimbabwe in 2005 and in the 2007 World Cup, where they scored upset wins over India and South Africa. For long the mainstay of Bangladesh's batting, Bashar had fallen out of favour in the past year, and was disappointed with the lack of support he got, especially from current coach Jamie Siddons.
Rafique, Bangladesh's leading wicket-taker in Tests and ODIs, had announced his retirement ahead of the South Africa's visit, but later said he had done it as a "mark of protest". He said in an interview: "It's better to leave before getting humiliated at the hands of some people who prevented me from playing Test cricket for two years."
The Dhaka Warriors will be the ICL's second city-based team to feature players from a single country, after the Lahore Badshahs, consisting of only Pakistan players, performed splendidly on the field and more importantly gained a following among viewers, especially in Pakistan. The two teams will play alongside seven other sides in the ICL 20s Championship. The tournament will be held across four venues - Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Panchkula - and will be followed by the ICL World Series, during which the players from the Lahore Badshahs and Dhaka Warriors will take part as the Pakistan and Bangladesh XIs respectively.
Dhaka Warriors: Habibul Bashar (capt), Aftab Ahmed, Shahriar Nafees, Alok Kapali, Dhiman Ghosh (wk), Farhad Reza, Manjural Islam, Golam Mabud (wk), Mahbubul Karim, Mohammad Rafique, Mohammad Sharif, Mosharraf Hossain, Tapash Baisya .