Against the backdrop of the exodus of 14 players to the ICL and the home series against New Zealand coinciding with this year's schedule it was quite natural that the start of the 2008-09 season would be an inauspicious one. Apart from Barisal Division, who have to do without only Shahriar Nafees, the other five Divisional teams have been badly affected by players moving to the ICL.
But champions Khulna
still had the fire power to stave off the challenges of Nabil Samad and Shubashis Roy of Sylhet
, who claimed all 20 wickets together and pulled off a victory with a day to spare at Khulna
. Challengers Rajshahi
found an inspired Barisal
hard to crack and had to settle for a draw at Rajshahi
. Dhaka and Chittagong, meanwhile, fought rain and a waterlogged ground for two days and had no time left for forcing a result at Fatullah
Khulna's batting performance reflected the absence of Habibul Bashar, playing in the ICL, and Shakib Al Hasan and Imrul Keyes, celebrating a win over New Zealand in the first ODI. The warning signs were not there for the home team though when openers Nazmus Sadat (43) and Robiul Islam Robi put on 58 after being sent in at Khulna but the breakthrough by left-arm spinner Nabil Samad, who cleaned up Robiul in the 21st over, was the beginning of a slide. Samad took the next seven wickets to finish with 8 for 61, and Khulna were bowled out for 178.
Sylhet's delight was short-lived as Ziaur Rahman, leading the attack, took three wickets in an opening burst while new ball partner Dolar Mahmud dealt a telling blow by dismissing Rajin Saleh for a duck and the visitors were precariously placed at 42 for 6 at close. Things did not get any better as Sylhet were bundled out for 74 the next morning and it was Khulna's turn to push for the advantage. Again Samad and Roy did not allow Khulna to race away and each took five-fors to bowl them out for 187. Khulna's first-innings lead of 104 was decisive and the target of 292 proved just beyond Sylhet. Reduced to 120 for 8 by Zia (4 for 63) and Robiul Islam (5 for 60), Sylhet were taken to 256 thanks to Saleh' 135. They were bowled out 35 shy of what would have been an amazing chase.
Former Bangladesh fast bowler Alamgir Kabir enjoyed the usual juice at Rajshahi after Khaled Mashud decided to field first. Kabir had Barisal reeling at 105 for 7 before but captain Imran Ahmed and No. 9 Sajidul Islam helped the score to 187 without any further loss by stumps on the first day. Imran, 43 overnight, went on to make 110 and the plucky Sajidul made 50 to boost the score to 273. The tireless Kabir finished with 7 for 76. Sajidul then proceeded to send back the first five Rajshahi batsmen and gave Barisal a 58-run lead early on day three. The game swung back Rajshahi's way as they limited Barisal to 204, made from 103 overs, which ultimately left them with not enough time to chase 263. So they opted for batting practice and finished on 135 for 3.
Chittagong were the worst hit by the ICL exodus. Nazimuddin was the previous season's top run-scorer and Aftab Ahmed's all-round skills were missing. Dhiman Ghosh, the wicketkeeper, was also a solid contributor and with long-serving captain Ehsanul Haque unavailable and Tamim Iqbal preoccupied with the national camp it was a largely new-look Chittagong who lined up against Dhaka at Fatullah. Dhaka were without bowlers Mohammad Rafique, Mosharraf Hossain and Mohammad Sharif. However, now a ball was possible in two days because of a soggy outfield. When play finally got underway Dhaka chose to bat but were undone by the left-arm spinner Mohammad Younus (5 for 59) while the persevering Tarek Aziz Khan grabbed four. Dhaka managed 210 and Chittagong looked solid at 48 without loss at stumps. It was a different story the next day as Arafat Sunny picked up 5 for 46 before Chittagong declared on 212 for 9 to deny the hosts bowling points. First class debutant Tariq Ahmed showed promise at number four for Chittagong with a positive 73, hitting three sixes and nine fours. Dhaka were 64 for 2 in 20 overs when the captains shook hands.
Out of the Test frame for 17 months, the game against Khulna was Saleh's only chance to push for a spot in the series against New Zealand. Having failed in the first innings and with his side under threat of getting blown apart at 120 for 8 in the second, Saleh weathered the storm and then grafted and persevered for 135 that changed the face of the innings. It didn't go unnoticed and a prompt recall to the Test fold followed immediately.