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Smooth BPL 2022 despite Covid cloud will mean big gains for Bangladesh cricket

Everything is in place for the BPL's big return, but onus is on the stakeholders to make sure restrictions are not breached in any way

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
It's important for the tournament to be incident-free, as far as possible, in these trying circumstances  •  BCB

It's important for the tournament to be incident-free, as far as possible, in these trying circumstances  •  BCB

This, the eighth edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), will be the first to be staged since the pandemic began, and it has already been impacted. The BCB has admitted to there being "a few positive cases" already from the first round of tests before teams entered their hotels, and given that testing will continue until the start of the tournament, today, more bad news cannot be ruled out.
This season of the BPL is of great significance for Bangladesh, particularly in light of their poor performance in last year's T20 World Cup. With another on the horizon in Australia, a high-profile domestic tournament becomes a prime testing ground.
It is also extremely important for the BCB to successfully stage its first BPL in two years, given it has brought in profits of approximately US$ 23 million since 2012, and is easily their most lucrative product. That has never stopped the BCB from experimenting with the tournament's model or format and that has at times hit the league's reputation adversely. All of which means that - with the added hazards of a pandemic - there is very little room for error.
Foremost among the challenges is the pandemic itself. Bangladesh is currently experiencing an Omicron surge, with the daily case count rising 25-fold between January 1 and January 19. The positivity rate stands at 25%.
The BCB has so far struck confident notes on the matter. Instead of biobubbles, it will use a managed event environment system, allowing everyone part of the BPL to move around without restriction in tournament hotels and training facilities at the three stadiums.
"We are trying to apply guidelines from the Tokyo Olympics," Dr Debashis Chowdhury, the BCB's chief physician, said. "We have managed health protocols quite well during previous international series. It went by mostly without problems.
"But here a lot of it depends on the stakeholders, like franchise officials and players. If we are aware of what's going on around us, we can complete the BPL successfully."
"With the travel restrictions, the technicians were also unable to fly [into Bangladesh]. The technicians are now working in two different countries and they won't be able to come to Bangladesh in this situation"
BPL secretary Ismail Haider Mallick explains why there won't be any DRS
But therein lies a potential problem. Several teams have held unofficial practice sessions, together, at the academy ground adjacent to the Shere Bangla National Stadium. The jersey-launch programmes held in private hotels over the last week have also seen players and staff come in close contact with people who are not part of the BPL.
"We must be careful when we are in a crowd if we want to end the tournament successfully," Chowdhury stressed.
Ultimately, how franchises manage their own spaces is going to matter the most. The BCB has put in place a Covid-19 compliance officer in all the hotels to ensure proper measures are followed. And there is also now a template that the BPL can draw from: Australia's Big Bash League has kept going despite around 40 positive cases during the ongoing season, with continuous tweaks to the schedule and venues.
One of the smaller side-effects of the pandemic is that there will be no DRS for the tournament.
"We cannot keep DRS in the Covid situation, and with the travel restrictions, the technicians were also unable to fly [into Bangladesh]," BPL secretary Ismail Haider Mallick explained. "The technicians, divided into two teams, are now working in two different countries and they won't be able to come to Bangladesh in this situation.
"No one wants to come because of Omicron. We will host Afghanistan after BPL. We have to talk about whether we can include DRS in the series or not."
If there is any disruption, it won't be new for the BPL. It has dealt with its fair share of problems since its inception, from corruption to player-payment issues, to sudden rule changes to unruly behaviour from team owners.
In the last edition in 2019-20, for example, Krishmar Santokie bowled a no-ball so massive in the first game it attracted the attention of the BCB's anti-corruption unit (he was cleared). The BCB-run teams were found to be disregarding selection rules put in place by the board itself. There was also talk of sponsors meddling in selection matters.
This season hasn't been problem-free either, and we haven't even started.
The BCB had to remove the Dhaka owners after they failed to pay the required bank guarantee within the stipulated time. The BCB took over the franchise, picked a team, and then another company came forward to sponsor the team.
The league still manages to attract its share of big stars, though. Though figures have not been made public, according to many, the league is one of the highest-paying ones. Andre Russell, a BPL regular who is reportedly getting US$ 250,000 to play this time, skipped the BBL last season to play in the Bangladesh league. He has also gone on record saying the BPL is "more fun".
It might not be as much fun this season, within managed environments and, crucially, empty stadiums. The BCB is following government orders in not allowing crowds at games. But that's not to say the BPL will not, once again, be the centre of attention in Bangladesh cricket.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84