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Bangladesh's Below-Par League needs an overhaul, and quick

Poor (or no) planning, a shambolic DRS set-up, player misconduct - it was another forgettable season of the BPL

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Shakib Al Hasan and one of his many expressions during the game, Fortune Barishal vs Chattogram Challengers, BPL 2023, Chattogram, January 13, 2023

The in(efficiencie)s and out(burst)s of the BPL have made it hard to follow  •  BCB

Shakib Al Hasan's prediction that the BPL was headed downwards has turned out to be true.
Shakib's comments on January 4 became quite talked about because he referenced the Hindi-language movie Nayak while explaining how the issues in the BPL could be fixed quickly, but the substance of what he said wasn't lost on anyone - he was, after all, talking about issues that have plagued the BPL for the last few seasons: the delayed players' draft and poor broadcast quality among them, plus the new one, the clash with other (new and richer) T20 leagues. He had also criticised the (non) marketing of the BPL as being ineffective. While there are no exact figures for TV ratings or stadium attendance, the lack of enthusiasm was reflected by low turnouts in most matches.
Sylhet and Chattogram usually have big crowds but apart from the odd weekend game or evening game, it has been sparsely attended. The same was true for the playoffs in Dhaka where the ground was usually half-full. The BCB forgetting to inform the media and public about changed match timings on the tournament's first day or the lack of clarity about match tickets added to the overall chaos. Not to forget the average cricket and poor player behaviour, and we had another sub-par tournament this year.

'BPL is always a last-minute tournament'

"BPL is always a last-minute tournament in terms of preparations," Tahmeed Huq, chief executive of former franchise Rajshahi Kings, said of the situation. "There was nothing different this year. DRS is essential to a tournament like the BPL. I read about the controversies due to the absence of DRS but I didn't see any improvements."
A fully functional DRS set-up is the bare requirement in major tournaments, but for the league stage, all the BPL had were glorified replays for the TV umpires to use. But even outside of that, there was a general lack of competitiveness on show, which was disappointing.
The bottom three teams - Chattogram Challengers, Dhaka Dominators and Khulna Tigers - were knocked out of reckoning for the playoffs with eight matches left in the league stage. Teams for the knockout stages have never been confirmed this early in the BPL. They have usually gone down to the last two or three matches to decide at least one of the playoff spots.
"I came here two days before the first game, so that's not great for me to see the players. Not enough time. A week with the team would have been really good. You get to know the players' characters and the roles that they could play"
Julian Wood, Chattogram Challengers coach
Dominators, Challengers and Tigers were also the worst hit in terms of quality overseas players. Of the eight overseas batters who scored 200-plus runs in last year's BPL, only Benny Howell, who played for Challengers last year, appeared in two games for Rangpur Riders in this year's league phase. Fortune Barishal's Andre Fletcher, who played for Tigers last year, and Moeen Ali also appeared only in the knockout stage after playing in other T20 leagues.
Even for the teams that made the playoffs, availability of overseas players was a serious issue. Those relying heavily on imports had to change their strategy when the Pakistani players, making up the bulk of the overseas quota in the BPL, left for the PSL. In the case of Barishal, even Bhanuka Rajapaksa's form or big-hitting reputation couldn't guarantee success. Riders managed to bring in Dwayne Bravo and Sam Billings, but only for just the last couple of games.
Add it all up, and we have to go back to what we said before the tournament began, that the BCB just wasn't moving fast enough. Rather than selling the franchises early and allowing them time to get the best players, they waited till November to organise the players' draft, allowing the BBL, SA20 and ILT20 to take away the best T20 players.
"I came here two days before the first game, so that's not great for me to see the players," Julian Wood, the Challengers coach, said. "Not enough time. A week with the team would have been really good. You get to know the players' characters and the roles that they could play.
"I think they need to look at when they run the competition. You have the BBL, ILT20 and SA20 so you've got four tournaments at the same time. You want the best players in the world to play in your tournament. Find a window, maybe November next year [season]. We had six days when we didn't do anything, so I think you can try to squeeze it in a bit more."
Challengers finished in last place.
The lack of preparation, the lack of time, and lack of quality international cricketers is a big worry mainly because Bangladesh don't really have the greatest T20 talent going around. It's reflected in their T20I cricket too. As a result, the BPL franchises are heavily reliant on finished products from overseas. This season, no rookie or unknown from the domestic circuit really made a splash.

Limited DRS, poor player conduct

And then we come to player misconduct. Many of the incidents this year were due to the Alternative DRS system - a watered-down version with just a few technologies for TV umpire, who had to rely on basic replays and a "pitching zone" that didn't seem consistent - in place.
Soumya Sarkar's refusal to accept a DRS decision during the third game of the tournament led to incidents of players misbehaving with the on-field umpires.
Shakib had a go at the square-leg umpire later on the same day, and then ran on to the field to argue with the umpires when fielding captain Nurul Hasan switched bowlers after seeing which batter was taking first strike. In that same match, Anamul Haque had an argument with the umpires when given out via DRS.
Comilla Victorians coach Mohammad Salahuddin was fined for criticising the umpires after Jaker Ali was given out lbw despite the ball pitching outside leg stump in a game. Even when the conventional DRS was put in place during the knockouts, Sylhet Strikers batter Najmul Hossain Shanto argued when given out lbw in the second qualifier.
The BCB's decision to stick with the (not quite) DRS system during the 42-match league phase was disappointing. Fans generally want a free-flowing tournament, but the BPL has been anything but. At the start of the tournament, the BCB explained that they couldn't bring the personnel to run the DRS equipment, although the equipment has been in their stadium storage unit.

Does the BCB have a vision for the BPL at all?

Tahmeed, a former cricketer who is recognised as a marketing expert in Bangladesh, said that the lack of proper long-term planning, particularly with no revenue-sharing system with the teams, could put off the franchise owners soon.
"Franchises were given three-year contracts but already Barishal have said that they are not coming back next year," he pointed out. "It gives the wrong impression about the BPL. Compared to other leagues, I don't see proper, organised planning in place. What is the BPL's vision? Where does it go from here?
"We need to understand the vision of those who are organising this tournament. It has to be a business case," he said. "Otherwise franchises will say like Barishal that we won't play next time. It doesn't give them any benefit, in terms of profitability."
But things can be fixed, they aren't completely broken, Tahmeed suggested.
"The BPL has a future. But it has to improve in a lot of areas," he said. "Production value has to be better. Wickets were better this year. Consumer-wise, Bangladesh's market is second only to India. If we cannot use this potential in such a market, then it is our failure.
"There will always be competition, which will urge improvement. If you look at the telecom industry in Bangladesh, three compete with each other to improve services. Definitely BPL has a future and potential, but the product has to be attractive. It has to be so much better than other leagues, not just money-wise, but in terms of other factors too."
The difficulty for BPL is the almost water-tight future tours programme drawn up by the cricket boards. It means that the BPL can only be held at a set time for the next five seasons, which will continue to clash with other leagues. There's no way out in that sense, but the BCB could arrange for a more advanced plan so that franchises are better prepared, and then ensure DRS and other facilities are in place. The BPL has hit rock bottom this year but, as always, it means the only way now is up.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84