The 12th National Cricket League has concluded on May 14, bringing an end to the country's first-class season. Eight months ago, The Daily Star Sport ran previews of all six divisional sides taking part in the competition. Now, as part of its evaluation of the campaigners, it is publishing today the third episode, that of Barisal's. Tomorrow, the fourth part of this series will be published.
The fourth-placed team in a six-team competition doesn't draw too much attention. Moreover, they went winless and only just managed to enter the second phase.
Yet, Barisal's 2010-11 National Cricket League campaign is considered a watershed for cricket in the southern division because of the surprising progress their players made this season.
For years, the region has been regarded as the genuine backwaters of the game in the country but through the Bangladesh Cricket Board's decision to hand over selection decisions to the division and restrict the number of players from other regions, a new frontier for Barisal players has been opened.
It could have resulted in a disaster as there was a perception among many that let alone quality players, Barisal can't even make up a playing eleven. The virtually new side with just a few "outsiders" were supposed to face a stern test and they did. In fact their performance as a team wasn't up to the mark, but individual players made their mark and ensured that the future is in good hands, reason enough for everyone to take Barisal players seriously.
Back in August 2010, veteran coach Abdul Hadi Ratan was asked to run trials as well as get a team in shape. Though it was always going to be an uphill task to bring unknown talents under one umbrella, Ratan managed to turn them into genuine first-class players.
"This team did better than what was expected of them. The reason for that is definitely the emergence of more local players. They have better understanding, coordination and discipline because they know they are less talented than the rest and have to do well or get dropped," said Ratan, who admitted of his surprise at how some of the players performed.
"There were always fewer local players in the Barisal team but this year, in the last game, we had ten players from the division. They lack first-class experience and are probably not too good, but they are to listen and work hard. But I'm somewhat surprised with the progress they made," he explained.
Particularly, it is off-spinner Sohag Gazi who has caught they eye with his 41 wickets, the highest wicket-taker in the competition. During the closing ceremony after the NCL final, many saw Sohag for the first time and were surprised at the youngster's height.
According to some in the cricket circle, his discipline and use of variations sets him apart from the rest. He took four five-wicket hauls including 5-91 against Rajshahi and 5-32 against Dhaka.
"I must especially mention Sohag Gazi and Nasiruddin Faruque," said Ratan. "Sohag is from Patuakhali and he has done very well with the ball."
Though Gazi received the accolades, Barisal has produced Kamrul Islam Rabbi, the under-19 paceman as well as Fazle Rabbi, who batted very well during the NCL's one-day competition.
Ratan lamented the lack of longer-version cricket being played in Bangladesh, a hindrance that is most faced by teams like Barisal which have to be built from scratch.
"There is only one first-class tournament in the country and we don't even get to play four-day games to practice. There is a lack of infrastructure. We don't have an exclusive ground or the pitches are not prepared.
"I think these problems should be addressed by the authorities," he said.