More lows than highs
At the end of the first edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), some questions have been answered but crucially, many others have remained unattended by the organisers.
The spot-fixing approaches that were claimed by Mashrafe Bin Mortaza at the start of the tournament should have been enough warning but the investigation took time and punishments weren't forthcoming. What happened in three weeks' time was unprecedented in Bangladesh cricket as a foreign national was arrested as a suspected fixer with important information about two players found in his phone.
Such was the BPL's luck that it shot itself in the foot the next evening. As if the fixing claims were not bad enough, the mix-up of the semifinalists (Barisal, then Chittagong and then Barisal again) put the running of the tournament in danger. As the High Court rejected the Chittagong Kings' plea to stop the final, it all ended with subdued fanfare but the cover-up that followed in the form of vague statements by the BPL authorities will remain in the memories as one of the most comical (yet tragic) moments of this country's sporting history.
The BCB though owe a large debt of thanks to Shakib Al Hasan for the way he rose to the occasion on Tuesday evening. If it weren't for Shakib's brilliant innings, the day would have been remembered for all the negative aspects of cricket in the country. Not only did he hit his first T20 half-century and keep the Khulna Royal Bengals in the hunt during a big chase, it rescued the tournament's image. Mushfiqur Rahim too deserves plaudits for starting it all with a half-century in the afternoon game on the same day, but the national captain has suddenly become a disliked figure at the cricket board for his bold yet true statements.
Apart from Shakib, the other positive aspect of the tournament was the left-arm spinners' abilities in keeping the batsmen quiet. Elias Sunny led the pack with 17 wickets but the control and subtle variation shown by the likes of Enamul Haque Jr, Arafat Sunny and Saqlain Sajib were great to watch. Though Abdur Razzak and Sohrawardi Shuvo remained in the periphery among the performers, it is now certain that there are more left-arm spinners who are of equal, if not better, quality.
But that was all the local cricketers could offer as it remained a tournament where the Pakistani players ruled with bat and ball. It was hardly a surprise that the franchises packed their squads with cricketers from Pakistan. The likes of Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed and Kamran Akmal were motivated to prove their worth to the selectors back. Senior pros like Azhar Mahmood, Imran Nazir and Mohammad Sami simply turned back the clock; Sami picked up the only hattrick of the competition while Nazir and Mahmood were vital in the Gladiators becoming the champions.
Despite all their crowding of the batting and bowling charts, none of these in-form Pakistani cricketers could topple Chris Gayle's batting average, the number of sixes he hit, the number of centuries he scored or his highest score. That speaks of how important (or Bradman-esque) Gayle has been for the BPL, not just the Barisal Burners.
But all of Gayle's efforts couldn't quite bring in the crowds. In fact, it was the semifinals day and the evening of the final when they really packed the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium. For the most part of the tournament however, matches were played in front of half-empty stadiums in Dhaka and Chittagong. The next edition could see Sylhet hosting a few games but venues like Rajshahi, Barisal, Jessore and Bogra are apparently losing out due to logistical issues (if the BCB are to be believed).
Finally, how could one forget the epidemic of the tournament -- the dropped catches. Commentator Arun Lal claimed that the Mirpur venue was poor for catching in the evening but can he explain how, in the past six years, catches were taken in day-night games and some of them brilliant ones? A proper excuse is exhaustion as every team had to play a minimum of ten games in less than three weeks.
If the BCB doesn't keep in mind the things that have dogged the tournament and rectify them through proper planning, the country's cricket would encounter a lot more pollution than it can handle.