Will the real custodians please stand up
Over the last two days, two press conferences took place at Bangladesh cricket's headquarters in Mirpur: the first a 15-minute affair on Monday and the second yesterday stretching to nearly an hour and 40 minutes. The first, with a coherent message and delivery from the country's top cricketers demanding improvement of the fortunes of domestic cricketers at large, went to the heart of the problems facing Bangladesh cricket. The second, delivered mostly by Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) President Nazmul Hassan yesterday, was an exercise in shifting blame on the cricketers, attacking the messengers while ignoring the message and propagating conspiracy theories.
In their conventional roles, players issuing an ultimatum would be seen as fomenting revolution and a cricket board should ideally be the ones proposing and implementing reforms. After Hassan's press conference, it appeared the roles were reversed and the board was revolting against demands that a board member had called 'logical' the previous day.
The likes of Junaid Siddique, Mahmudullah Riyad, Naeem Islam, Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim put forward an 11-point demand to improve the lot of players and also the overall structure of the sport in the country. Importantly, the demands were made without vitriol or targeted attacks, which was in stark contrast to Hassan's utterances. Apart from demands for salary and allowance increases across the board, there were such cricketing aspects as improving the quality of balls used in first-class cricket so that players would not be caught unawares when they make the step up. Mention was made of the pipeline of cricketers and the need to halt the plague of match-fixing in the lower divisions.
All of the demands, as BCB media committee chairman Jalal Yunus agreed on Monday, were logical. Most of the demands seemed to be for the development of domestic cricket made in a unified voice by international stars and domestic journeymen alike.
Yet Hassan, charged with improving cricket at all levels, repeatedly narrowed the focus to the national team yesterday.
"Tk 24 crore was given as bonus to 15 players of the national team," Hassan said at the start of a half-hour monologue yesterday. "I can't believe that they would stop playing just because of money."
While most were commending the cricketers' demands to improve the financial situations of umpires and groundsmen, Hassan seemed to mock the sentiment.
"What do they have to do with the staff?" he asked. "Anyway, their salaries have been increased. You can understand why they bring it up… it's part of the conspiracy."
He went about trying to dismantle the demands and all roads seemed to lead to a conspiracy he claimed that 'you all know', which drew puzzled looks from journalists. He insisted that they had increased salaries of first-class cricketers (not by the amount the players had demanded), umpires and groundsmen and that cameras were being installed in the Dhaka Premier League as well as lower leagues to stop match-fixing.
"Now that we are taking the measures, why are they making these demands? When nothing was being done, there were no demands. There is something suspicious here," Hassan argued, and went on to further the conspiracy narrative. "You all know that there is a conspiracy to destabilise Bangladesh cricket, and there have also been efforts to go to the ICC so that Bangladesh are suspended like Zimbabwe."
While saying that most of the cricketers were not part of the conspiracy, he thought it possible that one or two were and said that he was determined to find out who they were. "Everything will come out," Hassan promised.
He was fuming about the players not coming to the BCB before presenting their demands to the media. "We have complied with, or are working on implementing most of the demands. We are open if they come and talk to us," said Hassan. "They knew that if they came to us with the demands, we would have agreed, but they then would have to play. I think it is part of the conspiracy."
Even as he tried to create an impression of the board taking action to implement the demands, a deeper look raised doubts about the efficacy of the measures. One of the demands was for a reversion to the traditional players' draft in the Dhaka Premier League, which gave cricketers greater say and earning opportunities. However, even though Hassan had promised 2013 would be the only season when the DPL would employ a player-by-choice system, the traditional players' draft is yet to be readopted. When asked about that, Hassan deflected by saying that he had instructed one of the directors to take care of that.
He touted the fact that cameras had just been installed at the grounds to stop corruption in the lower divisions, but that malaise has persisted in the lower leagues from the start of his administration seven years ago. The greater shortcoming surely was that the third division league that began yesterday employed four of the umpires who are mired in controversy.
BCB's inaction or action that is too little too late is at the root of the players' boycott. Meanwhile, the board president who is expected to rise above the fray and use his position to solve conflicts, seems hell bent on creating further divisions through conspiracy theories. In such confusing times, one has to wonder who the custodians of Bangladesh cricket truly are.