At a time when England, the birthplace of the game, is talking about the circus show that will be 100-ball cricket and the stadia of India are decked out in colourful banners and cheerleaders looking out upon a dash of bat hitting ball, the unglamorous setting of Khulna showcased cricket in its essence -- a means by which interesting stories are told. And as far as story-telling goes, cricket's burgeoning newer formats cannot compete with the narrative scope offered by longer versions, and South Zone's title triumph in the Bangladesh Cricket League yesterday was the full stop in a compelling cricketing story.
The tale unfolded throughout a season that came to a climax in the sixth and final round when South needed to achieve their first win of the season, that too over defending champs North Zone who had a 13-point lead at the top of the table. They ended up taking 18 points while allowing North only two.
Only two of the 10 matches in the first five rounds had produced results and, ominously for South Zone, both were won by North Zone. Less than three days after the title-decider started at the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium however, it was South Zone skipper Abdur Razzak who held aloft a record third BCL trophy after the veteran bagged 11 wickets to author an innings-and-63-run win.
North may curse this wretched narrative as for five rounds they reigned supreme while South had to travel the country collecting bonus first-innings points to come within striking distance. But unlike their 50-over and 20-over counterparts, four-day matches do not allow luck to play a major role; in the end, quality rises to the top. While allowing the space for a good story, first-class cricket does not permit a slipping of standards when the opposition are first-rate. A five-ball 14 will not turn the match on its head -- instead it needs innings like Imrul Kayes's 107 off 165 balls and the 131-ball 65 from domestic colossus Tushar Imran on the second day to earn a slow and decisive advantage in the form of a 178-run first-innings lead.
Before that in the fifth round, it was first Mohammad Mithun's century in the first innings and then Mosaddek Hossain's ton in the second essay against Central Zone -- when the last day started with South facing possible defeat but ended with them getting the better of the draw -- that gave them the opportunity to do what they did yesterday.
A last-over hattrick under artificial floodlights will not have the same effect in the longer version. Instead, it was 20.3 overs bowled in the searing heat on the first day of the sixth round by Razzak during which he took five for 53 that sped North's demise to 187 all out and set the stage for Imrul and Tushar to further the story. After North started the last day on 32 without loss and needing to bat out two days, fittingly -- and it took a different kind of luck because it does not always pan out thus -- it was another 21.2 overs from Razzak that netted him six for 48, including the last wicket of Shafiul Islam that bundled North out for 115 and sealed South's triumph.
Meanwhile in Rajshahi, East Zone's Liton Das took advantage of the longer-version canvas to exhibit his rare talent with a sublime 274 against Central Zone. Therein lies another story, but a more important one ended yesterday.
The BCL, for once, showed what is right in Bangladesh domestic cricket. It was a vindication of the points system that allowed South's quality to shine through over the course of a first-class season and lend the perfect ending to the story. Above all, as the mind yearned for a vision of these non-televised matches, it was an anachronistic reminder that a cricketing story is not harmed by an absence of bright lights and fanfare when the format itself provides the scope for heroic deeds.
SCORES IN BRIEF
BCB NORTH ZONE V PRIME BANK SOUTH ZONE
North Zone: First innings 187 and second innings 115 all out (Mizanur 20, Junaid 16, Suhrawardi 41; Razzak 6-48, Sajib 3-34)
South Zone: First innings 365 for 8 decl.
Result: Prime Bank South Zone won by an innings and 63 runs.
WALTON CENTRAL ZONE V ISLAMI BANK EAST ZONE
Central Zone: First innings 546
East Zone: First innings 592 for 6 (Liton 274, Tasamul 67, Afif 142, Jaker 32 not out, Saifuddin 29 not out; Shuvagata 3-156, Sunny 2-135)