Bangladesh's T20 conundrum | The Daily Star

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12:00 AM, February 23, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:34 PM, February 24, 2018


Bangladesh's T20 conundrum

"Just look at his pace.”

That's a BPL team official describing a young fast bowler from Pakistan he picked for last year's tournament. The pace bowler didn't turn up because of clearance issues, which meant that the team owner would have to wait longer before seeing him in the flesh. The official had actually only seen him on YouTube.

But he isn't the only one. Many other BPL team owners, in fact several other T20 team owners from across the world, rely on television coverage and YouTube clips if they want to look at a player. It is the way of the world that we live in, although richer IPL team owners send their scouts and analysts to tournaments in Bangladesh, Australia, England and the West Indies to find talents.

Bangladesh though doesn't offer much in terms of T20 experts. Shakib Al Hasan is one of the format's highest wicket-takers but he hasn't really made much of a splash as a batsman despite his experience in T20s. Tamim Iqbal has played a lot of T20s too but can't be called a specialist. Mustafizur Rahman has had one really good IPL season while Mahmudullah Riyad and Mushfiqur Rahim have played in one or two foreign franchise-based leagues.

But Bangladesh doesn't have anyone close to a Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo or Kieron Pollard, big-hitters who evolved themselves into a T20 monster. West Indians like Sunil Narine, Dwayne Smith and Samuel Badree, to name a few, have also re-engineered their skills to suit T20s, and have become the most sought-after players in the business.

Bangladesh also can't have someone like David Warner who started from T20s and made his way up to the Test team, nor can they have someone like Chris Lynn who is now fully focused on the shorter formats because of his explosive talent.

The closest Bangladesh have come to finding T20 talent is players like Nazmul Hossain Milon and Ziaur Rahman who have talent for hitting sixes, but are constantly ridiculed by coaches and officials for throwing their wickets away. In fact, if a Bangladeshi batsman hits a six and defends the next ball, there is a lot of appreciation.

Which is why the aforementioned BPL team official has to look at YouTube to find talented players; there are not enough T20 talents in Bangladesh. And for it to change, administrators must open their mind or be left behind.

Although Twenty20 originated in England, short-format amateur cricket in Bangladesh and other parts of the sub-continent was always 20 overs per innings. These tournaments were played with a taped-tennis ball, but when the cricket-ball version was commercialised by the England Cricket Board, it became an instant sensation.

But it needed a bigger market, which duly arrived in 2008 when the BCCI launched the Indian Premier League. The first innings of the competition saw Brendan McCullum blaze away 13 sixes and 10 fours as he made 158. It didn't take too long to catch on. Tournaments had already sprung up in countries like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and now the others joined in.

The BCB had a couple of T20 tournaments in 2006 and 2010 but it went big in 2012 by launching the BPL, modeled after the IPL. With the existing big-hitting talent in the country, it was always going to be a challenge to make for attractive viewing so the owners and organisers decided that five foreign players should be allowed. Initially it attracted some great talent and experienced cricketers but by the second season, it was rocked by match-fixing scandals.

The BCB had to skip holding the tournament in 2014 in order to clear the mess which left many suspended, including Mohammad Ashraful, a former Bangladesh captain, who was disgraced for his involvement in corruption. 

The resumption in 2015 saw the involvement of some political leaders in franchise ownership but the quality of cricket, which depended much on the pitches in Mirpur and Chittagong, didn't live up to the billing. Surfaces tired of constant use only produced low-scoring matches, which may have pleased some journalists due to early finishes (certainly yours truly), but the crowd were left short-changed.

Perhaps the 2017 BPL had the most number of experienced and talented cricketers ever in the tournament's history. Rangpur Riders, the eventual champions, Dhaka Dynamites, Comilla Victorians and Khulna Titans formed great teams, which made for some solid bits of cricket in between all the gimmicks that organisers, broadcasters and marketers pepper the T20 tournament with.

Even teams which didn't make it to the 2017 playoffs—Rajshahi Kings, Chittagong Vikings and Sylhet Sixers—spent a decent amount of money to form teams. But they fell short of the top four, who literally broke the bank to form some of the best teams that the world of domestic franchise-based T20 teams has ever seen.

In the current market, Australia's Big Bash League is probably topping the list of T20 tournaments if the quality of cricket is given first priority. The IPL is certainly at the top of the pile of T20 tournaments, by a long way, in terms of the money it offers to players, the quality of players it attracts and the overall global appeal.

The BPL is high on money but not much on local talent, and it is getting hard competition from the Pakistan Super League, England's NatWest t20 Blast and the Caribbean Premier League. With countries like Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong also coming up with their own T20 tournaments, the onus is on South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe to revive their own competitions.

Zimbabwe started off with a four-team tournament while South Africa have been planning a franchise-based competition of their own but hasn't been able to launch it. Sri Lanka had the SLPL some years ago, which failed miserably, and now they are trying out the Lanka Premier League, possibly from this year.

While the LPL is likely to clash with the English and West Indies leagues, it will certainly open up opportunities for Bangladeshi cricketers who are likely to be free during that time of the year. But while the likes of Shakib, Tamim, Mushfiqur, Riyad and Mustafizur are certain to get teams in yet another foreign league, it really doesn't take Bangladesh cricket forward in the broader sense.

Being better in Tests will give Bangladesh legitimacy in the game while progressing in ODIs will make them a stronger cricket nation. But unless they figure out how to play T20s properly, they will still feel left behind.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNCricinfo's Bangladesh Correspondent.

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