Packed stands in Sylhet and the crying need of separate home venues in BPL

The packed stands at the Sylhet International Cricket Stadium during the BPL9 match between Sylhet Strikers and Rangpur Riders on 27 January, 2023Prothom Alo

Jam-packed stands, deafening noise, palpable excitement and passionate home town support, all are common features in franchise cricket leagues in most parts of the world, but were missing in the ninth edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) during the Dhaka and Chattogram phase.

This void got filled on 27 January when the Sylhet phase of the ninth edition of the BPL kicked off.

Thousands of fans flocked to the Sylhet International Cricket Stadium to cheer for their team Sylhet Strikers. And why wouldn’t they, as after years of disappointment, finally they have a team that could potentially go all the way and bring the region its maiden BPL title.

A motorcycle rally of Sylhet Strikers supporters in Sylhet

Sylhet has been ruling the roost for majority of BPL 9, currently sitting pretty at the No.1 position in the seven-team group phase with seven wins in nine games.

Under former Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s leadership, Sylhet has already booked a place at the knockout stage.

The chockablock stands at the SICS don’t just prove Sylhet Striker’s popularity in the region. It also points at a blatantly obvious fact that the BPL organisers– Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB)– haven’t gotten their heads around for nine seasons.

To increase BPL’s popularity in the country, the tournament needs to have home and away matches. Each team needs to have a home venue, where they would play half of their group phase games and they will tour to other team’s venues to play the remaining games.

This would undoubtedly create a loyal fan group from every franchise, which has been mostly missing in the tournament.

But for that to happen, the BCB first needs to look beyond Dhaka and Chattogram.

The ‘homeless’ BPL franchises

This year’s BPL is taking place in three cities– Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.

The Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka is hosting 26 games this season, more than half of the scheduled] 46 matches.

The Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium is in second place in terms hosting games as it has been allotted 12 matches this year.

The SICS in Sylhet is getting to host the remaining eight games in four match days.

Comilla Victorians, the most successful team in BPL history, don't havea home ground
Comilla Victorians Facebook page

The Chattogram phase has already ended and the brief Sylhet phase is also at the midway point, after which the action will return to Dhaka where the tournament will run till its culmination on 16 February.

According to this schedule, only three franchises– Dhaka Dominators, Chattogram Challengers and Sylhet Strikers– will get to play matches in front of their home crowd.

The remaining four teams don’t have a home venue, a problem which can be rectified.

The forgotten stadiums

Whenever an international team tours Bangladesh, the series usually begins in Dhaka, has a small detour to Chattogram before finishing in Dhaka.

Sometimes Chattogram gets swapped by Sylhet, but more often than not Dhaka and Chattogram are the venues.

This tendency leaves the rest of the country starving for top tier cricket at their doorsteps. It also gives an impression that there are no international cricket venues in Bangladesh other than SBNS and ZACS, which is untrue.

Arguably, the country’s most picturesque cricket ground is the SICS at Sylhet. Before SICS, however, that title belonged to the Shaheed Chandu Stadium in Bogura. The lush green outfield of the Bogura stadium was a sight to behold.

A file photo from 3 November, 2014 shows Bangladeshi cricketer Tamim Iqbal batting during a Test match at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Khulna

However, the venue hasn’t hosted any international cricket since December 2006. It regularly hosts first-class cricket and other domestic leagues, but never the BPL.

There is also the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium in Khulna, which is an international venue, though it hasn’t hosted an international game in the last six years.

This stadium hosted eight BPL matches way back in 2013 during the tournament’s second season. However, the venue has remained overlooked for the next seven editions.

The Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah, which has now turned into an abandoned swamp due to neglect, is another international venue which could’ve been a makeshift home venue for a BPL franchise.

A file photo from 11 June, 2015 shows the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Narayanganj, Bangladesh

There are also some new venues that could become BPL venues.

There is the Sheikh Kamal International Cricket Stadium in Cox’s Bazar, which has hosted several Women’s One-Day Internationals and Twenty20s, and also age-level cricket. But it is yet to host a BPL game.

Shahid Abdur Rab Serniabat Stadium in Barishal is one of the oldest stadiums in the country, but has never hosted any sort of international cricket.

The venue is being currently modernised and the renovation process is expected to be completed by this year, opening up another home venue option for BPL.

Ball is in BCB's court

Out of the current seven franchises in the BPL, Khulna Tigers, Comilla Victorians, Rangpur Riders and Fortune Barishal are without a home venue.

There is already an international venue in Khulna, Comilla could adopt the stadium at Cox’s Bazar as its home venue, Barishal could move to the renovated Serniabat stadium which leaves Rangpur, who could choose Fatullah or the Bogura stadium as their home.

However, this mixing and matching of franchises and venues is pointless until BCB decides to open its coffers to bear the increased production cost.

As per BCB’s own past statements, the board is not short on funds. Cricket is also popular throughout the country. People outside of Dhaka and Chattogram are starved for top quality cricketing action and are sure to flock to the venue to support their team, just like the people in Sylhet are doing right now.

But for all that to happen, the BCB needs to take a bet on BPL. Which, at the moment, seems unlikely.