Foreign players don’t get paid any less in BPL: Comilla coach Salahuddin

Comilla Victorians coach Mohammad Salahuddin and chairperson Nafisa Kamal with the BPL trophyProthom Alo

Coach Mohammad Salahuddin took Comilla Victorians to its fourth BPL title on Thursday. While soaking up the joy of victory, he received another great news– his son got a four-wicket haul in his first-division debut. For Salahuddin, life at the moment really does feel like a bed of roses. On a spring evening, the Comilla Victorians coach gave Prothom Alo an interview at the team hotel in Banani–

Q :

In every edition of BPL, there is always some controversy. All in all, how do you rate this year’s tournament?

Once the matches start, it all seems fine to me. But I feel there is a lot the BCB can do to improve the tournament. If they pay a bit more attention, many small issues can be solved. DRS is one of those issues. Increasing the number of venues in the BPL is also very important. If there is a home and away system in place, the tournament would get much bigger, people’s involvement will increase. Just look at how many people came to watch the final! There is craze for BPL among the masses, the fans want to see the matches. In a country where everyone’s main source of entertainment is this one sport, there is no reason why one can’t do business with cricket in that country.

Comilla Victorians won their fourth BPL title on 16 February, 2023

Q :

Is it just the BCB’s responsibility or do you think that the franchises also need to play their part?

Look, the franchises have already been doing a lot without making any profit. They are spending a lot of money, there is no denying that. Just look at Sylhet Strikers. There is a reason why they have done well in their maiden season. They have rallied together all of Sylhet behind their franchise. They have spent a lot even outside of cricket. For example, we are the Comilla team. We always want the people of Comilla to be happy with the Comilla Victorians. Comilla has an academy, I’ve heard Sylhet will also open one. Rangpur have their own ground. The franchises that want to stay permanently, are the ones who will do these things. We are now feeling it would be better if we had our own venue for practice. Actually, when the tournament will have a good structure and have six or seven teams that take part regularly, then even I would want to search for talented cricketers from the grassroots and include a couple of them in the squad every year. I would do this out of obligation. When franchises know for sure that they will take part in the tournament next year or they are making a profit from the BPL, they would do these things themselves. Marquee overseas players want to play in Bangladesh. They enjoy playing in front of local crowds. In many countries they don’t get such crowds. Just look at the Dubai league (ILT20), the entire stadium is empty! But when we speak with foreign players, they tell us there is no guarantee when your tournament will take place, it has no set date.

Q :

How have you merged the Comilla Victorians academy with the franchise? Do you keep the players from the academy with the team or do you do something else?

The academy in Comilla is doing really well. They have participated in many places and have won trophies. But I have told the academy players, just because you are playing in the academy, don’t think that you will play for Comilla in the BPL. If you have the capability, we will spot you and take you in the team. Many of the boys are playing first-class cricket. When they reach that level, we will give them the chance.

Mohammad Salahuddin
Prothom Alo

Q :

The number of foreign franchise leagues are increasing. The leagues in Dubai and South Africa have already put BPL under pressure. What should the BCB do to strengthen BPL’s position as a franchise tournament?

The first task would be to fix a time and date for the tournament. Because many overseas cricketers are unable to come to play just because they don’t know the date for certain. If they know that next year at this time the BPL will take place, they won’t sign for another tournament. The foreign players aren’t paid any less in the BPL. The tax rate in Bangladesh is also comparatively less. Many players don’t want to play at the Big Bash anymore, because over there they have to pay 40-45 per cent of their income in taxes. The players are left with hardly anything! In comparison, the tax rate here is quite less, 30 per cent. There are many other tournaments like that where the players don’t want to go anymore.

We can get these players if the BPL has a set schedule. Secondly, the BCB can sign an agreement with 20-25 foreign cricketers, guaranteeing that they will play at the BPL for the next three years, for whichever team. BCB will fix a base price for them. Even if they don’t get a team, they will get paid. Most probably, South Africa has done this (SA20). Actually, if they want to, they can establish BPL as a franchise league through proper planning. The Pakistani league pays less money than us. Still, players want to go there because they have a set structure.

Q :

Coming back to Comilla Victorians, Comilla won 11 matches consecutively after losing the first three to emerge champions. You almost turned the impossible into possible…

The position we were in, we had no other option but to win all the matches. Then, we had to play the rest of the tournament under that pressure. Another problem was that the teams that were at the bottom of the points-table were also not winning. If they had beaten one or two of the bigger teams, then you could stay in the title race even after losing four-five matches. Sylhet were winning, Barishal were winning; for us to catch up with them, they needed to lose against some team.

Comilla Victorians players and officials celebrate after winning their fourth title
Prothom Alo

Q :

How do you rate your team’s performance?

We always try to build a good squad. Our goal at first is to reach the qualifiers. This time we had an added headache that if we reach the qualifiers, we would need new overseas cricketers. The leagues in South Africa and Dubai were still going on. It was difficult to get the cricketers. That’s why we started our search much earlier.

We had almost everything fixed. We knew who will play in the group-stage, when the Pakistani players would come, when they would leave and who will come after them. We even had talks with eight players for the same match. If one of them wouldn’t agree to come, we would go to the next one and so on. The luck was also on our side in the draft. We got nearly everyone that we wanted. Even after we lost the first three games, our confidence was intact. We made some mistakes, which we were able to correct very soon.

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Q :

What were the mistakes and how did you solve them?

We were conceding more runs in the first six overs. Due to team combination, we had to keep Tanvir (Islam) out of the XI. It was a big mistake. Tanvir had served us very well in the last season. He would always get us wickets in the powerplay. After taking Tanvir in the side, that problem was solved.

I was also a bit wrong about Khushdil (Shah). I hadn’t seen him in person before. I had just seen his highlights on Youtube. After watching him bat at the Academy ground in Mirpur, I thought he is not someone who can bat at no.5-6, I should demote him down the order. But after watching him bat at the practice wickets in Chattogram, I realised my mistake. I later told Khushdil, my assessment of him was wrong. I also apologised to the team. From the Chattogram phase, Khushdil started playing really well.

Comilla VIctorians chairperson Nafisa Kamal hoists the BPL trophy
Shamsul Hoque

Q :

How did you inspire the players after losing the first three matches?

I don’t usually blame the players for losing. I take that blame upon myself. When you tell a player that it’s not your fault, it was mine; the next time that player will give his all for you. (Mohammad) Rizwan also played a big role. As he has been a captain before, he knows how to inspire a team. Rizwan was there when we had a talk with everyone. He told the boys, once his team Multan had lost five matches and then went onto become champions. When a big player like him takes the responsibility and tries for the betterment of the team, everyone feels more optimistic.

Q :

This time, every franchise has struggled with foreign players. But in Comilla’s case, the backup overseas players also did well. Some local cricketers also have done well unexpectedly…

You see, everyone can bring big players. But bringing the right player for the right position is the important thing. When we play in Dhaka, I always try to field a good bowling attack. Here, even if you score 150, you can win if you have a good bowling attack. You are always in with a chance. We had a good bowling attack. Also, we were very lucky to have the right players at the right slot. Like when Rizwan left, we were thinking who will play in his spot? At first, we didn’t open with Sunil Narine. But we knew that Sunil can play as the backup opener. Johnson Charles couldn’t play when Rizwan was here. He came in. After Moeen bhai (Moeen Ali) joined, the batting depth increased further. All things considered, the swapping of international cricketers went really smoothly for us. As for the local cricketers, I was shocked that no one called for Tanvir earlier in the draft. He did really well in the last season as well. Luckily, we got him. No one really noticed Mosaddek’s (Hossain) performance, but he also won us two matches with the bat. Everyone contributed in their own way. We tried to utilise them as the situation demanded. These small tactics worked out, that’s why we could use the local players as we wanted to. But we couldn’t use pacer Ashiq that well. He has good pace, and also has an attacking mindset. I hope that one day he will serve the Bangladesh team well.

Q :

Tanvir has been criticised for bowling a bit quicker although he is a spinner. But you gave him the freedom to bowl as he wished to…

The other spinners in the team, including Khushdil, also usually don’t give the ball a lot of flight. Now, if I tell him to give the ball some air, he won’t be able to do it. You can’t tell someone to do something that he doesn’t know how to do. The better alternative is him bowling at the right length and utilise his strength. It’s better to adopt this simple strategy. I told Tanvir the same and he found success in doing so. But to become a good spinner, he needs to learn how to do everything.

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Q :

In franchise cricket, coaches don’t get a lot of time to work with the cricketers. And like what you said about Khushdil, the coaches don’t even know a lot about all the players. Does it make the coach’s work more challenging?

It makes it really challenging. Take Andre Russell’s case for example. He didn’t bowl well in the Dubai League. So, the franchise thought after Naseem Shah’s departure, our bowling has become weaker. I told Nafisa (Kamal, chairperson, Comilla Victorians), first let me see Russell. If I feel I can get four overs out of Russell, we’ll not bring any more pacers. After seeing him the first day, I felt Russell will do well on our wickets. Similarly, when Nafisa told me that we have signed Khushdil, I told her that I wanted an all-rounder! Actually, I didn’t know that he bowls. Khushdil is sixth in PSL’s highest wicket-takers list.

Tanvir Islam in action for Comilla Victorians
Comilla Victorians Facebook page

Q :

Did you find any new T20 talent out of the local cricketers?

The wickets were good, the batsmen scored a lot of runs. But it wasn’t as challenging for them. In other BPLs, we had better bowlers. This time around, good bowlers didn’t come to BPL and those who did didn’t play many games. So, the batsmen didn’t face that great of a challenge. But it’s a good thing that the local players played well. They made good use of their opportunities.

Q :

Four wins in four finals. Everyone is heaping praises on you. Still, do you feel there is any scope for Comilla Victorians to do better as a franchise?

There is always room for improvement. It’s true that the franchise does not shy away from spending money. They will do everything needed for the betterment of the team. Till now, I’ve always gotten the players I’ve asked Nafisa for. This is needed to get good results. But I said before, there is room for improvement in things like training facilities. We can also include an emerging cricketer with the squad. This is something the BCB could do, telling every team that they must include an emerging player in their squad, which is happening in Pakistan as far as I know.

Q :

Final question, have you already started planning to win the fifth title?

I’ll say the same thing, we are still uncertain about some things. I’m hearing that next season, we will have the opportunity to hold onto our old players. But there is nothing in written till now. Then how can I begin planning? If I knew for sure, then only I could fix which of the previous players I would keep in the team and begin my planning accordingly. Now, I don’t know what will happen. We have held some preliminary talks with some overseas cricketers. But we can’t tell them for sure when the next year’s BPL will take place!

This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy