Is BPL drawing its final breath?
Every passing season, the size of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) is shrinking. The gloss of a franchise league is no longer there. Even Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) officials are also no longer vocal about BPL that doesn’t have star power like before.
One of the BCB officials who earlier used to make tall claims about BPL being the world’s second best franchise tournament after the Indian Premier League (IPL), on Monday with a defeated tone said, “I said that back then, I’m not saying anything like that now!”
In world cricket, franchise leagues are like a product and BCB has fallen behind in marketing their product, BPL, to the world. SA20 will raise its curtain in South Africa on Tuesday, on 13 January, International League Twenty20 (ILT20) will begin in Dubai.
Naturally, big names in cricket have chosen those cash-rich tournaments over BPL. So, there is no other choice but to accept that Comilla Victorians’ English batter Dawid Malan as the biggest star in BPL this year.
After Monday’s match between Sylhet Strikers and Comilla Victorians, it seemed that there is a bigger star in this year’s BPL then Malan, someone who is not even taking part in this tournament as a cricketer!
Legendary former fast bowler from the Caribbean islands, Curtly Ambrose, landed in Dhaka on Sunday to work as a commentator in BPL. On Monday, just as Ambrose stepped onto the field after the first match to analyse the game, photo journalists, television crew and reporters surrounded him, which gave a feeling that BPL has at least more than one star.
BPL, a tournament formatted like IPL, was the brainchild of the former BCB president and the current finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal. The main intention behind the tournament, which kick-started in 2012, was to improve the performances of local cricketers in T20. They would get to share the dressingroom with big names, enrich their T20 knowledge and learn a lot about the game– that was the hope.
The hopes of making bank was also there. But BCB has always said that their biggest motivation behind organizing BPL is to improve the standard of local cricketers in T20s, not to swell their coffers.
Whether money making was the primary goal or secondary– from the very start BPL hasn’t brought any significant riches to BCB owing to its faulty and over-ambitious financial structure. Moreover, BCB has had to pay the salaries of players themselves and pay the price for roping in franchises which are riddled with problems.
BCB, later, was forced to curtail the financial structure, reduce players’ salaries and franchise fees.
BPL has perhaps succeeded in imprinting the T20 format in the psyche of local cricketers, it has also opened up a path for young cricketers to make a name for themselves. But as its by-product, Bangladesh cricket has had to bear the brunt of mismanagement, spot-fixing and other such big-scale controversies.
All this has earned BPL derogatory abbreviations like ‘Due (Bokeya) Premier League’ and ‘Controversy (Bitorko) Premier League’ among a few.
These abbreviations were given by the naysayers. But now, if even a BCB official says in a casual setting that BPL stands for ‘Bangladesh Pain League’, it would be hardly surprising.
BCB also seemingly doesn’t have any high hopes on BPL anymore. Actually, they are exhausted by the problems accompanying the tournament. Just the topic of DRS has caused them so much distress!
Although the machineries and devices of DRS technology are currently inside the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium, this technology is not in operation in the tournament. The reason, according to the BCB, is that they couldn’t find any expert to operate the technology. All technicians have already been ‘booked’ by SA20 and ILT20.
Question remains whether this explanation is even believable. Why didn’t Real Impact, the production company BCB signed an agreement with for the BPL, rope in a hawk-eye expert for the tournament?
It’s true that even with the help of DRS technology, umpires sometimes make controversial decisions. But that’s where DRS comes in, as it helps reduce the risk of wrong and controversial decisions as much as possible.
Even the bilateral series between Zimbabwe and Ireland, which is set to begin on 12 January, is expected to have the DRS technology available. So, for a tournament like BPL, where cricketers from various countries are taking part, not having DRS technology available is guaranteed to create controversy.
BCB knew it all, but still chose not to ensure DRS from the start of the tournament. A big reason behind this decision could’ve been to curb the cost. It costs $8-8.5 thousand per match for hawk-eye technology. To have DRS available in every match would’ve cost BCB nearly $400,000.
Maybe, BCB felt spending so much for a tournament that is slowly becoming ‘low profile’, was excessive. But the question is, as they are not spending for the technology, they should’ve at least cut that sum from the money they paid the production company.
BCB could hand over BPL to some other company to breathe new life into the tournament. A number of Indian organisations have apparently offered huge sums of money to buy the organising rights of BPL. Two companies from Dubai have also showed interest to buy franchises.
But BCB doesn’t want to go down that path right now, and is determined not to do so in the future too. BPL is Bangladesh’s tournament, and they want to keep it as such. And solving this problem could cause fresh trouble for them.
Many franchise T20 tournaments around the world are caught in the web of betting. BCB fears that BPL could also get caught in that web.
However, has BCB managed to save themselves by keeping the tournament their own?
In accordance with the country’s law, BCB has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for betting and anything related with betting. This is clearly stated in the financial agreements.
However, in the local and overseas broadcast of the tournament, advertisements of betting related organisations are being shown. Moreover, advertisements of those organisinations are being added virtually on the advertising mats.
These organisations are not directly involved in betting but they are related with betting websites. Just a few months back, Shakib Al Hasan was forced to cut ties with Betwinner news, which wasn’t a betting site but was owned by a betting site. But now, that same organisation is showing advertisements in BPL, BCB’s own product.
In countries where betting is legal, betting organisations a lot of the times sponsor cricket tournaments. In Bangladesh betting is illegal, hence they can’t become sponsors. But they are making their way inside BPL using various loopholes.
Now the question is, how long will BCB be able to save BPL from this web of betting sites? Or will the tournament which is losing against US Dollars and Dirhams will breathe its last breath and disappear forever!
Because of such fears, an influential official of the BCB had said grudgingly– Why don’t we shut down BPL!
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy