Comilla Victorians turning BPL into a ‘one-team league’

Comilla Victorians, the champions of the ninth edition of the Bangladesh Premier LeagueComilla Victorians Facebook page

‘One-team league’ is a phrase fans of European club football are well aware of. It’s an expression used to describe leagues where only one team usually comes out on top.

Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain are currently ‘accused’ of turning the German Bundesliga and the French League One into one-sided leagues.

Bayern haven’t lost a league title since the 2011-12 season and PSG have won eight out of the last 10 leagues.

English club Manchester City is also often included in that bracket, as they have won four out of the last five English Premier Leagues.

There are no such parallels in franchise cricket as of yet. However, after the final of the ninth Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) on Thursday night, one could make the argument that reigning BPL champions Comilla Victorians can be compared with those European behemoths in terms of domination in the local league.

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In the final of BPL 2023, Comilla defeated Sylhet Strikers by seven wickets in a match that was much more intense than the winning margin suggests.

Johnson Charles scored an unbeaten 79 off 52 balls after Liton Das hit another classy half-century to take Comilla to their 176-run target with four balls to spare.

Johnson Charles after hitting the winning runs
Shamsul Hoque

With the win, Comilla successfully defended their BPL title and also extended the gulf between them and other teams.

This was Comilla’s fourth championship win, two more than second best Dhaka Gladiators, who won the first two editions of the tournament before going defunct for their involvement in a spot fixing row.

Three other franchises– Dhaka Dynamites, Rangpur Riders, Rajshahi Kings– have won the title one time each.

Rajshahi Kings won the BPL in 2020
Prothom Alo

Out of them, the Dynamites and the Kings are no longer part of the tournament. In the current league, Rangpur Riders is the only franchise other than Comilla that has tasted championship success.

On paper, Comilla have won four out of nine BPL editions. But Comilla have actually taken part in only six seasons, making their win tally even more impressive.

The Victorians joined the BPL in the third edition in late 2015 and won the title in their maiden campaign under the leadership of Mashrafe Bin Mortaza.

The fourth edition was Comilla’s worst result in the competition’s history, where they failed to make it to the knockout stage.

After the failure in BPL 4, Comilla took the bold decision of letting go of Mashrafe and instead made Tamim Iqbal their captain.

This time, Comilla were eliminated from the playoffs.

In the following season, Comilla had initially named Australia’s Steve Smith as their captain. But after the Aussie batter got injured and left Bangladesh a few games into the league, Comilla named Imrul Kayes their skipper.

Comilla blossomed with Imrul as captain and won their second title.

The next season, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) didn’t renew the contracts of past franchises after a dispute with the owners and took control of all teams to stage a special edition of the tournament named, Bangabandhu BPL T20.

Comilla Victorians didn’t take part in the league and in their place Cumilla Warriors represented the region. The Warriors couldn’t make it past the group-stage.

In the eighth edition, the Victorians returned and once again ascended to the top of BPL.

In the 2023 season, Comilla started their title defence with three consecutive defeats, after which they won 11 games on the trot to win the title once again.

Johnson Charles, Sunil Narine, Andre Russsell and Chadwick Walton- the four Caribbean players of Comilla Victorians

So, if one takes out the seventh season where Comilla didn’t take part, Comilla actually won their third consecutive BPL title on Thursday.

But it would be a disservice to Comilla if one just talks about their championship titles. In a league where franchises appear and disappear at a frantic rate, Comilla have remained a shining example of how a franchise should function.

“I had signed players in October, which many franchises wouldn’t even think of doing. We make long-term plans and have a strong network. Today (Thursday), I spoke with two cricketers for the next season,” Nafisa Kamal, the chairperson of the Victorians said after the final.

Comilla VIctorians chairperson Nafisa Kamal celebrates with the BPL trophy
Shamsul Hoque
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Long-term planning, a local coaching set-up, having a strong network to sign quality overseas players, having a social media followership of almost two million and carefully developing a brand value, these are all the things the Victorians have been doing successfully for years and are reaping the rewards.

With three titles in their last three appearances, Victorians are well on their way to turning BPL into a one-team league, which is never a good thing.

For a league to become interesting, it needs to have a number of title-contenders. As the number of formidable teams increase, so does the enjoyment of the fans.

To make BPL a more interesting tournament, other franchises need to level up and try to match Comilla. Before that happens, it’s likely that BPL will remain a league dominated by the Victorians.