The biggest Twenty20 franchise league in Bangladesh –Bangladesh Premier League– is about to begin its ninth edition on 6 January 2023.
With just three days to go before the country’s most cash-rich cricket tournament, the excitement should’ve been palpable.
But the reality is quite different.
BPL, despite having the advantage of taking place at a cricket crazy country like Bangladesh, hasn’t risen to the popularity it should've.
Most cricket fans in Bangladesh would have to scratch their heads to remember how many teams are competing in the upcoming edition, and would have to resort to a Google search if they are asked the names of the seven franchises.
There is hardly any buzz surrounding the tournament, which the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) is now holding almost out of compulsion.
Failure to garner a strong supporter base even after eight editions is a colossal failure for BPL and the reason behind that are many.
No regularity of franchise
The seven teams that will compete in the 2023 edition of BPL are– Dhaka Dominators, Chattogram Challengers, Comilla Victorians, Fortune Barishal, Khulna Tigers, Sylhet Strikers and Rangpur Riders.
In last year’s edition, the Dhaka and Sylhet teams were called Minister Dhaka and Sylhet Sunrisers respectively.
Rangpur Riders, who had won the fifth edition of the tournament, weren’t a part of last year’s tournament, which had six teams in it. The Riders are returning to the tournament this year after being absent in the last two editions.
The franchise representing Chattogram has changed names thrice. In the first two editions, they were known as Chittagong Kings. For the next four editions they were called Chittagong Vikings. In the 2019 edition, its current iteration, Chattogram Challengers, began its journey.
Fortune Barishal took part in BPL for the first time last year and Khulna Tigers has been competing since 2019.
Defending champions Comilla Victorians, the most successful team in BPL history with three title wins, was formed in the third season of the league.
After appearing in four straight seasons, the Victorians also disappeared in the seventh edition before reappearing in the eighth season last year, which they won.
Forget that fans, the constant changes in franchise ownership, name and the number of competing teams is difficult for even journalists to keep track of!
How can fans get behind a tournament, if they don’t even know the names of teams in action!
The diminishing quality of overseas players
Chris Gayle, Kumar Sangakkara, AB de Villiers, Lasith Malinga, Shahid Afridi, Kieron Pollard, David Warner, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis, Sunil Narine are few of the global cricketing superstar that have competed in the BPL over the years.
Players from top international sides have plied their trade in the tournament, drawing more eyeballs and boosting the star power of the tournament.
In comparison, the list of international players set to compete in this year’s BPL looks quite pale.
Majority of the overseas players are from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, many of whom are not even regulars at their respective national teams.
The reason behind this fall in quality is the emergence of the new franchise tournament, South Africa 20 (SA20).
SA20 will begin its inaugural edition on 10 January. This new tournament will dwarf BPL in terms of financial backing, as five of the six teams of the league are owned by franchise owners of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
So, most of the global T20 superstars skipped BPL for SA20 with the hopes of a bigger payday.
No home-away matches
One of the biggest eye-soar while watching a BPL match on television is the half-empty galleries at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium for most of the games.
The gallery fills up considerably whenever the home team Dhaka is in action, but at other times the teams play in front of a mostly empty gallery.
BCB still hasn’t been able to take BPL to the people across the country. Majority of the matches take place at the SBNS while some are played at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chattogram.
In some editions, some matches have also been played in Sylhet and Khulna, but no season of the BPL has taken place in more than three venues.
The forthcoming edition will be no different as it will take place in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.
The cricket board uses the lack of funds and the difficulty of broadcasting matches on the same day from different venues as the chief reasons behind this shortcoming.
But after eight editions, keeping the tournament confined to just two or three venues is inexcusable. This failure has denied people from other parts of the country, who don’t get to see top quality cricket at their doorsteps, a chance to cheer for their home teams.
Taking BPL to other parts of the country, playing the group-stage matches on home-away basis, will definitely add colour to the tournament and increase its popularity.
But so far, BCB looks content holding the tournament in no more than three venues.
Loss of momentum
BPL began its journey in 2012. The first two seasons were plagued by a match-fixing scandal. After that, the tournament was reborn from the third edition in 2015.
From the third to the sixth season, BPL as a tournament grew in stature. The number of international superstars kept increasing, the teams kept getting stronger and the tournament overall became more competitive.
But four years of progress came to a screeching halt in the seventh edition.
The contracts of all BPL franchises had ended and it was time for them to renew their agreement with BCB.
With the tournament gradually getting bigger in scale, the franchises demanded a few change in the terms of their contracts, which BCB didn’t agree to.
Both parties butted heads and eventually, BCB decided not to renew the contracts of the franchises. Instead, they took control over all of the franchises and held a special edition of the tournament titled, “Bangabandhu BPL 2019-20”.
This decision of the BCB killed the momentum BPL had created in the past four years. After the lacklustre seventh season, the 2020 edition had to be scrapped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2021, BPL resumed and some of the old franchises returned. But the tournament couldn’t rekindle the lost momentum.
BCB discarded the franchise system at a time when the teams were finally starting to create a loyal fan base, something absolutely crucial for any league.
Now, BPL has to start from scratch, at a time when more franchises with a bigger purse then BPL are popping up almost every year.
If nothing changes, BPL is headed towards becoming just another domestic tournament in Bangladesh.
But does anyone care?
By the looks of it, not really.