The long-delayed decentralisation of Bangladesh cricket is closer to reality. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) has announced plans to start running academies outside Dhaka by the middle of this year. The academies are part of an expansive board plan to form regional cricket associations; a model has always existed only in theory for the past 18 years, but has been included in the board’s constitution in 2012.
Finally, the BCB are taking important steps. Board president Nazmul Hassan’s timeline suggests that at least by next month, the board should have a working proposal on regional cricket bodies, upon which a pilot project will begin as a follow-up. Although it is not yet clear where the first National Cricket Academy branch will be set up, Hassan has mentioned Khulna and Rajshahi, the proven breeding grounds of Bangladesh’s top cricketers in the last two decades, as examples.
“We have been talking about regional cricket associations for a long time,” Hassan said. “The final proposal will be with us within two weeks after which we will approve it. I hope that all functions of the regional cricket associations can commence within a month.
“The final proposal hasn’t been made because they want to add regional academies. We want regional academies along with the regional cricket associations. If there are academies in Khulna and Rajshahi then the pressure will be less on Dhaka. Now all the pressure is on Dhaka. This way, we are hoping that there will be many new players emerging for those regions.”
Hassan’s announcement, while ambitious, is the hurry-up that the board has long needed. The major hitch over the past two decades has been the control Dhaka’s clubs have had over the BCB. Presently, the constitution itself is shaped to give Dhaka clubs more representation than the rest of the country.
Given the importance placed on Dhaka’s clubs, cricketers, coaches and officials keep waiting for direction, finance and resources from BCB HQ although a vast majority of cricketers are originally from outside the capital.
The plan to establish an academy as a precursor to the regional cricket bodies is seen as the best way for action outside Dhaka, since producing cricketers is considered the primary goal of every region, division and district in Bangladesh. Once the academy is set up, the process will be in place to move a branch of BCB’s other departments like the tournament and logistics committee.
Khulna and Rajshahi divisions have provided the greatest number of club-level, first-class and international cricketer for Bangladesh in the last two decades. Khulna and Rajshahi divisions have also won the first-class competition, the National Cricket League, a total of 11 times between them, out of the 19 editions.
Both regions see regular tournaments and training camps that provides young players a clear pathway from their hometown to the Dhaka leagues. But the picture is bleak in more economically prosperous areas like Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet divisions.
While Dhaka division as a whole still produces some cricketers of note, Chittagong and Sylhet have produced one international player each in the last eight years. Both these places, however, get international matches.
The other two divisions – Barisal and Rangpur – have long been considered cricketing hinterlands but as part of Rajshahi division up until 2010. Rangpur has provided some Test cricketers in the last five years while Barisal have produced a couple too. All these regions have structured age-group programmes under the BCB’s development department. It provides the model needed to bring other departments outside the BCB’s headquarters in Dhaka.
There has been a distinct lack of progress in bringing regional cricket associations since the idea was first introduced in 2000 by then board chief Saber Hossain Chowdhury.
Even after it was included in the constitution in 2012, there was only the occasional soundbyte: In September 2015, BCB director Mahbubul Anam said that by the end of that year there would be at least a pilot project of the regional cricket association. He said at the time that cricket in Bangladesh was run on the basis of the game’s popularly rather than a proper decentralised system.
The main difference between previous efforts and the current one is Hassan, possibly the most influential and powerful BCB president of all. If he sets out to lift this concept from the papers into an entity, it is most likely going to happen this time.