In the early 90s, even as Bangladesh was taking baby steps in cricket, a nondescript domestic tournament in Dhaka was attracting international stars. The clubs paid hefty sums that matched the salaries of big county clubs in England.
This was the Dhaka Premier Division now known as the Dhaka Premier League (DPL). Played between clubs based in the capital city, it was formed soon after the country’s liberation, and Abahani Krira Chakra and Mohammedan Sporting were the torchbearers of the league.
Run by local industrialists, these clubs took the lead in attracting foreign stars in an attempt to help local cricketers learn a thing or two. Players such as Kapil Dev, Arjuna Ranatunga, Ajay Jadeja and Neil Fairbrother among others played in the league. They were paid between $10000-15000 (Rs 6.8-10.3 lakh) per season that usually lasted 20 games.
The highest-paid Indian cricketer at that time was Raman Lamba, who passed away after being struck on the head during the league. Among the current lot, England’s Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan and Sri Lanka’s Chamara Kapugedera command up to $15000 (Rs 10.3 lakh) per match.
When the first set of foreign players trickled in, Bangladesh was an Associate member, had little infrastructure and interest, as football was more popular.
According to Mohammed Jalal Yunus, a senior functionary of the Bangladesh Cricket Board and former player of Abahani, it was the enthusiasm of the directors of these clubs that made the league work.
“The clubs, like then, are even now run by directors who hail from wealthy backgrounds. It is they who put in the money,” said Yunus. In terms of revenue, the clubs earn little, but the wealthy conveners ensure there is foreign interest. “The league has played a major role in developing cricket in the country,” said Mehrab Hossain, a former Bangladesh and Abahani cricketer.
“Playing with international players gave us the confidence that we lacked,” he said.
Abahani Krira Chakra, now known as Abahani Limited, remain an active member of the league. Their rivalry with Mohammedan Sporting is still a huge attraction. However, with the advent of the glitzier Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), the focus has shifted.
“Despite the stars coming in each year, the league is losing its charm. First, it was due to the international cricket calendar and now it is due to the BPL, said Yunus. The league does not have a window and is shuffled around depending on the availability of Bangladesh players, who now only have time away from international cricket during the BPL.
There is also the matter of cricket boards not permitting players to play in these leagues. The India and Pakistan boards have refused NOCs to players in the recent past, claimed Yunus.