Even as the national Test team suffer heavy defeats at the centre of the public glare, away from the spotlight the engine room of Bangladesh's cricket keeps churning with cricketers playing for a living, for their passion and the dream of one day taking centrestage. The 20th National Cricket League ended yesterday with Rajshahi romping to their sixth triumph. Their story is a perfect example of cricketers taking responsibility for their own fates and uniting for a common cause. We delve into their season and also a few other highlights over the past month and a half.
Rajshahi Division were already within touching distance of a record-equalling sixth title after the third day of the sixth and final round of the 20th National Cricket League (NCL). Junaid Siddique's unbeaten hundred helped them score the remaining 102 runs yesterday to clinch the win in the Tier-1 match Barishal Division and with it a slice or history. Aptly, it all took place where it all started for Rajshahi -- their own Shaheed Kamruzzaman Stadium.
It was their second win in six games as Rajshahi finished the tournament as unbeaten champions. It is their first NCL title since the 2011-12 season and it is all the more special because it was won after playing in the second tier in just the previous season. Jahurul Islam's side are now equal with Khulna Division, who won the last three editions, as the most decorated longer-version sides in Bangladesh.
The title may have come within touching distance only a day earlier, but the seeds were planted more than a month before the league even started.
Known as the hub of producing top-class players, the dedication and willingness to work hard and the unity among the players of Rajshahi has always set them apart from the other divisions.
That is what proved to be the difference this time too as the Rajshahi players got together and raised funds to practise a month and a half before the tournament even started. Normally, official practice begins two to three weeks before the first round.
“Actually, for the past three years all the players of Rajshahi Division have started training together a month and a half or two months before the start of the season,” Rajshahi's captain Jahurul describe the reason behind the success to The Daily Star yesterday. "Wherever the players are, we try to get together and practise and we follow a tight schedule with trainers and coaches, which I think is even harder than the national team training schedule.
“The players also raise monthly funds to pay for the training facilities. Top players contribute more while there are some who are unable to contribute, so we try to work as a family and that has helped us to be more united.”
That unity was the integral component during a season of collective performances from a team with a mixture of youth and experience.
“For example, Forhad Reza has been playing a very crucial role for us for a long time and you may not notice him but at the end of the season he stands out as one of the top wicket-takers and run-getters.
“Junaid, Mizanur Rahman, Sunzamul Islam, Taijul Islam and myself, we all tried to lead from the front through our collective performances along with the youngsters. We look for young prospects in the nets and call them to practise with us. For instance, we have a young pacer called Shafiqul Islam who used to bowl in our nets and eventually he played for Rajshahi. Mohor Sheikh is the other bright prospect who picked up eleven wickets in two games. It is a very healthy process which is helping Rajshahi to become a better side.”