Dhaka will sorely miss their inspirational and inform captain Mohammad Ashraful when they take on Sylhet in the second round of the 9th National Cricket League at the Shaheed Chandu Stadium today.
Rajshahi face a resurgent Barisal side while Khulna open their home account as they host Chittagong at the Birshreshtha Shaheed Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman Stadium.
Ashraful, who scored a match-saving 84 in the opening home game against Khulna, left the capital yesterday afternoon to play in the Hong Kong Sixes along with six others -- Aftab Ahmed, Abdur Razzak, Dollar Mahmud, Mahmudullah Riyad, Nazmul Hossain Milon and Zunaed Siddiqui.
Dhaka are the worst hit among the divisional sides as they are also going to miss all-rounders Riyad and Milon. Khulna will have to do without the services of bowlers Abdur Razzak and Dollar Mahmud while Aftab and Zunaed will have to be replaced in the Chittagong and Rajshahi line-ups respectively.
Quite surprisingly, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) decided to send a strong side to the 10-team exhibition tournament when other Test-playing nations did not even bother sending international names. In order to add lustre, the organisers added an All Star team.
Apart from weakening divisional sides, BCB failed maintaining their position of making sure that the likes of Ashraful and Aftab play maximum number of NCL matches, ahead of this winter's tour of New Zealand.
In the first round, Dhaka salvaged four points from their opening round encounter against Khulna, thanks mainly to two gutsy performances from Ashraful and Riyad. While Ashraful's stability helped the defending champions draw on the final day, it was Riyad's crucial 28 in the first innings that got Dhaka past the follow-on mark.
Replacing these two would be a big ask for whoever it is, and it is most likely to see talented right-hander Marshall Ayub batting at the skipper's position while Shamsur Rahman and Uttam Sarkar are also likely to get a look in.
Khulna have drafted in all-rounder Ziaur Rahman and left-arm spinner Murad Khan in place of Dollar and Razzak, who smashed 78 and took four wickets against Dhaka to win the man-of-the-match award. Their opponents would find it easier to swap for Aftab as they have a few to fall back on. But Mahbubul Karim is most likely to get the nod.
Table-toppers Rajshahi are set to replace dashing opener Zunaed Siddiqui with Hasanuzzaman or Shakil Haider against Barisal, who accumulated 14 points from their win against Chittagong in Bogra. Their victory was a refreshing change from previous season performances when they usually failed to beat the big guns. But a spirited effort from youngsters Raisul Islam and Rokibul Hasan took them to victory.