'Winning the trophy feels fantastic' - how Barishal beat the odds to become BPL champions

Fortune Barishal won their maiden BPL title Raton Gomes/BCB

When the Fortune Barishal team took a lap of honour on Friday night, the Shere Bangla National Stadium was packed to capacity. The crowd greeted the new BPL champions with a wave of sound. It came as a huge surprise.

"I am amazed with the amount of supporters that Barishal has," captain Tamim Iqbal said. "I always thought that Comilla [Victorians] had the biggest support but Barishal this year has overtaken them big time."

And that was just inside the ground. There had been thousands more outside hoping to get tickets to the show, which speaks to just how much the public has appreciated the tournament this year. The BPL has its many flaws but this will feel sweet, the connection it has with the masses.

Barishal is far from a thriving cricket hub. There was one cricketer from the region in the BPL team but that doesn't matter. People from the city have really taken to this team, in particular Tamim. The former Bangladesh captain took a step forward from his injuries and controversies of the last 12 months to have his best BPL season as a batter. This was also Tamim's second BPL title after winning with Comilla in 2019. But there were many in his team who had never won it before, including a couple of veterans.

"Winning the trophy feels fantastic, particularly for the two senior cricketers [Mahmudullah] Riyad bhai and Mushfiqur [Rahim]," Tamim said. "They have served the country for a long time but they never won this trophy. This title is dedicated to them.

"Before the tournament, I asked Mushfiq to look after the ground, like making bowling and fielding changes. I was busy with building team strategy. I had to look after which overseas players to bring. There was a lot of coming and going.

"Mushfiq was phenomenal. His leadership took the pressure off me. I could concentrate on my batting. I must thank him. He deserves the trophy more than me. Mushfiq and Mahmudullah are brilliant, professional cricketers. Young cricketers should see them as idols for on-field performances and preparation."

Tamim said that winning the BPL trophy was all about unity, and he was proud to have created an environment that fostered it. Another thing that helped, he said, was the team management letting the team take care of cricketing matters.

"I just wanted to create a very good team environment. Everyone contributed towards it. We were extremely lucky to get some good guys among the overseas players too," Tamim said. "At one stage, we doubted if we could reach the playoffs but we got this far because of the team environment. Our owner [Mizanur Rahman] organised everything very well but he had zero involvement in the cricketing side of things. He relied on me. I hope I have paid him back."

A strong bench also played its part in Barishal's victory. Mohammad Saifuddin, initially, was touch-and-go in terms of what he could produce, returning to competitive cricket after a long injury layover. But the allrounder was one of the team's brightest performers. He bowled the 20th over in the final to Andre Russell and kept it to just seven runs. Comilla were restricted to 154 batting first.

"I think Saifuddin's inclusion was very important for us," Tamim said. "We took the gamble. Nobody was sure if he could play. It paid off big time. It was a game-changer for us. You saw him bowling an unbelievable last over in the final."

Kyle Mayers, a late arrival after some of Barishal's first-choice overseas picks weren't able to make it and others had to leave before the end of the competition, made an instant impact. He averaged over 40 and struck at nearly 160 across the six matches that he played, and in the final he blasted Russell for 21 runs in an over.

"We had Mohammad Amir and Fakhar Zaman in our plans but they didn't come ultimately," Tamim said. "It caused chaos in our plans a few days before the tournament. Kyle Mayers' inclusion was amazing. He contributed with bat and ball. His performance was big for us."

The captain himself finished as the top scorer and won the Player-of-the-Tournament award. It was a refreshing change for Tamim, who played with a lot of freedom. "I think the wickets were good. Our long batting line-up allowed me to take the odd chance at the top. We did it in the final. We got one or two big overs, which were important. There was no personal emotion involved on the field. I wanted to do well. I wasn't at my best shape but I still contributed which was good."

Comilla and Rangpur Riders were tournament favourites but as Tamim said, Barishal based their success on building a good team around a positive environment. They went under the radar for most of the tournament until winning the eliminator and the second qualifier. It meant that Comilla, who came into the game looking for a hat-trick of titles, had met their match, and on the big day, Barishal came out on top.