NEW DELHI, Sept 16 Bangladesh cricket plunged into crisis and its test future looked bleak on Tuesday after 13 leading players signed up for the unofficial Indian Cricket League (ICL).
Former skipper Habibul Bashar was unveiled in New Delhi to lead ICL's new Dhaka Warriors team in the Twenty20 league.
Playing in the ICL attracts an automatic ban from all forms of official cricket.
Bashar and at least six others stunned the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), already struggling to build a good side, after filing retirement requests to free them up to sign ICL contracts.
The mass exodus will sting Bangladesh, who have won just one of their 53 tests (47 defeats) since making their debut in 2000.
Bashar's best playing days are over but all rounders Alok Kapali and Farhad Reza, and wicket keeper Dhiman Ghosh, were all part of this month's ODI tour of Australia.
Money appeared to be a key factor behind the decision of the Bangladesh players, who were not picked by the official Indian Premier League (IPL) teams because they were not considered good enough.
The ICL deals were reported to be around $200,000 over three years, five times more than what a top Bangladesh player earns on an annual central contract, media reports said.
However, players will have to pay a price since angry fans will see this as an act of betrayal.
Bangladesh cricket has only managed to pull off rare wins over major sides. Its best one-day wins were achieved against Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup and over Australia in 2005.
Although they shocked India to knock them out in the first round of the 2007 edition in West Indies, many players were reportedly unhappy with their central contracts.
The ICL looks at the swoop as an achievement, after they lured away many New Zealand players last year including strike bowler Shane Bond.
Many Pakistan players ignored by their selectors have also joined the ICL, backed by the promoters of India's biggest listed media firm Zee Telefilms Ltd.
A Bangladesh board official was dismayed.
"We knew that the situation was bad but weren't expecting this at all," BCB executive member Shafiqur Rahman told Indian Express newspaper.
"We do understand that there were issues but nothing that couldn't have been sorted out," he said. "These private leagues are luring cricketers with the kind of money that has never been heard of and that is appalling.
"The country has to come first."
The International Cricket Council (ICC), working to improve the standard of weaker nations, was guarded.
"The position of the ICC in relation to ICL is that unofficial cricket don't have the sanction of the ICC members," an ICC spokesman said on Tuesday.
"I can't comment on this specific instance, it is a matter for the Bangladesh board," he said.
Himanshu Mody, business head of Zee Sports, said ICL did not expect official recognition soon but was confident its improving credibility would help break even after this season.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)