Even as Pakistan romped to victory in the first game on their way toward the target of winning the ODI series against Sri Lanka to qualify directly for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, a storm was brewing up on the domestic front.
That pertains to the proposed restructuring of the next domestic season. Firstly, it is absolutely abhorring that the domestic format is yet again being changed, especially when it was announced at beginning of the last season (when it was yet again changed) that this format would run for three years.
Secondly, it has infuriated some of the departments who feel shortchanged by the PCB Cricket Committee. Aside from the protests of grading and classifying teams where some departments do not accept their positioning, there is the small matter of lesser number of games for the departmental teams.
As one of the team managers of departmental teams pointed it out in a talk with me during one of the Ramzan tournaments, a department will play seven matches and that will be the end of the first-class season for that team.
“Now tell me, if we have 15 players in the squad, how can we guarantee that everyone will get a chance?” he asked in frustration. “Every coach has a preferred first XI with which he attacks the start of the season. He must give his top players at least four matches. And if most all perform then another 2 at least. That leaves 3-4 fringe layers sitting out the complete season and not getting a game. Or if they do, then they get maybe 1-2 at most.”
To add to that is the pressure from the directors of the organisation. On average a department will spend some Rs50 million on the team considering salaries, travel, boarding and lodging, kit, support staff and the running of the department itself. They are going to be mighty annoyed if they get their name in the newspapers for a total of 28 days for a first-class season. And if they don’t reach the final then no TV coverage for their organisational brand name.
I can understand that the PCB Cricket Committee is trying to go for a quality tournament over and above quantity. But they must realize that they are squeezing the patience of the departmental teams. It will take one infuriated CEO or Board of Directors to decide that it’s not worth it to have a team. That will mean that some talented cricketers will be out of a job. No matter what PCB pays to its regional sides it doesn’t come close to what financial security the departmental team offers.
There have been cases before where a department has closed its sports department. But that was because the players weren’t performing and they couldn’t afford the better players. They decided that since they were never going to win anything then might as well come off the field. This time however, though they will have the better players but for lack of publicity and exposure they might just take that route again.
PCB has to realize that these are commercial organisations where the Board of Directors have to justify every expense to its shareholders. The Rs50 million could get them far more exposure in media advertising, not to mention help in generating sales of their products and services. They have only taken this route for the betterment of cricket and other sport. If they feel they are not being respected for this magnanimity, then that could well be the end of it.
It defeats the entire purpose for which the departments were first brought into the circuit. Pakistan cricket became more competitive after 1974 as banks employed the best and didn’t allow them to leave cricket early to look for a living. That allowed cricketers like Wasim Raja, Mohsin Khan, Iqbal Qasim, Abdul Qadir, Tauseef Ahmed and Salim Yousuf to sustain themselves until they were picked by Pakistan. And we all know what impact they made and what laurels they brought for the country.
These were people who would perhaps have had to turn to work to support their families which would not have allowed them to carry on playing. Now if the departments abandon potential like them, these young ones will not have income to carry on beyond the age of say 23-24 when they must start looking for job security to bring up a family. It is also to be seen that departments offer medical coverage for the immediate family, something that regional sides will not be able to do. Plus senior cricketers can look to be absorbed in the organisation to work full time when they retire from the game, which is a sort of cricketing pension for them.
I say again that the best system that I have seen was when half the season was played by the departments (no first or second leagues) for the Patron’s Trophy and then the same players would go and play for their respective regional sides for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. In between there would be the One Day Tournament contested by the departments.
This way there was quality of players over quantity. Today PCB can still introduce a grade II by asking top departments and regional sides to introduce their Second XIs and play for the silver league as they call it. The Twenty20 can continue to be played by the regional sides
If the PCB still wants to limit the exposure of the departments and make the game totally regional then they must raise the level of their marketing to make the regional teams as wealthy as the Indians have done. Till then they should not disturb the cash flow.