For years, Pakistan’s cricket chiefs have pledged to lift the country’s domestic structure. The past chairmen of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) failed to follow through on their promises. Najam Sethi hasn’t fared any better either. Sethi’s decision to allow the country’s top players to feature in a dubious 10-over league in the UAE at a time when the country’s premier first-class tournament – the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy – had entered its business end clearly underlines his priorities. The way the Quaid Trophy was snubbed by the PCB shows us where the domestic game is headed under Sethi’s leadership. It’s hardly reassuring for the followers of the game in this country.
However, the people at the helm of Pakistan cricket seem oblivious of the repercussions such moves will have on the future of Pakistan cricket. They like to think that everything is on the right track.
Since the successful hosting of the inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) last year the air of self-congratulation has been on show among the Board officials. The followers of Najam Sethi purred when he announced that the T20 league will become bigger and better in the coming years. The PCB officials have patted themselves on the back after establishing the league. It doesn’t matter that PSL was the event in which Pakistan endured one of its biggest corruption scandals earlier this year.
You are allowed to make mistakes. But if you have been entrusted with a big responsibility, you cannot be forgiven if you don’t learn from them. PCB had to swallow a bitter pill when several Pakistani players including star opener Sharjeel Khan were caught in the PSL spot-fixing scandal. After that episode, the Board should have been extra careful. But sadly, there are no signs that the PCB has learned any lessons from it. For a mere sum of 400,000 dollars, it allowed its top stars to feature in the T-10 League which concludes in the UAE today (Sunday). The league is a commercial enterprise with the sole purpose of making money for its owners. Now who will check whether the money is made entirely through legal ways? Who will check whether the players are properly shielded from fixers? Who will be responsible if there is another corruption scandal?
The T-10 league isn’t the only issue here. The Board has also failed to tackle the matter of the new Future Tours Programme (FTP) properly. Pakistan were and remain one of the leading Test-playing nations. They have a good team that won the ICC Champions Trophy in England last summer. But in the new FTP, it has been treated a little better than an associate nation.
The new FTP which is being finalised by the ICC tilts heavily in favour of the nations who once formed the infamous ‘Big Three’ — India, England and Australia. In the new programme, South Africa have tagged along as the fourth team to get maximum benefit from the new FTP.
Pakistan have been left to languish on the sidelines, almost degraded to the level of minnows like Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan.
In the new FTP, Pakistan have been given just 28 Tests and 38 One-day Internationals in a four-year cycle running from May 2019 to May 2023. Only Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland will play fewer Tests than Pakistan during that period. England will play 46 Tests, Australia 40 and India 37. Even Bangladesh will get 35 Tests.
Pakistan have been given an even worse deal in the 50-over format. Their 38 matches are the lowest of all teams, even fewer than that of Afghanistan (41), Zimbabwe (40) and Ireland (42). The Indians will play 61 while West Indies will get 62 ODIs.
The Pakistanis fare no better when it comes to the Twenty20 format as they will play 38 games also the joint-lowest of the major Test-playing nations. Even Ireland play six more T20Is, while India will get 61, West Indies 55 and New Zealand play 49.
In the new FTP, Pakistan will get a total of 104 international matches. That is the lowest of all countries apart from Ireland (102), Afghanistan (88) and Zimbabwe (88).
It’s a big setback for Pakistan, who are supposed to be the fourth-most valuable team in world cricket. When Big Three was formed in 2014, Pakistan fancied their chances of joining the group as its fourth member. In fact it was Sethi who once announced that there will soon be a Big Four club with Pakistan being a part of it. Even in the current FTP cycle which runs till May 2019, Pakistan will end up playing 183 international matches.
The Board defends the meagre allocation made to Pakistan in the new FTP by stressing that they have preferred quality over quantity. It claims Pakistan will play more matches against quality opposition in the next four-year cycle. But that’s just an excuse for what is a big failure on the part of the Board. If the Board is so keen on just playing top flight teams then why is it planning to line up matches against associate nations during April-May every year when the Indian Premier League (IPL) will put a stop to all international action? That’s another big failure for Pakistan. The Indians have forced the ICC to provide a two-month window to the IPL in the FTP. This means that the IPL will now be treated like a global event just like the World Cup or the Champions Trophy. This could be good news for international stars but what about Pakistani players. While the IPL provides leading cricketers of other countries to make big bucks, Pakistani players get no such opportunities because they are treated like pariahs by the Indian cricket board (BCCI). Apart from the inaugural IPL edition, Pakistani players have been disallowed from participating in the cash-rich league. And it’s highly unlikely that things will change in the near future.
The PCB should have resisted this move. I know that the Board doesn’t have the sort of clout it once had in the days of men like Air Marshal Nur Khan and Arif Ali Khan Abbasi but still PCB is a major player in ICC matters. The problem with the Board is that its top officials are more interested in cementing their positions and hardly keep the interest of Pakistan cricket on the top of their priority list. This has to change otherwise things will continue to go south for Pakistan cricket.