It was sinking even as it was being put together. Crashing the bottle with the sparkling water on the bow was but a hope. And so it was that the plug on the artificial life support of the Pakistan Super League was eventually pulled out this week by the 80-year-old Sheheryar Khan after he was told that only two bidders had come forward with sealed envelopes.
It is reported that the PCB chairman explained to them politely that there was not enough lead time to hold the tournament. A bit strange considering that when the date for the second attempt at a ‘Pakistani IPL’ was announced after the first one fell flat on its face, the arithmetic formula to calculate days in hand was no different from what it was till last Monday, unless someone had calculated number of days based on the Lunar calendar. Even then ten days, give or take, would have been the difference.
The real reason of course is that no one is interested due to the obvious reasons: No players worth investing in, which means lowered TV audience. Not value for money, therefore. There had also been the clever ploy of converting the local Champions League T20 tournament into PSL allowing for a handful of have-beens spread over the 5-6 teams on display. That too for some 10-15 days; the IPL extends over 40 days.
And so the adaptation of the Jules Verne classic from the 19th century, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, is now complete with this sunk project, except you can say that the depth of water was Chulloo Bhar, as they say metaphorically. It had always been more chest-thumping really, as warring parties promised the world to the followers.
I had been involved behind the scenes by a potential bidder back in March of last year when PSL was first touted with a proper logo revelation. I had at the time seen the pathetic disorder of things with PCB then under Zaka Ashraf.
First, the period from the invitation to the first ball bowled was something like 4-6 weeks, depending on what you define as an invitation! True, some weeks of preparation had already been taking place by the former CEO of ICC Haroon Lorgat and Salman Butt (not the cricketer), the human force behind the pioneer sponsor of the Twenty20 domestic tournament in Pakistan (ABN AMRO bank) back in 2007. Salman was and is a thorough professional and has a marketing background but Haroon had recently lost his quest for extension in the ICC post because he had annoyed BCCI. That meant that BCCI would use all its influence to ensure that the highly paid Mr Lorgat would fail; the point was lost on no one except perhaps the PCB chief Zaka Ashraf or whoever had his ear.
Lorgat was said to be drawing in the range of over 2 million a month but that package may have included bonus for signing on the players which seemed to be his one true value; otherwise the IPL model could be adapted by even a junior executive with common sense.
We kept on asking who the players were, after having protested at the paucity of time. But no name was released and we were in fact led to believe that some star players had signed on. Strange considering any player recently retired even would come over to Pakistan due to security concerns as then PSL was to be held in Pakistan.
The player wouldn’t get any insurance cover and his home board would brand him a hypocrite for going on his own whereas he would have been among those who would have refused to travel with the national team in his playing days.
The time available to bid without even knowing who was playing other than the Pakistani players was absolutely shocking. Despite that my client felt that it was in the interest of Pakistan cricket to bring international cricketers to the country and therefore decided to go ahead, challenging me with the task to come up with a plan as to how they would spread their investment through the 355 days once the 10-day tournament was over. After all, the floor price for the auction to start was immense in itself and no bidder could achieve a positive return on investment in 10 days. In fact, it has taken two years for some of the IPL franchises to break even.
On to the second point that made one pull at one’s hair; the minimum bid amount. The rumour had it that it was $2 million, but the PCB wouldn’t admit to that. It was said that we would get it with the bid document, which we received three days before the bid deadline. Pouring through it, we found out that the floor price wasn’t mentioned. We were then told that the amount would be disclosed some five to 10 minutes before closing time for the bids! The company representative would need to make a call on what amount to ink in over and above the bid amount and thereafter hope to be in the top six to be able to own one of the six teams.
I mean, this wasn’t a collector’s item for which an individual bids; the representatives here would need to discuss with the company’s Board of Directors should there be even the slightest confusion, unless the CEOs were sitting themselves directly, as was the case with the 3G and 4G auction. But there, all the minutest details were available to the bidder. Here just about everything was probabilistic. Two million dollars was widely believed to be the base figure for the auction. We never found out because the day after we got the bid document the tournament was called off. Then too it was said that not enough time was available and an informal survey by the PCB had thrown up that overall interest was not widespread.
If I remember correctly, the Pakistan team itself was supposed to return a day or so before the event was scheduled to start and that the IPL roll call for players was to start two to three days after the scheduled final.
So you can see that PSL was a near impossibility even then and a high improbability this time although the PCB this time had acceded to holding it in the UAE, which meant the best players would be able to come. But it sank again.
First, it was only a play for good PR and show of competence from the government’s camp before the PCB elections. Once Sheheryar Khan was inducted for three years it lost its usefulness.
Second, since it was being staged in the UAE, most local companies were not interested as it would mean enormous expenses to fly in their event management teams, not to mention high hotel cost for the players and support staff.
Third, whether flying in marketing material or printing it in the UAE, the expenses were to be far higher than if they were to be supplied within Pakistan.
Fourth, leasing stadiums must have led to the basic bid price being $3 million, a 30 percent increase from what was informally announced the previous time.
And last but not the least, the international schedule may have led to lack of NOCs from other countries for their star players even if they were to be free from their national or domestic commitments.
The players are already being injured too often for the selectors liking.
Five months is a long time to organise an event that has a running model. So to say that the lead-up time was not enough does not hold water. Whatever the reason, as a Pakistani I feel sad that we won’t have our version of IPL no matter how condensed. It has to be said that no country deserves it more than Pakistan.