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PCB flexes its muscles

The cricket board is planning to launch its T20 league. But will it be successful?

PCB flexes its muscles

It’s finally happening then. The thrice-postponed and almost given up PSL has actually got confirmed dates and a confirmed venue and all appears set for the league to kick start come February 2016. There is reportedly a lot of interest from sponsors and players from around the world if Najam Sethi is to be believed. It should become clear in a few weeks though in Pakistan it’s always last-minute clamour and a reassurance that all is well.

Let me tell you it won’t be easy. Leagues like the CPL are losing money and the Sri Lankan adventure closed after two seasons citing bankruptcy. The Bangladesh venture has been mired in claims of non-payment to players and the Champions League T20 has been scrapped by the richer boards for lack of interest by spectators, sponsors and broadcasters.

As such it seems that the attempt by Pakistan to launch their own league may be a matter of ego, to be there where even the smaller countries have been but no Pakistan till now. Or it may be that PCB, and especially Najam Sethi and his marketing team think they have a better product than them.

It certainly has a bigger audience though how the sponsors respond to the fact that with half the country facing load-shedding will there be as many audiences watching the games as the population numbers suggest. But then they watch in droves when Pakistan plays international cricket so that really should not be a downer.

And after all there has been an audience and sponsors for the domestic Twenty20 despite all challenges. With the attraction of some international players and the novelty factor, Pakistanis may just tune in numbers that should satisfy advertisers, meaning it will be feasible for broadcasters and also for on ground advertisers. It’s just one small stadium anyway. The situation is much like international cricket in Sharjah when it started in the early 1980s.

Will the atmosphere be as glamourous? There is a large Pakistani labour force and some executive class and the matches should be played after sunset so yes the ground should be at least half full. It all depends on how logistics are organised locally. The way Qatar has been projected it is not labour friendly. And after a hard day’s work the labourers may just find it difficult to trudge their weary bodies to the ground. It is hoped though that the lure of watching cricket stars that they may not be able to do in a lifetime will be incentive enough to bring them to the stands. The rest of course is the executive class and they should be there. I’m not sure that anyone will be flying in from the region to watch the match and go back same night.

To be able to sell the league globally will depend on which international cricketers are coming. Sangakkara and Jayewardene have been touted and if that happens then there will be a Sri Lankan audience. No Indian players will be there as their masters don’t allow them elsewhere but presence of Englishmen means that on cold winter afternoons there should be people watching in the British Isles. It will be morning in Caribbean/North America so except for weekends the audience will be limited to retirees and out of work Pakistanis or maybe some self owned shopkeepers. And in Australia/New Zealand it will be dead of night. But then it’s the same for IPL, the only difference being that it can rely on massive home audience to make up the numbers.

Talking about numbers and India it seems Pakistan will be missing out on the promised millions that they had envisaged last year when Sethi proudly held up the MoU he had signed with the Indian cricket board and when Shaharyar Khan returned from India earlier this year citing the assurance he had received from the BCCI secretary.

Now even the normally optimistic Shaharyar Khan has all but given up though if reports are to be believed his much vaulted Plan ‘B’ is actually a cost cutting plan rather than an alternative country playing Pakistan. That would be a shame, especially if PCB doles out millions of dollars in PSL knowing that you don’t run into profit in such ventures before the third year.

What I would have done is to plan for PSL to be held in December in the UAE for the grounds that PCB will have tentatively booked for the Indian visit. I doubt very much that very many active players will be coming from Australia, New Zealand and England; names like Kevin Pietersen have been bandied about. So commitment to their domestic or international teams should not be a problem. Chris Gayle may come as well even though West Indies will be playing Australia in Test matches around this time; Gayle often opts out of Tests to play private leagues.

Otherwise PCB can look again at Sri Lanka (who else) or even Zimbabwe or Bangladesh to fill in the void as these teams don’t seem to have international commitments in December-January. South Africa is hosting England and Australia is hosting West Indies around this time. New Zealand could be attracted as well though they played here last year. But I think their board won’t release them from the domestic season.

It will ostensibly be in no comparison to an Indian series but at least the Pakistani will not be sitting twiddling their thumbs or firing domestic help.

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