It certainly sounds good — Pakistan’s very own professional Twenty20 league. But I still believe that it’s an idea whose time hasn’t come, at least not yet. From Dr Nasim Ashraf back in 2007 to Shaharyar Khan, who recently announced his plans to host PCB’s T20 league in the UAE next year, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chiefs have time and again toyed with this not-so-new idea. Nasim Ashraf failed and so did Zaka Ashraf. Najam Sethi picked it up and tried to implement it but without much success. And now its Shaharyar’s turn to make tall promises. He believes that the PCB can launch its professional T20 league successfully next year.
Why is that in a country, where cricket faces so many more pressing challenges, our authorities remain keen to try their hand at something that has so far been an elusive target?
The first reason is that they probably believe that Pakistan can benefit from a lucrative league just like the Indians, who are minting money from the glamorous Indian Premier League (IPL). They also believe that Pakistani cricketers can make money and get vital international exposure from PCB’s own league just like the Indians are reaping the benefits of IPL for the last eight years.
They also claim that a Pakistani T20 league in the UAE will somehow help pave the path for the return of international cricket to this strife-torn country.
But my question is that if you are talking about bringing cricket back to Pakistan how can you hold the inaugural edition of your own twenty20 league on foreign soil? Such an exercise won’t send a positive signal to the rest of the world.
I still remember that back in 2013, the Board announced its plans to host the inaugural edition of the so-called Pakistan Super League (PSL) on home soil. But that was a false claim as behind the scenes PCB was working to hold the proposed event in the UAE. In 2013 when Zaka Ashraf was in the saddle PCB officials as well as the ones especially hired to make the proposed league a success, were putting up a brave face. They were making claim that the PSL had roped in international stars by the dozen and even went to extent of saying that the players were willing to travel to Pakistan to be a part of the league.
At that time in one of my pieces for TNS I wrote: “The problem is that the chances of a successful launch of PSL on Pakistani soil at this point in time appear to be remote, at best. Already, early signals from the cricketing world are quite negative. The English don’t sound very interested. The Aussies won’t be coming while the South Africans, too, are unlikely to feature in the Pakistani T20 league. In the current scenario when cross-border tensions are running high, there is no way any Indian star could be roped in. Such a development was unlikely even in better circumstances. It would be surprising if any leading New Zealand stars make a PSL appearance. In a nutshell, it’s pretty evident that the inaugural PSL, if it takes place in Pakistan according to plans in March-April, won’t be a star-studded affair.
“In contrast, things would be different if the event’s organisers move it to the greener pastures offered by the UAE. International stars, if they are not committed elsewhere, would love to be a part of the PSL if its matches are played in the secure, more glamorous confines of venues like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even Sharjah. It would be a perfect opportunity for them to make a quick buck considering the fact that PSL is offering substantial money for a league that would span over merely two weeks. In addition, Dubai and even Abu Dhabi are counted among major holiday hubs with their shopping malls and other attractions where the players and their families or friends can have a nice time. Poor Karachi and Lahore, with their crumbling infra-structure and the growing threat of militant attacks, can hardly compete.
“The PSL organisers could fall for this temptation. But I hope they won’t. Taking the PSL offshore would be tantamount to committing cricketing hara-kiri. The only reason why a PCB-organised T20 league can provide a much-needed shot in the arm to Pakistan cricket is if it is successfully held on home soil. Otherwise what’s the point?
“There is no way that a PCB league on foreign soil would be acceptable to anyone attached with Pakistan cricket. In the short term, it may look like a way out for PCB chiefs but in the long term such a move would deal a fatal blow to the Board’s campaign that is aimed at the revival of international cricket in Pakistan.
“Even any short term gains aren’t more than a mirage. Let’s assume for a moment that our cricket chiefs opt to take PSL to UAE or any other offshore destination. Such a move would instantly kill the biggest target that PCB wants to achieve by launching the league — the return of international cricket to Pakistan. If the PSL is relocated then it would be another clear message to the rest of the cricket world that Pakistan remains ill-prepared to host foreign players.
“Financially, too, such a move would be a negative one. The cost of running the PSL that would include hefty fees for participating players, hotel bills, traveling, etc. would be too high, especially if it is staged outside Pakistan. There would be realistic danger that the PSL might sink under its own weight. I truly hope that the financial wizards attached to the PSL know better.”
What was written about PCB’s league two years ago could be repeated because things haven’t changed much since then. Yes, we have managed to host Zimbabwe but that development cannot guarantee that international players will be willing to play in Pakistan anytime in the near future. And the thing about launching the league in the UAE I must repeat: What’s the point in having the inaugural edition of your league on foreign soil?
I do hope that Shaharyar Khan and his team of officials have some aces up their sleeves otherwise the project of launching a T20 league is doomed to fail once again.
Turning to a piece of happier news, it was encouraging to see Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq rescuing Pakistan from a perilous situation in the opening Test against Sri Lanka in Galle. Their 139-run stand for the sixth wicket didn’t just rescue the hosts, it lifted them to a position from where they could actually have a shot at a win in the series opener. Asad’s 253-ball 131 was a highly valuable knock but I must say that Sarfraz’s 86-ball 96 was the innings that actually helped Pakistan take the upper hand in Galle. Pakistan’s 117-run lead could prove to be a useful one and I hope that the tourists will go all out for a result on the final day on Sunday (today).