Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Super League, a super challenge

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Cricket is no more the game it was a decade ago, the introduction of the T20 format enticed a large chunk of people and later the extravagant leagues by various cricket playing countries added more spice to the affair. India took the lead in this regard by launching the Indian Premier League (IPL), which is getting better and better with the passage of time. The IPL is serving the game of Cricket or not is a separate debatable, however, the fact remains that every cricketer desires to be a part of this cash-rich competition.

After India, various other nations launched their own brands of T20 leagues and now Pakistan is thinking on the same lines too. In fact the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has already announced the basic structure of the league – Pakistan Super League (PSL) -which is scheduled to begin in last week of March this year.

For Pakistan, the importance of its own brand of such tournament – PSL – is way different from other nations.  If India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka launches a league then they would primarily have to focus on one aspect – the financial one – but the PCB, actually, is facing two huge challenges in this connection. One is off course the financial aspect like others but the more daunting task is to persuade foreign players to make the proposed event colourful as well as successful.

The PCB has appointed Salman Sarwar Butt as the Managing Director and Haroon Lorgat as the Consultant for the Pakistan Super League and I am sure a lot of other people are also working their heart out to make the venture successful, but to confront the two challenges (financial & security issues), a two-pronged strategy is the need of the hour for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Before moving further, let me refer to a few quotes from the PSL Managing Director during a press conference earlier this month, which, I feel, raised some queries.

PSL will be a $100 million event.
With the size of Pakistan’s economy, the figure is not unachievable, but to attain profit one must present a product in demand to the market. In cricketing terms the product means high class cricketers. To attract the spectators and subsequently the sponsors, the presence of top class performers is essential.

Discussions underway with big names including Chris Gayle and others from South Africa, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Australia.
Fair enough, hats off to the sincere efforts of Salman Sarwar Butt and his team

Millions of dollars are fine, but roping in big names is directly linked with the security assurances given to them. The big test coming up is to convince the foreigners. How will it be done is remains to be seen.
BCCI does not allow their players to visit Pakistan, but we are in contact with players from Bangladesh.
In view of the bilateral relations, the BCCI’s refusal is understandable. As far as Bangladesh is concerned, the recent tussle between the two boards has left a very little window of hope. In fact the major stars of Bangladesh will be in Sri Lanka the whole month of March, then will embark on a trip to Zimbabwe in the middle of April – dates not confirmed yet – therefore getting the saleable items (Cricketers) will not be easy for the PCB. In view of the developments unfolded in the recent past, immaculate diplomatic skills would be required to convince even the Bangladesh Cricket Board to send its players to Pakistan for the PSL. Not impossible, but not easy either.

Also, the Indian Premier League’s latest edition is scheduled in April-May this year, and off course the cream would go that way. In this situation the limited number of the ‘salable items’ up for grab could be another headache for the PSL organisers.

We have taken care of the security situation and are informing players about our security measures. They can come and see all our security arrangements for the PSL.
So, after going thought the above mentioned quotes, it has finally come down to the security arrangements, which is the most important area to be looked at. But if Mr. Butt is offering foreign cricketers to come and asses the arrangements then only God knows how many security assessment teams would tour Pakistan in the coming days. The less time at hand – before the bidding for the PSL – actually makes this task doubly difficult for the PSL planners.

Coming back to the two-pronged strategy mentioned earlier. The one angle relates to fulfilling the financial requirements of the players – mainly foreigners – is dealt with adequately as the PSL MD said, but to earn money, the presence of salable products is a must, and here comes the second and the most important part of the two-sided methodology.

The PCB needs to convince the foreign players to tour and what have been done in this regard is not very well known. There are speculations in the media that the Pakistan Cricket Board was considering the option of hiring foreign security experts to set up the security plan for the forthcoming Pakistan Super League. If this is true, then it will transmit a message to the World that the PCB doesn’t have faith in its own security agencies, isn’t it? The argument that other countries also do so – during their leagues – is not fitting in Pakistan’s scenario due to the extraordinary law and order situation.

Another missing link which could turnout as a hindrance for the PSL management is the lack of engaging the international players association. Federation of International Cricketers' Association (FICA) has been very active in protecting Cricketers’ rights worldwide. In the recent edition of the Bangladesh Premier League, the FICA adequately dealt with the issues related to the players’ payments, but in Pakistan, where payments are a less important concern, how can the involvement of FICA be ruled out? Already a few local cricket associations have raised concerned over touring Pakistan for the PSL, and the situation could get worse in days to come.

Other than FICA, the role of the International Cricket Council (ICC) is also missing, although the CEO, Dave Richardson visited Pakistan earlier this month, but he said that the role of the ICC was limited in the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan. "Security is not something that is taken lightly by anybody," he said and put the entire onus on the PCB to convince the other boards in this regard. What impression this opinion – from the ICC – would broadcast to the world is not difficult to be gauged.

In the end, the PCB has to do it on its own. After covering the economical aspect, for the foolproof security arrangements the Cricket Board needs to be well-aligned with the local administration. In this regard the past between the PCB and the local administration (Punjab Government) is not encouraging at all. For the smooth PSL, these two must be on the same wavelength.

The PCB should also keep in mind the political changes in the offing. As per media reports, the country would be under a caretaker Government from mid-march – around 10 days before the PSL launch – therefore, during that time, the PCB has to deal with a new set of government officials altogether. The sole focus of the caretaker administration would be on the upcoming elections rather than facilitating the PCB to put in place a foolproof security mechanism.

All the above mentioned apprehensions were based on the information which has surfaced as yet. It is easier said than done and I am sure the Pakistan Cricket Board is also aware of all the challenges in waiting.

Nobody is against the revival of international cricket in Pakistan through various means including the T20 leagues, but a solid homework is better to be done because a single foot wrong could be enough to change the whole course of action because haste makes waste.

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