Promoting Pakistan Cricket
Much hype has been created about the PSL – the Pakistan Cricket League - and the fact that it is already in its second successful year. What a pity, however, that while Pakistan launched the PSL as a ‘me-too’ event following the success of the IPL, the BBL, the Big Bang, etc., this particular tournament is played outside Pakistan though it purports to represent Pakistan cricket and to serve as an engine of the game’s growth at home. As Pakistan’s recent performances in New Zealand and Australia show, nothing of the sort has happened and Pakistan continues to be placed almost at the end of the table in limited overs cricket, not that its performance in Test cricket is anything to write home about. There was a time when Pakistan was one of the world’s major cricket teams and competed with a lot of respectability with the likes of England, Australia and the West Indies, while it dominated nations like India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Perhaps South Africa was not a part of the equation in those days because of its isolation due to apartheid. That is a thing of the past, however, and today’s top Pakistani cricketers get the jitters when they play on a wicket that takes bounce and swing.
The PSL is played on pitches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, which are said to be as placid or flat as grounds in Pakistan and the participating teams belong to Pakistan’s five cities – Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. The only attractive factor about PSL is that each of the teams also have a smattering of international cricketers and that is perhaps what makes the tournament an interesting proposition. What is not interesting is that while all other tournaments are played in their home countries and provide entertainment for the home crowds, cricket lovers in Pakistan get to see the PSL only on television and the ground spectators are only the Pakistani Diaspora in the UAE or some locals who hardly have any affinity for or interest in the game. They do not understand cricket’s intricacies and those finer points of batting, bowling and fielding that gives cricket its particular character. The non-Pakistani players participating in the PSL are probably there because it offers a good chance to them to earn some precious money and that is also perhaps the main reason why the Pakistani players, whether retired or otherwise, play in the League. In fact, according to one report, even the junior players in the PSL get paid more US dollars than they would be making while playing for any other league around the world. It is also said that payments are made to the players before the tournament ends and they do not have to be waiting to get paid till months after the tournament. This probably does not happen in other leagues.
Of late, there has been much talk of bringing the final of the PSL to Pakistan – to Lahore, more specifically. Even then, nothing is certain because it is being feared that none of the foreign players in the two finalist teams would want to come to Lahore. The PCB is of the view that the menace of terrorism has now been largely controlled and a final can be safely played at the Gaddafi Stadium. But it seems that other cricketing boards and more so the participating players don’t agree with this view and would rather stay away from Pakistan. What is worth considering is that why is the PCB or the powers behind Pakistan cricket insisting that only the PSL final be played in Pakistan? What about cricket as a game returning to Pakistan and regular home series being played in the country at Test, One Day and T-20 level? Why is the PCB not working towards making this a reality? If the PCB continues to be weak on this front, the rest of the cricketing world will continue to take advantage of Pakistan and will continue to entertain the country only on their own terms. The conditions in Pakistan continue to be dire somewhat from the security point of view and not many risks can be taken. But besides holding the PSL in the UAE, the PCB can make some kind of a beginning by organizing similar tournaments in major cities of Pakistan, such as Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Sialkot, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta, etc. in which top Pakistan players are featured, along with the recently retired ones and young players. This way, local crowds will get to taste some of the thrill and excitement of cricket. This would also boost growth of the game in terms of players and grounds in the long run. If it really takes off, the tournaments could even have the same commercial attraction for sponsors and merchandizers as the PSL or the international cricket leagues.