On Sunday evening, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) launch the entity they hope can become the cornerstone of their future financial health: the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
As reported by The National on Friday, it is likely to be held in the UAE in February, and not in Doha. That is where the PCB had started looking once it emerged that a schedule clash with another Twenty20 league could not be resolved.
The move back here — it was always originally intended to be held in the UAE — makes sense on many levels. Here are four reasons why:
The UAE may be an Associate side as far as its national side is concerned, but as an international cricket venue, it is on a par with most Full Members.
Doha’s lone, not-yet-upgraded stadium was always going to be a significant problem to overcome. Twenty-four matches on one ground in two weeks? Possible, but hardly ideal: imagine the logistical headache in sorting out practice and nets, for instance, for teams.
The option of three UAE international venues within driving distances, on the other hand, is ideal for a league of five franchises. It even allows for the illusion of “home” and “away” games.
The IPL discovered this last year, its teams settling in friction-free after the first half of the season was moved here.
Cricket has long moved past the time when gate receipts were a serious source of revenue for boards. But heads inside a stadium provide a new kind of value.
They are primarily an affirmation for all watching from the outside of how successful a league is. Part of the reason why the IPL is so compelling is because, on TV, a full, heaving stadium confirms its status as the place people want to be seen at — not to mention the atmosphere inside, one in which players thrive and grow.
Doha would probably have pulled in the crowds, but with a larger population and stadium capacities, the PSL has a larger canvas to target. As just one example, the Peshawar franchise, perhaps led by Shahid Afridi, cannot fail to attract big numbers.
The IPL played out to full crowds last year, so if the PSL plays its cards right and attracts enough big-name players, it should be able to do likewise.
In the long term, it is the money the PSL generates that will come to define its success. Like the IPL, and other Twenty20 leagues, profits will not materialise immediately. But the PCB know that their biggest moneymaker until now — bilateral series with India — will remain beholden to forces beyond their control so an alternative revenue source is necessary.
In which case, the UAE makes far greater financial sense than Qatar. It is difficult to put a number on how much more lucrative the PSL will be for being held here, but the boost could be by as much as 25 per cent in the short term, at least according to one official. As with the IPL, the Emirates Cricket Board will also no doubt stand to benefit financially.
One day, of course, Pakistan will return to playing cricket at home. It will be a physical breaking away of its ties with the UAE, but it is unlikely to be a spiritual break.
This may be an intangible but, as one official pointed out, the Pakistan board’s relationship with Emirates cricket was an important factor in bringing the PSL back to the UAE. This is a relationship that stretches back far beyond this last phase, in which Pakistan has used the UAE as a home venue, and goes beyond even official levels.
It goes back to men such as Abdul Rahman Bukhatir learning and loving cricket in Pakistan and bringing that back here to lay down roots; it is found in the recruiting of players from Pakistan to play in clubs here; in staff working at the cricket councils; in the history of those crazy Sharjah nights, and much more besides.
So for all the time the PSL cannot be held in Pakistan, it would not seem right for it to take place anywhere else but the UAE. Even in its earliest stages, when the idea was mooted in 2008, the UAE was a potential venue for this tournament.
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