Scepticism surrounds new Pakistan T20 cricket league, so what else is new?

Eight years, several false starts and a minor acronym change later, we may finally be at a point where the spiritual successor of the PPL, the Pakistan Super League (PSL), is almost, nearly, definitely, maybe, here.

Kumar Sangakkara, of Sri Lanka, is one of the players signed up to both the Pakistan Super League and the Masters Champions League. Both tournaments will be played in the UAE in early 2016. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
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Three days after Lalit Modi unveiled the Indian Premier League (IPL) in September 2007, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced plans for a Pakistan Premier League (PPL). Six franchises, corporate ownership, a mix of foreign and local players, big money, you know the drill.

It was easy then to see the PPL as a copycat league, inspired by the IPL and spooked, like the Indian board, by the presence of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) that was taking away their best players.

But it was also an organic response to the world as it was then. The first World Twenty20 was underway and Pakistan were doing well. The PCB had picked up on the format’s potential earlier than most, having already held several successful editions of a domestic T20 tournament. This would be an evolution.

Moreover, security concerns were growing and it was becoming clear even then that international cricket in the country may suffer. Indeed the UAE was a mooted venue even then for the PPL.

Eight years, several false starts and a minor acronym change later, we may finally be at a point where the spiritual successor of the PPL, the Pakistan Super League (PSL), is almost, nearly, definitely, maybe, here. And it is even more necessary now than it was back then; you could actually write an alternative modern history of Pakistan cricket through the wasted opportunities of setting up this league.

Read more: Osman Samiuddin on the stars aligning with the six MCL club's at the league's first auction in Dubai

Read more: Osman Samiuddin talks with Shoaib Akhtar about whether Mohammad Amir deserves another shot

Read more: Graeme Smith hints at return to international cricket with South Africa

Even now it seems perched on a knife-edge, in danger of drowning under the weight of scepticism surrounding it. Within some quarters of the PCB itself there is an ingrained cynicism about the league, a clutch of officials gleefully waiting to offer its failure the words “I told you so”.

How twisted, because if it was not clear before, the continuing, protracted chasing of India should make it crystal clear why the PCB needs the PSL up, running and succeeding.

It cannot ever be pointed out enough that the PCB has navigated the past decade without hosting India. Every single board in the world fears it cannot be done.

It has not been ideal but it is their reality and given the history between the countries, it is a reality they must always be prepared for. The PSL can become a stream of revenue that, potentially, eases the financial fallout of not hosting India.

It really is as simple as that. Over the next decade the PCB will earn US$93 million (Dh341.5m) just from fees from the five PSL franchises. The three-year title sponsorship is worth close to $6m.

A three-year broadcast deal is expected to generate nearly $15m, albeit that it is not an ideal or normal deal. Because the bids they were offered were so low, the PCB has signed with a media-buying house that will see it lease airtime from the broadcaster and then sell it for ad revenue. It is peculiar and carries inherent risks but it is constrained by a peculiar broadcast market.

But if it does go to plan, then over three years, the PSL should generate revenues of approximately $50m. A fair chunk of it will go to the PCB, but 80 per cent of the broadcast pool, 50 per cent of the sponsorship money and 50 per cent of gate revenues will be shared with franchises. A cautious 10-year forecast sees the PCB making profits of $50-60m.

All these grow if the league moves to Pakistan, as is the admittedly optimistic hope of the board in three years. But once there, given the size of Pakistan’s market, it is possible to imagine this being among the world’s biggest cricket leagues.

Right now, these numbers are worth less than the paper or screen you are reading them on. Many things have to go right for the PSL to truly benefit Pakistan cricket.

Franchises, who will have to work very hard to turn over profits, will have to be kept happy and the PCB has never knowingly cultivated great relationships with other stakeholders.

Spectators will have to turn up in Dubai and Sharjah. Like the IPL in 2014, the PSL must make sure the UAE knows it is here. It looks grim already, less than two months out; marketing budgets have been tightened because the board is determined to make a profit in its first season.

Once here, they will be sharing stadiums and facilities for over a week with the Masters Champions League (MCL). That will not only dilute their product but will be logistically tricky.

The greatest challenge over the long-term, however, will be for the PCB to somehow inure the PSL from itself. This cannot be a product that is scrapped or revamped repeatedly to suit the whims of a new chairman, or administration. Stability has never been the PCB’s to give, yet stability is what the PSL needs most.

It is acceptable to be sceptical of the PCB’s ability to pull this off. To argue that there are better ways to do it is fine too, though nobody has yet offered a serious alternative model.

To imagine, though, that Pakistan can do without a PSL, or even without attempting to set one up? That is to live in delusion.


Talking points

How retired are you?

The Masters Champions League (MCL) held its first player auction in Dubai last Monday. Six teams spent over US$4 million (Dh14.7m) in acquiring 93 players, which, you might think, is a fair spend for players who are retired.

Except, they are not, really. When the idea of the MCL was first made public this summer, the images it conjured up was of 50-year-old legends having a lark. But gradually, that sense has frittered away and the eligibility rules for taking part have been blurred.

All the big names are definitively retired, of course, but on Monday, for example, Richard Levi, the 27-year-old South African, was snapped up, as was Krishmar Santokie, 30, of West Indies. Several others are still active on domestic circuits and, to varying degrees, theoretically still available for their national sides.

Which is absolutely fine. It may make for some uneven cricket at times (hello a still-swift Fidel Edwards bowling to Sourav Ganguly) but, overall, it may be competitive enough to end up as just a regular Twenty20 league, not a haven for retired grandees.

O captain, my captain

At the very same auction, while fulfilling his duties as one of the legend players, the former South African captain Graeme Smith casually let slip that he was pondering a return to international cricket, which in itself is further proof of the lack of clarity over who can, and cannot play in the MCL.

So casually did he drop it, that it took a while to register the impact of what he was saying. This was, let us not forget, moments after South Africa had capitulated in Delhi to India, a 3-0 series defeat their worst in a decade.

It did always feel as if Smith retired young and the temptation, after this series, must be great to bring back a still-young leader, at 34, who was the most successful in their history. But such comebacks are rarely as pleasant in reality as they are in theory. Will he return as captain, or just as a normal player? And, in either case, what will Hashim Amla make of it all?

The dance goes on

Remarkably, with less than a month remaining to India’s next assignment, some are still waiting with bated breath for a Pakistan-India series to be squeezed in, in the interim.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has done nothing wrong through its chase of a series and neither do they show any signs of flagging. Just this week, the PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan was once again threatening a new deadline — that deadline has seen multiple extensions since October — of waiting only a few more days before calling off the series.

This fresh hope came after a meeting between the foreign ministers of the countries in Islamabad aimed at resuming talks between the two countries. Cricket could hardly expect to be high up on the “To-do” lists between the two, given their history.

But now, perhaps, it is time the PCB just let it go, or at least give the perception of having let it go. Of course, an additional US$25-30 million is handy for the coffers, but given they have survived 10 years without hosting India, how bad can another miss be?


Last week

Australia v West Indies

1st Test: Australia won by an innings and 212 runs. (Australia lead the three-Test series 1-0).

India v South Africa

4th Test: India won by 337 runs (India won four-Test series 3-0).

Player of the week

Ravi Ashwin

Took five wickets in the second innings in Delhi to end with seven for the match and an astonishing 31 for a four-Test series in which one Test was all but washed out.

This week

New Zealand v Sri Lanka

1st Test: Final day, Monday

2nd Test: Starts Friday

England in South Africa

Tour match: SA Invitational XI v England XI, Tuesday to Thursday

West Indies in Australia

Tour match: West Indians vs Victoria XI, Saturday to Sunday

Given how poorly they fared in the first Test, and the warm-up match preceding that, many eyes will be on how West Indies fare against a Victoria XI. At the moment, the state side start favourites; the spiralling decline of the West Indies is reaching critical mass.

Player to watch

Kane Williamson

Two effortless fifties in the first Test against Sri Lanka took Williamson past the 1,000-run mark in Tests for the calendar year. He is only the second Kiwi to do it, after Brendon McCullum. With 102 runs in the second Test he would go past McCullum as the leading run-getter in a single year.

Stat of the week


South Africa’s run-rate, over 143 overs, in the final innings of the series against India. It is the lowest ever for a team batting more than 100 overs.

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