-PCB chief says overhaul needed to stop talent drain
-Champions League spots a pipe dream for Pakistan Super League teams
KARACHI, March 17, 2024: Pakistan is set to face arch-rivals India in the curtain raiser of the 8th edition of the ICC World T20 hosted by England. With tickets already being auctioned on the black market, the block buster will kick start the championship at Old Trafford on April, 28, 2024. While the time slot of Tests and ODI cricket has been dwindling, bilateral T20 internationals have also been termed monotonous and lacking in quality for the last few years. The five-member ICC Executive Committee will have to re-asses its policy as an increasing number of players bound by league contracts have started to skip national team fixtures. Hence, the ICC World T20 will come as a breath of fresh air in the present scenario and all countries will play a full strength side for a change.
Indian captain Virat Kohli was unavailable for international duty all season as he led the Royal Challengers Bangalore to the finals of the ICC champions’ league. He will now takeover from Vijay Zol who has done a great job in his absence and is viewed as a permanent replacement when the multiple record holding Indian legend hang’s his boots. Virat, who has had a terrific year with the Royal Challengers, will have a much tougher campaign with a national side that is struggling with its bowling attack. His most lethal weapon, Zia-ul-Haq, will be in the opposition’s dugout and could pose a serious threat in overcast English conditions. Though, the Indian captain, who has been like a mentor to Zia, will be well aware of all the tricks that Pakistan’s ace fast bowler has up his sleeve.
Pakistan produces exceptionally talented players, but the rising stars are quickly hooked by lucrative offers from the three big cash-rich leagues, reeled in with the prospect of playing alongside the best in the business. As a result, Pakistan Super League (PSL) teams are unable to compete with teams from the Big Bash, EPL and the IPL in particular. Previously, a player could represent PSL, IPL and other leagues in the same season. This led to conflicts of interest and discontinuity of team combination, compromising quality of inter-league tournaments. However, after 2018 a distinctly visible gap between the ‘Big Three’ and smaller leagues opened up as the ICC Executive Committee restricted players from representing more than one league team within a contractual time frame.
Earlier this year, there was a complete overhaul of the Rajasthan Royals after a hostile takeover by the Indian Silicon Valley giants, SELCO. In the post-ICC Champions league era, the Royals have been unable to add the most celebrated silverware to their trophy cabinet. The blue chip company from Bangalore has pumped in substantial funds and demands immediate results. They plan to match the $7 million buy-out clause of Sialkot Stallions’ captain Raza Hasan who has already expressed his delight on the prospect of playing in the ICC Champions League again. It is a tournament the Stallions have failed to qualify for since Raza led them to their glorious triumph in 2019. The stallions will be happy with a settlement that should solve their current financial crisis. In the process, PSL will lose another big name to the IPL.
On the brighter side, an entire generation of Pakistani players has not just enjoyed financial benefits but has also received the exposure of competing at the highest level. This wealth of experience with a highly-skilled set of players benefits Pakistan and makes them one of the favourites to win the ICC World T20. The forthcoming mega event will be an ideal opportunity for Pakistan to showcase the strength of its combined T20 prowess.
Pakistan has announced its 30-man squad with ex-captain Umar Akmal staging yet another potential comeback amid dark clouds over his form and discipline. Akmal’s selection has come at an interesting stage after Sami Aslam’s uninspiring leadership resulted in Pakistan’s abysmal performance in the Australian summer. The Pakistani team is again expected to have a change in command, not the preparation they would have wanted leading to the prestigious tournament. But with limited choices, Pakistani selectors might opt for Akmal again, as chief selector Abdul Qadir has recently expressed the “need for an experienced captain” who can lead Pakistan “across all formats”.
The last decade has witnessed a sharp decline in the number of Test matches and ODIs; Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies at an average play less than four Test matches and 14 ODIs a year. The hefty remuneration in the shortest format has also ensured a worldwide shift in the production line of players from grass root levels. Aspiring young cricketers dream of landing T20 contracts at the IPL before they think about adorning national emblem on a white kit. While T20 cricket has truly become a global sport, Test cricket is still played by the select few, and ever fewer among them compete on an even keel. However, critics still back Test cricket as being the supreme form of the game. PCB chairman Misbah-ul-Haq has urged the ICC Executive committee to let Pakistan host more Test matches in the “mutually agreeable” tours cycle that will be finalised this year. Among the prominent Test playing nations Pakistan has played the least number international matches in the previous nine year cycle that came into effect in 2014, the year Pakistan attempted to resist a coup that saw the ‘Big Three’ take complete control over ICC’s administrative and financial affairs. Considering the increasing commercial non-viability of playing Tests with Pakistan, Misbah faces an uphill battle to schedule more inbound or outbound tours.
Furthermore, the progressively busy league schedule is slowly pushing full international bilateral series towards extinction, especially for Pakistan.
Cricket Australia has also been vocal about excessive league cricket that has also resulted in an increase in injury and player burn out. CA have rested fast bowler Cameron Velente for the upcoming extravaganza and want to save him for the much-awaited Ashes against a strong English side being now coached by Kevin Pietersen. Velente will be a little disappointed as his contract with Sydney Sixers expires at the end of 2024; the last thing Velente wants at this stage is to be labeled as a specialist Test bowler.
2024 will be a crucial year as ICC’s undeterred endeavor to globalise the T20 format has enabled the sport to debut at the Summer Olympics this year. However, the ICC Finance and Commercial Affairs (F&CA) committee will keep a keen eye on the brand positioning of ‘Olympic Cricket’. F&CA has to make sure the Olympics don’t compete with its biggest cash cow; the ICC World T20. Interestingly, the Olympics will keep coinciding with the ICC World T20 unless the latter is rescheduled. Most importantly though, with the cricket calendar already full to its brim, it will be interesting to see how many countries will be willing or are able to field a full strength side in Istanbul later this year.
The ICC World T20 is still the most popular and awaited tournament in all forms of cricket. Apart from the format being played by maximum number of competitive cricketing nations, shifting from a two-year cycle to a four-year cycle has helped increase its value and stature. The spectacle of countries competing for the crown of World Champion, even today provides an unparalleled display of cricket with soaring emotions. All games of the knockout stage have been sold out more than a month before tournament inauguration. Cricket is going through a crucial phase of evolution with unprecedented levels of financial engagements. The administrators should be extremely cautious in trying to achieve short-term financial gains without compromising cricket’s long-term health.