The Pakistan Super League, a Twenty20 tournament scheduled for March-April this year, is still under a bit of a cloud. Uncertainty over the participation of International players persists. However, the organisers of the event, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), are confident of pulling it off despite all the odds.
If that were to happen, it would be just what the doctor ordered for cricket lovers in Pakistan. No international team has played in the country since March 2009, when a touring Sri Lankan team came under a terror attack that left six policemen and a bus driver dead and five players wounded.
In the last five years, Pakistan has been compelled to play all its “home” games in the UAE. Bangladesh cried off on two occasions last year, citing security concerns, after committing itself to touring Pakistan.
The Pakistan Super League (PSL) is an attempt by the cricket establishment to revive the game in the country. It certainly is an idea worth pursuing, but convincing the cricketing world that it is safe to play in Pakistan will take some doing.
The Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) has warned players not to take part in the PSL because of the “unmanageable” security risk such an endeavor would pose.
PCB, on its part, has appealed to FICA to refrain from triggering negative publicity for Pakistan and let the players decide for themselves. PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf has announced that the organisers of the PSL will, besides foolproof security measures, offer a $2 million insurance cover to every visiting player.
For the first three years, five city-based teams representing Karachi, Faislabad, Lahore, Islamabad and Sialkot - will vie for the PSL title. These teams will be captained, respectively, by Shahid Afridi, Mohammed Hafeez, Kamran Akmal, Misbah-ul Haq and Shoaib Malik.
Former ICC chief Haroon Lorgat is an adviser to the PSL while the league’s managing director is Salwan Sarwar Butt. Both have repeatedly asserted that security arrangements are in place to ensure an incident-free event.
They have also revealed that sponsors and broadcasters have shown keen interest in backing the PSL and, therefore, all misgivings about the tournament are misplaced. Lorgat has indicated that the value of PSL will be “upwards of $100m”.
Among other positive signs, South African Mike Proctor is already on board as a match referee and retired international umpires Rudi Koertzen and Russell Tiffin have confirmed that they will officiate in the 30 matches of the PSL, alongside Pakistan’s Aleem Dar, Asad Rauf and others.
The future of the PSL will, however, hinge entirely on how successful the inaugural edition of the tournament turns out to be. As things stand, it looks like a touch-and-go affair. It could go either way - prove to be a roaring success or end in complete disarray.
Each of the five franchised teams is looking for up to six cricketers from abroad and although some players have already confirmed their availability, much still remains in the realms of disquieting conjecture.
Apart from the obvious security concerns that could keep many international players away from the tournament, the PSL will face a massive challenge from the Indian Premier League (IPL), which is now in its sixth year.
PCB officials, who had to abort their plans in 2008 to organise an IPL-style Twenty20 event, have already pointed out that no Indian cricketer has shown any interest in the PSL.
The absence of Indian players could have an adverse impact on the event’s television viewership on the subcontinent.
That apart, the T20 event in Pakistan will have to be squeezed between the national team’s tour of South Africa (Feb.1to March 24) during which three Tests, two T20 matches and five ODIs are to be played and the IPL, which kicks off on April 3 and runs for a month and three weeks all the way up to May 26.
IPL is an established tournament and India is a country which generates nearly 70 per cent of world cricket’s revenues. Controversial New Zealander Jesse Ryder has made himself unavailable for national duty - his country is due to play a series against England and the Kiwi batsman is on the threshold of a comeback to international cricket - so that he can turn out for his IPL team.
The PSL is, for the moment, unlikely to attract any such ‘desertion’. The PCB bosses clearly have a battle on their hands. Players are unlikely to be falling over each other to play in the PSL unless they have evidence that all is well is Pakistan.
Barring Hashim Amla, Chris Gayle, Lasith Malinga, Marlon Samuels and Sunil Narine, the tournament has not yet been able to rope in marquee names. Most of the cricketers who have confirmed their participation have either retired from the game or are no longer in contention for national selection.
On this list are men like Andrew Symonds, Brad Hodge and Owais Shah. Cricketers like Ramnaresh Sarwan and Imran Tahir, who are still on the radar of their respective selection panels, might eventually find it difficult to commit themselves to the upcoming PSL.
The situation is fluid and questions remain. With only a couple of months to go, PCB will need to put in a herculean effort to guide its dream project to fruition. Watch this space.