Pakistan Super League to be held in UAE instead of Qatar

LAHORE: The inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) instead of Qatar. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Thursday said that the country’s first Twenty20 League would be played from Feb 4 to 24 in Dubai and Sharjah and not in Doha as earlier announced. A total of 24 matches will be played over a 21-day period. With the hosting of the event, the UAE will move into the lucrative international Twenty20 cricket market. It is pertinent to mention that last month the PCB had announced that Doha, the capital of Qatar, would host the PSL Twenty20 Tournament.

The PCB had initially planned to host the league in the UAE, Pakistan’s virtual home since 2009. However, when the PCB approached the Emirates Cricket Board to secure the venues during the third week of June this year, they learned that the organisers of the Masters Champions League – a tournament for retired international cricketers – had already booked the stadiums for the February window.

After the refusal of the ECB, the PCB Governing Council had decided to lock Doha as its preferred location for the tournament after lengthy deliberations. PCB executive committee chairman Najam Sethi had led a seven-member PCB delegation to Doha and finalised the venue to host top-level cricket there. But last week the ECB told the PCB that the Masters Champions League would be held in Abu Dhabi while the other two venues – Dubai and Sharjah – are available for the PSL. With the confirmation from the ECB, the PCB announced yesterday the venues for the PSL, ending speculation over whether the UAE can accommodate both the Masters Champions League and the PSL in February.

“The PSL has already floated tenders for broadcasters and producers,” PSL chairman Sethi said. “This will be followed by a tendering process for sponsorships in the second week of October. Franchise owners will be inducted between mid to end November, after which the foreign and local players will be drafted and teams constituted.” The tournament will consist of five teams, one each from Quetta, Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, and Islamabad.

The teams will comprise the top T20 players from the world with the latest tally of foreign player signing consents standing at an impressive 132. The players will be selected through a draft process in December. Some of the big names who have consented to play the PSL include Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo, Luke Wright, Shakib al Hassan, Lasith Malinga, Sunil Narine, and Angelo Mathews.

“There is a pool of top coaches also from which franchise owners will be able to pick and chose,” added Sethi. The PSL will offer up to $1 million in prize money. Each franchise will be able to draft players and coaches for the team within a budget of $1 million. The PSL had initially contacted top agencies handling over 100 international players to consider playing in Pakistan. The response was overwhelmingly negative, which forced the PSL to be held outside Pakistan. The PCB has promised financial packages greater or equal to those offered in the Bangladesh Premier League, Sri Lanka Premier League and the Big Bash League.

The latest plan for the league isn’t as high profile as the previous one during Zaka Ashraf’s regime under which the business model – unveiled in January 2013 – was expected to fetch the PCB ‘in excess of $100 million’. Sethi also shed light about the interest of potential commercial stakeholders in the league. “I can confirm that a number of parties are currently talking to us and are interested in picking up the franchises. Similarly, we have great interest being shown from broadcasters and sponsors,” he said.

The PCB has hired the trusted and globally recognised company ‘Repucom’ to devise a plan for the T20 league, consulting them on matters such as where the tournament should be held, the number of teams that should participate in it, the risk factors involved and how they can be avoided, and how the PCB can attract and engage sponsors and improve the marketability of the product.

The PSL will be using the draft system for player recruitment rather than the auctions deployed by the Indian Premier League. It will be similar to what is in place in American National Football League (NFL). The draft system was introduced in the NFL in 1936 and has been successfully deployed as an alternate to auctioning players.

Players will be divided across five categories – Platinum, Diamond, Gold, Silver, and Emerging. A ballot will decide which team gets to pick the first player, with a specific number of players up for grabs from each category. The player auction system has never been implemented in Pakistan and in an effort to keep a check on the spending; the much safer and balanced draft system is being used. There is also some good news for local players as they are likely to earn big during the 21-day event.

Young domestic players, placed in the emerging category, are in line to earn between $15,000 and $20,000 when they line up for the five franchises. In the opening edition, each side will feature 12 Pakistan players and four foreign ones. Sethi has vowed to deliver ‘the biggest and most exciting product in Pakistan’s history’. But his critics are not yet convinced. In recent years, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka both dabbled in T20 leagues of their own but failed to sustain the tournaments due to inept management and financial corruption.

But one thing is clear: the PSL is not just about cricket. It is something bigger than the game especially in Pakistan where the standard of national T20 cricket is much lower than the rest of the world. Playing and fielding techniques are not good, patience doesn’t seem to be a virtue of national cricketers and the fitness standards are below par.

The PSL plans to change all that as the involvement of foreign cricketers will make it far more interesting; not only will the bar be raised on the playing standards but sharing dressing rooms with cricketers who have won matches for their country will give the youngsters a chance to learn from the masters. Furthermore, the financial stability the league will bring with it is likely to raise the living standards of cricketers and their happiness will ensure that Pakistan cricket is in good hands. The much awaited PSL is set to take cricket in this country to the next level.

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