The opportunity in a Pakistan Premier League
Rumours of the death of Pakistan cricket, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated. If flowers can bloom in the desert, Pakistan cricket can thrive without the security glare of home internationals. Recently, the Pakistan Cricket Board has struck a desperate tone in its failed attempt to attract Bangladesh to tour, and heightened its folly by trumpeting the current tour by a British Universities team.
International cricket in Pakistan is desirable but that will be an arduous behind-the-scenes struggle of diplomacy and reassurance. In the meantime, the PCB must pursue a two-pronged strategy. The first component of this is to establish international cricket at neutral venues as a successful enterprise; not so successful that international cricket need not return to Pakistan, but successful enough to satisfy fans, players, and accountants.
The second element is to create a thriving and marketable domestic game, one that allows fan enjoyment, player development, and advertiser investment. The success of Pakistan's own T20 tournaments has confirmed that all three requirements can be met, even in international isolation. It is under these circumstances that talk of a Pakistan Premier League is to be welcomed.
When the idea was first mooted, any attempt to ape the Indian Premier League, especially in Pakistan, seemed a folly--and if the organisers do venture down the same path they should be warned of trouble ahead. Pakistan's security environment makes a less than compelling argument for global stars to return to Pakistan en masse, which is one of the primary objectives according to the PCB. Instead, the focus of any Pakistan Premier League should be to showcase and develop the thrilling talent that emerges from Pakistan's cities and villages at high frequency.
Pakistan may not be blessed with security or wealth but it is blessed with cricketing talent, players that acquire an added fascination with the withdrawal of international tours. Pakistan's population is projected to reach over 300 million in 2050, which could place it among the world's five largest countries by population. That combination of a marketable product, the cricketers and their style of play, and the size of the market, offer an opportunity for long term success, provided the PCB begins to plan sensibly.
In this respect, the PCB must make Pakistan's domestic cricket strong to ensure that the Pakistani game remains resilient and independent in these challenging times. Indeed, a strong domestic game can only help further Pakistan's progress in the international arena. Traditionally, Pakistan's domestic circuit has contributed little to international success. Imagine what could be achieved?
The Pakistan Premier League is an opportunity but it needs to be played right, for the sake of long-term investment in the health of Pakistan cricket and not for the short-term wealth of players, administrators, and politicians. The more attractive Pakistan cricket becomes to outsiders looking in, the harder it will be to dismiss in the boardrooms of cricket governing bodies and global corporations.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here