The UAE's future as a 'home' venue for Pakistan is under threat as clashes between T20 leagues and international commitments have forced the PCB to look to Malaysia as a host venue. Pakistan is due to host New Zealand and Australia later this year, series which would ordinarily be played in the UAE. But Sharjah's growth as a destination of choice for various T20 leagues means venues could be limited for the PCB.
Sharjah is set to host a new Arabian Cricket League run by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), every year in January, just before the Pakistan Super League (PSL), which is scheduled in February. The new Afghan T20 League this year, meanwhile, will be played primarily in Sharjah, and coincides with Pakistan's schedule against Australia and New Zealand. Those two series, in October and November, include five Tests, at least five ODIs, and a few T20Is.
"We have been informed by the ECB that they wish to host the Afghan Super League and also the Arabian Cricket League," Najam Sethi, the PCB chairman, told ESPNcricinfo. "The Afghan League is tentatively scheduled by them at a time when our Australia and New Zealand series [will be] taking place in the UAE and they are denying the Sharjah facility to us because of the Afghan League. So that's a problem for us.
"Secondly, they want to hold the Arabian League in the month of January every year, whereas our [Pakistan] Super League is scheduled for February, so this will come before us and precipitously close to us, which will create difficulty for us, especially if they want our players to participate in both the leagues.
"Therefore, I am going to Malaysia to explore the prospects for at least shifting our Australia and New Zealand series if they insist on denying the Sharjah facility to us during the Afghan League. Nothing is certain right now. I am going to look at all the options and try and persuade them to shift their dates if possible, so that there is no conflict."
Pakistan have had a longstanding, mostly trouble-free association with the ECB, with the UAE hosting a major chunk of Pakistan's home cricket since 2009 as well as the PSL. In recent years, however, the relationship has taken an occasional hit.
In 2016, for instance, the eventually doomed Masters Champions League (MCL) nearly put the opening season of the PSL in jeopardy as the ECB refused to lease out the three stadiums in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah to Pakistan, arguing that the MCL had already locked in the venues. The PCB explored Doha as an alternative venue but ended up negotiating a settlement with the ECB which allowed the PSL to go ahead, side by side with the MCL.
At other moments too the PCB has pondered moving to venues such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and even Bangladesh, citing the high costs of hosting low-yield series in the UAE. The UAE itself has expanded its role in that time as a venue for high-profile cricket; Afghanistan often host their games in the country; it is a busy host of Associate cricket events; and now it is staging other short-format events, such as the T10 League, which eat into the calendar and usage of the three international venues. As it is PSL franchises were not especially happy with the T10 league eating up their commercial space in the region.
The development only highlights the need for the PCB to try and push more and more cricket back to Pakistan, lest it finds itself in a situation where it can play neither at home nor too much at its adopted home. As it is the PCB and ECB never entered into a formal long-term deal, instead working together through informal agreements for the PSL and bilateral international fixtures under the Future Tours Programme.
"Our first preference will remain the UAE, but if what they are trying now ends up hurting our interests, then we will explore other options," Sethi said. "So I am just going to Malaysia to check out their facilities and cost and expenditures of holding our bilateral FTP [series] there for the time being. There is no certainty [about it]; we are simply exploring options."
Malaysia holds Associate membership but is hardly an established entity as a venue. It has hosted the Under-19 World Cup in 2008 and staged various junior-level cricket tournaments for the Asian Cricket Council and the ICC. In 2006, it also hosted a triangular ODI series involving Australia, India and West Indies, which was played at the Kinrara Academy Oval - the only internationally recognised stadium in the country. Eight years later, in May 2014, two ODIs featuring Afghanistan, Hong Kong and the UAE were also played at the stadium. But this will be the first time any Full Member country will explore the possibility of hosting a Test in Malaysia.
There are a few cricket venues, though, across the country, with the Selangor Turf Club in Kuala Lumpur having also hosted a first-class game between Malaysia and the UAE in the 2004 Intercontinental Cup. Most of the other venues have hosted List A matches during the 1998 Commonwealth Games. One problem Pakistan may face is the rainfall the country receives in October; the country expects rainfall every second day on an average during the month.