PCB's 'great story' for women's cricket strikes an odd note

Javeria Khan (L) has been demoted to Category B, while Sana Mir stays in A Getty Images

Ensuring that contracts are "earned" and not seen as a "privilege" was the driving rationale behind the PCB's move to reduce its women cricketers' central contract pool, according to Urooj Mumtaz, chairperson of the all-woman selection committee.

The latest contracts, starting July 1, include only ten players, brought down from 17, but there has been an increase in remuneration for those in the new retainers. The new list has only Sana Mir and Nida Dar in the 'A' category, while Bismah Maroof and Javeria Khan have been demoted to category 'B'. The fourth level, 'D', has been removed altogether.

The 'A', 'B' and 'C' categories now come with higher pay: hiked by 20%, 18.5% and 18% respectively. In addition, the length of each contract - hitherto always six months - has been increased to a year. For the first time in 12 years, daily allowances have also increased - in training camps they have been doubled, making it Rs 2000 (approx. USD 13), as well as on foreign tours, going from USD 50 to USD 100. Travel upgrades for tours have also been introduced so that the team travels business class on longer-distance flights. And all women cricketers will now also earn a match fee for each game of domestic cricket.

"The ten central contracts awarded were based on four comprehensive criteria, but does not mean other players are ignored. They need to work hard for it" Urooj Mumtaz

"We are an emerging nation in women's cricket and have a pool of only 40 to 45 girls playing in the domestic structure," Mumtaz, also a former Pakistan captain, told ESPNcricinfo. "We aim to make a professional set-up where contracts are earned rather assuming it as a privilege."

Despite the multiple upsides, a couple of decisions have stood out, such as the demotion of limited-overs captain Maroof and senior batsman Javeria to 'B' and that of Nahida Khan, from 'A' to 'C'.

"It is a result of their performance over the last one year and this new structure doesn't make anyone earn a highest contract just on the basis of seniority," Mumtaz explained. "Bismah acknowledged and accepted the category awarded and that her performances have not been up to par.

"She remains an integral member of our team and she believes she has a lot more to offer with the bat. The contract given to her is in no way a reflection of her captaincy."

Maroof, the second-most-capped Pakistan women's player after Mir, returned to captaining the side in January after a sinus operation, and led Pakistan to a historic 2-1 ODI series win over West Indies at 'home' in Dubai in February and levelled the following away ODI assignment, against the higher-ranked South Africa, 1-1 in May. She has also been Pakistan's leading run-scorer in T20Is in the past 12 months, with two half-centuries in the series against South Africa.

Javeria, Pakistan's leading run-getter in ODIs since June 27 last year, trails Maroof by two spots on the run-getters' list in T20Is, and had topped Pakistan's run-charts at the World T20 in the Caribbean last November where she stood in as captain. At the time, in a bid to manage her post-surgery workload, Maroof featured in the side only as a player.

Contradictory noises have come from Pakistan about the process by which these contracts were finalised. ESPNcricinfo understands that a number of senior players were not involved in discussions around the revised structure. Most of them, as part of the pool of the 17 contracted players for the 2019 January-June cycle that was announced earlier this year, were made aware of the decision only after it had been made by the board and the selection committee on Tuesday.

That, however, would go against what Mumtaz said. "All 17 cricketers were called in person or over the phone. We had a one-to-one detailed meeting with them about the new contracts, which are purely performance-based. They were explained the criteria individually and they all not only understood but also accepted."

Mumtaz added that comparing the depth of the PCB's pool of centrally contracted players with that of its English (21 cricketers) or Australian counterparts (14) "who have developed systems and 200 players to choose from," would not be fair.

"But our vision and plan is to get there. The main focus, regarding the women's central contracts, is on quality and top performers. The ten central contracts awarded were based on four comprehensive criteria, but does not mean other players are ignored. They need to work hard for it.

"From now on there will be three domestic tournaments being slotted per year. More matches means more opportunities for girls to mark an impact at national level. This pool will keep on growing once we have more elite cricketers that check our criteria, giving a wider pool of players more opportunities to play cricket as well earn money.

"This is extremely important as we need to value our women players and inspire more girls to play the sport at a higher level."