Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000
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The PCB has pushed back a commitment they made over three years ago to launch a women's T20 league and shelved women's exhibition matches on the eve of the start of the ninth season of the PSL.
In 2023, three women's exhibition matches featuring players from countries including South Africa, England and New Zealand were held, but this time around, it's not on the agenda. Tania Mallick, head of the PCB women's wing since 2021, attributed this to the uncertainty around the PCB chairman, saying the interim management committee led by Zaka Ashraf until last month did not wish to financially commit to a women's league.
"The impression I got was they did not feel they were in a position to make such big financial decisions," Mallick told ESPNcricinfo. "What was conveyed to us was the next committee and administration would do this, 'we don't want to'. The obstacle is not within our management or the financial officers within the PCB. It was the interim management committee that was not willing to commit. I don't feel frustrated with my management because they all agree [we need a league]. Even the PSL department, we had planned everything but it was taken off the board at the last minute. This was towards the tail-end of the Zaka regime. It was quite disappointing for all of us and I told the girls that repeatedly."
There was little to no public communication from the PCB regarding its plans or intentions for women's cricket for the best part of 2023. Much of the year was a difficult period for Pakistan women's cricket, though it ended on a note of optimism as the side whitewashed South Africa 3-0 in a home T20I series, before becoming the first Asian side to beat New Zealand in New Zealand, stunning them 2-1 in the T20Is.
After that series, Fatima Sana spoke to ESPNcricinfo, and said that the three exhibition matches had "opened up the minds of our girls" and that "all the players want" to have their own league. The PCB has toyed with the idea of various leagues besides the PSL across three different chairs, with the Pakistan Junior League taking place in 2022. Last year, a local T10 league was also mooted, which Mallick said would have potentially included women's games.
But for a board that once spoke about getting Asia's first women's T20 league off the ground, things have changed significantly.
"Every new administration who comes in also doesn't necessarily have the same kind of interest in women's cricket," Mallick said. "I still feel Pakistan is at the emerging stage of women's cricket and needs to go a long way. So [the administrative turnover] has a huge impact. We always wonder if we'll have a women's league or exhibition matches now, but if we had one chairman these question marks would not have been there. A couple of chairmen announced it'll definitely happen but because every chairman had such a short span of time, they spent most of their time firefighting and couldn't have a strategic policy."
"There was talk about a T10, and women were a part of that but unfortunately that couldn't take place and women's exhibition matches have also been pushed back. But all the chairmen that have come in, it's not as if they're unwilling to support us. They've imposed no financial cap on us to prevent us from holding camps or sending our Under-19 team to Bangladesh. But the problem is that normally with a chairman we can plan for a three-year period. There was a restriction there because we were only able to plan for a few months here and there.
For Mallick, there is a possible reason for optimism, as there are signs of stability returning to the PCB. Mohsin Naqvi was elected as PCB chairman on a three-year term earlier this week, and barring significant unforeseen events, should be in the role for the foreseeable future.
The Pakistan women's team celebrate a historic series victory in New Zealand•Getty Images
"With the new chairman coming in hopefully we can plan for a longer period," Mallick said. "Higher management have told us repeatedly that it's not that we are not supporting it, we definitely support it but as soon as we have firmer footing, it will be in place. We are hopeful we don't have to go back on that one because I felt the exhibition matches had a very good impact in terms of exposure."
Mallick was unwilling to commit to a firm date for a women's league. While she hopes it will happen "earlier than 2025", that would mean a league happening independent of the PSL, as well as the PCB carving out a window that does not clash with other stakeholders, a scenario that is optimistic to the point of being unrealistic.
But having been in the job for more than two years, Mallick admitted that having had just three exhibition matches to show by way of a league has been "frustrating". She feels attracting top talent from around the world will not be an issue, pointing to the players that made the trip over for those exhibition matches, and adding Pakistan have received expressions of interest from players around the world.
She also warned against the dangers of a league rushed through, though. "We don't want to compromise on the quality of the league we put up. If you saw the exhibition matches, the broadcast, everything was at par with the men's league," she said. "It has to be of that quality, anything below that is not acceptable. The new chairman has only just come in, so you really can't say how it'll be taken up in the future with the Champions Trophy taking place in 2025 as well, but we're very hopeful.
"Pakistani women cricketers don't get called up to many leagues. Fatima Sana was a one-off because she gave such an exceptional performance in New Zealand and she was asked to stay back. They don't get that exposure, and I think that's really holding us back. As the landscape in women's cricket is changing, the style of women's cricket is changing. Our girls only play against each other, and when they play, they play against international teams.
"Playing a league is very liberating because you don't have the pressure of international matches. When you play in a league, you can bring out your personality and play the way you want to. You play against senior players, you learn their style and learn from those coaches. But our girls don't get that."