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Rameez Raja recently made some suggestions how to attract good quality players for the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and to resolve the problem of low spectator turnout in the UAE cricket stadiums.  His contention is that in PSL “each team has to stay under a predetermined salary cap set and cannot go over the budget – a restriction that keeps the absolute cream of world cricket away from the league”. The open auction system instead of the present draft system for player recruitment does have some merit. Teams pay a fixed price for each player purchase in the draft system i.e. with fixed wages instead of the preferred method of open bidding as done in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the other Twenty20 leagues. Attracting some of the best international cricketers, an auction will encourage each team to make an extra effort to get the best players. Big names in the teams will give cricket lovers that much more incentive to go to stadiums and see their favourite stars in action.

Rameez Raja’s other suggestion on how to fill up the near empty stadiums in Dubai and Sharjah by “hiring international tour operators to take fans from Pakistan to the UAE” is not only shocking, it is sheer and utter nonsense.  As one of the handful of Pakistanis “acceptable” to the IPL, was Rameez campaigning on someone else’s behalf to keep the PSL from ever being staged in Pakistan? Can foreign exchange-strapped Pakistan (US$ “spiking” from Rs 110 to 115 only yesterday) afford such luxury as their cricket-starved citizens spending hard earned foreign exchange on hotels, meals and taxis in cash-rich Dubai for nearly one month long tournaments or even only the few days when their favourite teams are on display with only about stadiums less than 10% full, even on Thursday nights and Fridays. Flying Emirates, Etihad or Fly Dubai, would 15000 from Pakistan fill even half the capacity of the UAE stadiums? Can Dubai and Sharjah Stadiums financially survive without the PSL funding them for 31 out of 34 PSL matches? Given the Pakistanis’ love and passion for cricket, one can safely guarantee that stadiums in Pakistan will be 100% full. Just look at the crowds for the “Eliminators” in Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium, someone please get me some tickets in “black” for the Karachi Final! The huge rentals for UAE Stadiums should be diverted to improving stadiums in Pakistan.

Even the 3 out of the 34 matches in the HBL PSL’s 3rd editions played in Pakistan provided some solace to our cricket hungry fans. Earning substantial revenues from the PSL, PCB spends a huge amount on travel, boarding and lodging plus other administrative expenses in the UAE for players (local and international), team officials, contingent of PCB officials and staff members, etc, etc. Add the expenses of the players, team officials, team owners, their families/friends, sponsor’s officials, staff members, TV engineers, crew, helpers, etc. Add also the Pakistanis travelling to Dubai for the PSL on their own. Rameez Raja could well be UAE’s Roving Ambassador, trying to augment the oil-rich, tourist-rich Gulf economies at the cost of Pakistan.

PCB direct expenses in UAE notwithstanding, count the direct and indirect expenditures and huge savings in foreign exchange. The amount that PCB spends hosting the event in the UAE would be at least ten times more than what the tournament would cost in Pakistan and would directly and indirectly economically boost local economy. With capacity crowds cheering the players for every match, PCB will earn more revenues than what it does in the UAE, this enables them to possibly double or even triple the amount of money and provide more incentives to foreign players to play in Pakistan. Moreover PCB’s overall profit of $2.6 million from the first Twenty20 League and around $6 million earned from television rights and gate money would increase significantly if the PSL is played in Pakistan.

To Najam Sethi’s credit, other than staging the PSL extravaganza, it would be fair to say that the PSL really has produced a good amount of talent in just 3 years. This can be force-multiplied many times over like the IPL has done for the Indian cricket team. There is wealth of untapped talent waiting to be discovered. With people coming to see their stars in action, if the tournament is held in Pakistan, the Sponsors’ message will also get increased exposure. A PSL on Pakistani soil will prove to be a huge boost in helping revive international cricket in Pakistan, a win-win situation for everyone involved.

More than any other sport cricket arouses widespread emotion.   The frenzy and enthusiasm of the Lahore crowd on Mar 20 and 21 said it all, it was stupendous.   Sports capture the dormant patriotism and evokes it to cement the unity of the nation.   Would this fervour be any less in Quetta, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Multan, Islamabad, Hyderabad, etc? For a country scarred by long years of terrorism, the collective activity of cheering for one’s teams and favorites will both heal and bind the nation.

More importantly despite Pakistan paying a heavy price in the “war against terrorism”, what is the perception the world gets by not holding the PSL in Pakistan? Despite all the heroics and ultimate sacrifice of our brave soldiers this graphically suggests that our security establishment is not confident about preserving the peace in Pakistan.  In effect PSL being staged outside Pakistan is an adverse propaganda against Pakistan’s national security, the irony is that PCB is inadvertently funding anti-Pakistan campaign to the world that Pakistan is still not safe for sports. No wonder this provides international cricketers with a tailor-made reason for not coming to Pakistan.

A team of global security experts had reviewed the security preparations for the Final to be held in Karachi. With thousands of troops, military helicopters, armed police and guards earmarked to ensure the safety of foreign players, they had expressed complete satisfaction that the arrangements met with international standards required for foreign teams to visit Pakistan.  Considering this green light once PCB makes the PSL lucrative for foreign players, they will come to Pakistan.  Najam Sethi has done a tremendous job providing Pakistani cricket with a world class stage to showcase its talent. Being on record that he hoped the entire 2019 tournament would be played in Pakistan, Najam must oversee the transition for the tournament to be played in Pakistan. No more PSL’s abroad please!


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