Karachi - Pakistan is rolling the dice on
global superstars such as Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen to boost the
country's cash-strapped cricket board when its new high-octane, short-form
Twenty20 league begins in the UAE next month.
But insiders warn Pakistan's first
franchise-based league may not be enough to overcome revenue and time lost
during the country's long exile from hosting international cricket.
Pakistan has been forced to play nearly all
its home series at neutral venues since Islamist fighters attacked the Sri
Lanka team's bus in 2009, killing eight people and injuring nine others,
including six touring cricketers.
After two aborted attempts, the first
edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) will be held next month at two venues -
Dubai and Sharjah - in the United Arab Emirates, the team's home away from
"This was long overdue," former
PCB CEO Ramiz Raja said. "I think the spread and the pie will be larger
and the PSL will give hope and scope to Pakistan cricket besides helping
emerging and middle-tier players."
But insiders agree there is little hope for
the tournament to continue if it can't eventually return home for greater gate
and TV revenues.
With lower salary caps than leagues
elsewhere, it will also need to steer clear of the ever-present threat of
fixing that has hit its predecessor leagues in India and Bangladesh, resulting
in bans for the likes of international stars Shanthakumaran Sreesanth of India
and Mohammad Ashraful of Bangladesh.
With Pakistan's young pace star Mohammed
Amir making his international comeback after five years in the wilderness for
spot-fixing, the country can ill afford a repeat of the sort of controversy
that has blighted it more than any other team since the phenomenon emerged in
the late 1990s.
The board estimates it has lost nearly $200
million in TV and ticketing revenue from 2009 to date, a period which has also
coincided with a boycott by India - cricket's wealthiest nation, which guarantees
massive paydays for opponents.
To set about improving its economic health,
the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) decided it needed to replicate the success of
the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL), but two earlier attempts were
aborted after a lack of sponsorship, in 2013 and 2014.
PSL chairperson Najam Sethi was bullish.
"Teams will use merchandising and hopefully we will make this product
profitable which will help us stand on our feet and we will not need to take
money from anyone," he said on a TV show he hosts recently.
But compared to the IPL and Australia's Big
Bash League (BBL), the PSL looks like a "poor man's league".
The IPL earned $700 million from the sale
of eight franchises and attracted a whopping $1.75 billion from the sale of TV
rights over a 10-year period.
By contrast, the PSL's five teams were sold
for $93 million for a period of a decade while TV rights and title sponsorship
fetched around $20 million for three years.
While the teams - Karachi, Islamabad,
Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar - were given a total salary cap of $1.1 million
each, the IPL salary cap rose to $52.8 million for all teams combined in 2011.
In 2014, India's World Cup heroes Gautam
Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh earned $2.4 million and $2.33 million.
But the top five "icon players"
in the PSL - Chris Gayle of the West Indies, England's maverick Kevin
Pietersen, Australian all-rounder Shane Watson, and Pakistan's all-round pair
of Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi - will earn $200 000.
With its comparatively lower wage structure
and smaller returns, former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif fears PSL could be
particularly susceptible to fixing.
"Teams will not be able to recover
expenses without fixing," Latif, who as a player blew the whistle on
fixing teammates, said. "If they don't use that, they will suffer huge
Gayle, arguably the tournament's most
high-profile T20 star, recently damaged his own standing after being involved
in a sexism row following flirtatious remarks made to an Australian reporter in
He remains a box-office pull however, and
warmed up for his PSL stint with a record-equalling 50 off just 12 balls in his
final BBL innings on Monday night.
On the financial side, bringing the league
to Pakistan soil as soon as possible is key to its lasting success, a
management source said.
"Everybody's hoping and projecting
that the league will come to Pakistan. If it doesn't come in two to three years
then the viability becomes difficult.
"It's a bit untested. You're playing
25 to 30 matches in two venues. There is a limit you can draw. You don't get
the league feel of home and away games until you bring it to Pakistan - that's
when you can create a genuine buzz."
He added that the concept of merchandising
was new to Pakistan, where rampant piracy remains an issue, and it would be
difficult to give the competition a genuine league feel away from home.
But some in Pakistan's business community
are more optimistic.
"Our money box is empty and we have to
cajole India (to participate), but I am sure people will support it and in my
opinion in the next three to five years it will make profits," said
Pakistani businessman Zafar Motiwala.