Multan (Web Desk) PAKISTAN’S domestic cricket season 2017-18 for regions gets underway with the National Twenty20 Cup scheduled to be held in Multan and Faisalabad from Aug 25 to Sept 10.Not long ago, the National T20 Cup enjoyed the status of being the most high-profile tournament of the domestic calendar. Introduced during the 2004-05 season, the tournament would feature all the regions and ensure the participation of most of Pakistan’s top national team players.Interestingly, Pakistan’s dominance in international T20 cricket,They were the runners-up in the 2007 World Twenty20, winners of the 2009 edition and a losing semi-finalists in 2010,
Coincided with some of the most competitive editions of the said tournament.In 2011, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) launched another tournament by the name of Super-8 Twenty20 limiting the participation to only the top eight teams of the National T20 — taking some of the gloss off the latter.An added incentive for the winner of the Super-8 T20 was an automatic qualification to the Champions League Twenty20 featuring top teams of major cricketing nations. The CLT20 was scrapped in 2015 and in 2016, Pakistan managed to launch its own Pakistan Super League (PSL).
Since then, the National T20 Cup in its original form has ceased to exist and has been replaced with an abridged version,effectively the Super-8 T20. This means that unlike the initial editions of the National T20, the upcoming edition,similar to last year,would only have eight teams.The regional teams to miss out on this year’s edition include six-time champions Sialkot and last year’s winners Karachi Blues among others.
The stated objective behind reducing the number of teams is to enhance the quality of the competition and subsequently increase the fans’ and sponsors’ interest. The composition of the teams is now vastly different from the past as the players are selected through draft rather than the universally accepted way of regions tapping their own talent, grooming them and selecting them for the representative teams.
In fact, ever since the successful holding of the first edition of PSL, the draft system has taken a firm hold on Pakistan’s domestic cricket. It is now also being followed in the selection of teams for the National One-day Cup and for the first time will be implemented in the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy first-class tournament as well.There is no doubt that the motivation behind these recent changes to the format and the selection process is a desire to make it more competitive; however, there is debate whether or not it is advisable to make such fundamental changes to the domestic cricket structure.
The National T20 competition in its original form attracted unprecedented popularity. The fans would typically get behind their local teams, the stadiums would invariably fill up especially during the knockout stages of the tournament and live television coverage meant that the players would feel that extra bit of pressure and motivation to perform.With the draft system in place, the regional teams are virtually unrecognisable and hence there is a danger of alienating the loyal fans. It has to be understood that local cricket fans do not merely support the ‘best’ players; rather,
They tend to support the players or teams they can relate to, are familiar with or feel an affinity towards. If only having a powerful line-up was a guarantee to bring in crowd and sponsors, the departmental cricket would have been a much more popular phenomenon by now.Even the popularity of the PSL cannot merely be attributed to the draft system as there are multiple factors that have contributed towards its success such as novelty of the concept, presence of international players, the marketing efforts from private franchise owners and the format itself.
One argument presented in favour of the draft system is ensuring transparency in selection as it is implied that the selectors at the regional level do not give preference to merit. A practical way to counter this challenge is to tie in incentives and benefits for the regional coaches or talent hunt managers to specific objectives such as performance of the regional team across formats and the number of players a region feeds to the national team in a particular season.
The reward or performance bonus of course has to be bigger than the benefit that can possibly be earned by indulging in favouritism and nepotism. These performance objectives would automatically motivate the regional selector to only go for the deserving talent.Cricket in all the major cricketing nations is played on a regional level where most of the players representing a state, county or province belong to the same geographical region with the exception of a handful who migrate seeking better prospects.
In Pakistan, it almost seems as if the PCB has given up on the idea of empowering the regions to become self-sufficient in not only their ability to feed the local talent but also in terms of grooming them into a powerful unit at the domestic level. The regions are perpetually dependant on the PCB to chart out policies and on the departments to take care of the players’ financial needs.
One way to avoid this situation is to encourage the departments to become viable and profitable standalone business units. Players in other parts of the world such as England, Australia and even India can now hope to earn a decent living without even making it to the highest level.With the new PCB chairman promising reforms at the domestic level, one hopes that there can finally be a solid plan in place.
The ultimate objective while chalking out any policy should not only be to make the domestic cricket more competitive in nature but also make it more relevant to cricketing public.The players would also prefer to be regular members of a single ‘team’ across all three formats — preferably their home region — where they can hope to become role models for youngsters and develop a loyal fan base for themselves as well as their team.