The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani is upbeat about the forthcoming edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), commencing on Thursday. It would be Mani’s first PSL as the PCB boss. In an interview with The Indian Express, he spoke about the PCB’s intention to hold the entire event in Pakistan from the next year onwards and also that the Pakistan board has paid $1.5 million to the BCCI in legal costs after losing the ICC arbitration. Excerpts:
This would be your first PSL as the PCB chief. How do you look at it?
The last three years have really helped build the PSL brand. And we expect it to be absolutely world-class again this year. We have got nearly 45 overseas players signed up for it. So it’s obviously popular. There are six franchises and all the overseas players for the franchises have confirmed that that they are prepared to come and play in Pakistan. For the final leg, we are going to have eight matches in Pakistan this year. So it’s very good and positive. It’s a great pity that we can’t have Indian players playing because they are busy with their own. But I would love to have them on board.
BCCI doesn’t allow its players to play in overseas T20 leagues.
Yeah, I appreciate that. I hope things will change over time. There are a lot of overseas players coming to play in India. So I think there should be some reciprocity there, but that doesn’t seem to be.
When do you expect Pakistan to host the entire PSL?
Well, we are certainly going to try and hold the maximum (number of matches) next year, if not all. We will do an assessment obviously after this PSL. It depends on a number of things. Obviously, Pakistan hasn’t hosted international cricket for many years. It only just (re-)started two years ago. So we need to get some of our stadiums up to the level where we can host them. That’s the only limiting factor. The players seem to be happy to come. So we don’t see an issue there. We should be able to do it by next year.
After taking charge of the PCB, have you introduced any additional anti-corruption measure with regard to the PSL?
The PCB now has a very, very robust anti-corruption regime. We have a very, very good player awareness programme, regular interface with the ICC and its ant-corruption unit. And with all our players coming into the game at the first-class level and the academies, they are tutored and mentored on anti-corruption. So in terms of awareness, the Board is doing everything that’s necessary I believe.
How important this PSL is going to be for the players, with an eye on the World Cup?
Like the IPL, the PSL is helping the emerging players in terms of developing their skill. They are playing in front of big crowds and more importantly, they are playing with international stars. All of that helps develop the young players. If there’s any find (of the tournament), someone who does really well, then obviously that will have some influence (with regard to the World Cup squad selection). But we are playing five ODIs before the World Cup against Australia (in UAE) and five against England (in England); two very good opponents. That’s going to be our main preparation for the World Cup. Between now and the World Cup, we are playing 10 ODIs.
What is the PCB’s stance on Sarfraz Ahmed? (Sarfraz directed a racist taunt at South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo in Durban last month.)
Look, he immediately apologised. There was no need to have a word with him about the incident. Because, what he said in Urdu was quite innocent. Actually what he was saying to the player was that ‘your mother has been praying special prayers for you’. He just used the word, ‘black’, which was totally unacceptable. And he understood that, when it was explained to him. And he apologised straightaway. The PCB apologised straightaway. Everyone accepted our apology on the South African side.
So Sarfraz stays as Pakistan captain for the World Cup?
Yes, he will remain captain.
The absence of bilateral series notwithstanding, the PCB and the BCCI have always been on good terms. But after the legal fight in the ICC, is it a case that bridges have been burned?
No. Because we changed our leadership at our end; what happened in the past has happened. I have very good relations with both Mr Rahul Johri (BCCI chief executive) as well as Mr Amitabh Choudhary (BCCI acting secretary); the two people I have met. We got on well. We respect each other. And we talk about the game and the administration of the game. And we do not get involved with politics.
As things stand, it’s very unlikely that India and Pakistan are playing a bilateral series in the near future?
As far as bilateral series are concerned, we are not discussing with the BCCI for two reasons. One is that the general elections in India, that has its own connotations. And the second is that the BCCI itself has to have elections. So once those elections have taken place, it will only be after that there probably should be some dialogues; we can work together or not.
The ICC directed the PCB to pay a certain percentage of the legal costs to the BCCI from the disputes resolution proceedings that India won. Any update on that?
We have paid it. We paid it straightaway. It wasn’t the ICC. It was the arbitration panel which ruled and we respected that. We paid approximately $1.5 million.
The PCB managing director Wasim Khan said the other day, ‘let’s create a situation where they (India) ask us (Pakistan) to play’. Your thoughts…
Yeah, that’s going to be the objective – top three in the ICC rankings. Those are the targets we are setting ourselves. And if we are playing good cricket, then hopefully other countries will want to play against us.
Explained | How PSL can lead to Test cricket’s return to Pakistan
Pakistan’s bid to host Test matches, which it hasn’t since the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus by a militant outfit in 2009, in the near future would get an impetus with Karachi and Lahore hosting eight matches — including the entire knockout stage of this edition’s Pakistan Super League.
While the two venues have hosted finals of the 2017 and 2018 editions, with the UAE hosting the remaining matches, it’s the first time the country is getting multiple matches as well as a substantial presence of international stars.
As many as 45 overseas players — among them A-listers such as AB de Villiers, Kieron Pollard, Shane Watson Carlos Brathwaite and Colin Munro — have consented to play matches in the country. And if the home leg runs smoothly, there wouldn’t be a bigger advertisement for Pakistan’s readiness to host bilateral Test series again than this. It could have a rub-on effect and more teams would be gradually encouraged to play in the country.
Already, emboldened by the successful hosting of PSL matches, teams have toured Pakistan, though amidst heavy security. Last year, soon after the PSL final, a depleted West Indies landed in Pakistan for a three-match T20Is series. So did Sri Lanka, returning to Lahore after 10 years for a T20I, and the West Indies women’s team most recently.
In between, a World XI, predominantly comprising South Africa players, too had dropped in for T20Is. But Pakistan would clearly want to, and have expressed the desire several times, to host matches on a grander scale. And this edition of the PSL could pave the way.
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