Imad Wasim, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Amir were among a group of Pakistan’s cricketers on the verge of a strike last week, until a meeting with PCB chief executive Wasim Khan averted the threat – for now.
Frustration and discontent with the PCB’s restrictive participation policy on foreign leagues had been rising among the country’s leading white-ball cricketers – a number of them currently preparing for the first T20I in Australia – and emboldened by the players’ strike in Bangladesh, it nearly led to the most serious collective action by Pakistani players in over 40 years, at the time of the Packer series.
At the heart of it was the players’ anger at the PCB’s revoking of NOCs for the upcoming T10 league in Abu Dhabi, but the meeting ended up encompassing a number of issues, including the overall NOC policy and communication between players and the board.
Accounts vary of how many players met Khan on the day of the National T20 Cup final – anywhere from four to 12, while some players met or communicated with him separately. But a majority of those affected by the T10 decision were present, and Imad is believed to have played a lead role in the discussions.
“We are given India’s example and how their board doesn’t give NOCs, but Indian players earn millions in IPL, their domestic salaries alone are good enough, they don’t need to play other leagues”
An unnamed Pakistan player on the current mess
The meeting was, according to some present, constructive and rancour-free – Khan retains credibility among some players – and ended with some wins for the players. Notably, a review is now underway of the board’s NOC policy, the aim of which will be to find a balance between ensuring “no financial losses for players, workload management and participation in domestic tournaments”. But the situation remains fluid, especially as the PCB insists it will not change its T10 decision.
As well as the T10 bar, players have seen participation in the CPL curtailed this season. In the world of T20 leagues, the CPL is important for Pakistani players, who are barred from the IPL and often see stints in the BPL or BBL affected by international commitments as they run during Pakistan’s home season. The PCB operates an informal “PSL plus one league” policy on NOCs, in place since Najam Sethi was board head.
Nine Pakistani players were picked during the CPL draft in May but only three played five or more games. Two had heavily restricted stints and two had to pull out because of a PCB training camp ahead of the Sri Lanka series. Two players lost out entirely because the PCB didn’t issue an NOC in time. Indeed, a breakdown in the relationship between players and the international cricket department, who handle player NOCs, is a key issue.
Meanwhile, as many as 15 frontline Pakistanis were picked in the T10 draft, but as things stand, only two will likely play: Shahid Afridi and, possibly, Imran Nazir. The decision to revoke those NOCs, it has emerged, came after the prime minister and board patron (and former captain) Imran Khan expressed concerns directly to PCB chairman Ehsan Mani about Pakistani players participating in a league that has some degree of Indian ownership and investment (although it also has significant Pakistani stakes in it). It is believed he thought participation wasn’t going to be in line with Pakistan’s foreign policy stance on India.
But ESPNcricinfo understands that as far back as the end of August, the PCB had already informed T10 organisers that Pakistani players would not be released this year because of international and domestic commitments. It was only after the league reached out to players, who in turn approached the board, that conditional NOCs were granted, which now stand revoked altogether.
In all this, the players continue to feel aggrieved. Already they are among the lowest-paid in international cricket – and the central contracts pool has shrunk considerably this year. To add to it, they’ve felt the pinch of a new domestic cricket restructure which has left their pay significantly reduced.
Several players have expressed their frustration to ESPNcricinfo, but on the condition of anonymity, because they are worried about reprisals from the PCB.
“Pakistan didn’t have a coach or selection panel when players were looking for CPL NOCs,” one said. “It was a complete mess. Some got NOCs for four games, some didn’t get any, some received for the entire duration. How are we going to cover the financial loss?
“If we play an entire domestic season even then we won’t be making as much as in these leagues. We are given India’s example and how their board doesn’t give NOCs, but Indian players earn millions in IPL, their domestic salaries alone are good enough, they don’t need to play other leagues. We understand the PCB can’t give us that much money but at least make it reasonable, at least give us some clarity.”
Another said: “If they didn’t want us to play T10, then why didn’t they tell us earlier? Why did we even enter the draft? Same with the CPL. Why would franchises sign Pakistan players in the future when they know the PCB can do anything anytime?”
There is no players’ association in Pakistan, a major hurdle to organised collective action. There never has been one, though they came close to having one in the aftermath of the Packer fallout in 1976, when several players – including Imran – refused to play for Pakistan until they were paid better.
In light of this one of the meeting’s more intriguing developments was the suggestion to use Imran Ahmed Khan, the PSL player acquisition head and a PCB employee, as a mediator for player-board negotiations. Players are unlikely to mind though Khan is a board employee, which – in negotiations – would represent an obvious conflict of interest.
No further meetings are scheduled as of now between players and the board – the board considers the matter resolved. But the T20s with Australia finish on November 8, and the players could potentially regroup with a week to go before the T10 begins.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.