- Country’s premier event facing financial and political challenges
- The new Chairman PCB is in turbo-mode to upgrade the infrastructure
An interview with Mr. Aqeel Samar – Radio presenter and emerging commentator
PAGE: Tell us something about yourself
AQS: I started my media career as a Radio presenter and this passion still runs in the blood. Doing cricket commentary was always a larger than life dream as it is the best seat in the house. Back in 2006, when Muhammad Yousuf set a world record by scoring most runs in a calendar year, I requested the FM Radio producer to give me a go as same channel used to cover all cricket happenings in Pakistan. He reluctantly but thankfully allowed me to sit along with Chishty Mujahid and Hasan Jaleel in National Stadium Karachi. Since then, every second spent on a lip microphone gives me feeling of flying without wings.
PAGE: How do you think is PSL (Pakistan Super League) beneficial for Pakistan economy?
AQS: In order to understand the benefits of a league like PSL, I think we should first look around and see what it had done in the UAE. The first three editions were almost fully staged over there whereby not only their two stadiums got activity day-in day-out for around three weeks but also a long list of people profited from the occasion, like the hotels, event management, transport, airline and who not.
Once it was transferred to Pakistan, same uptick was expected over here, but I don’t think that the true potential is off by many a miles. Mainly the hotels have remained occupied but since there is a dearth of quality 5-star hotels in Lahore and Karachi, so I am sure they didn’t appreciate much the business which came their way.
Hence I would say that in order to reap the benefits of an event of such magnitude, PCB should make some longer term goals in coordination with provincial and federal governments. PCB need a lot of capacity building and at the same time it can trigger the potential investors to join in.
Very recently, the new Chairman has been working in full throttle towards somewhat similar direction as he has been meeting business tycoons in Karachi and also working towards commercializing the stadium. I would say if it can make some use of the land available around National Stadium Karachi, it will kill many birds with one stone. PCB can built an upscale hotel giving revenue stream to Sindh Cricket and itself, it can add to the list of handful of so-called five star hotels in the metropolitan and it will also solve the commuting problems faced during any cricketing event.
I would like to see hospitality related businesses grow with PSL as I have seen them minting dirhams in Dubai out of our own league, hopefully, with time they will grow in stature and quality.
PAGE: Do you think PSL has established itself as a global cricketing product or how far do you see it from achieving the status?
AQS: PSL certainly comes in the second tier after the grand league organized by our neighbors. In fact for many neutral fans and analysts, it is head and shoulders above Big Bash or Caribbean League mainly due to the quality of bowlers we have in Pakistan. Also, Australian or English tournaments are a bit different in nature, they do not rely on overseas players, whereas, we consider them as cogs in the wheels of our franchise cricket. So I have seen players and commentators ranking the quality of cricket very high. There are many areas to improve as well and we were on the right track just before Covid-19 pandemic. Like every franchise should be playing on home and away basis. For that, Multan has got a mega facility, Rawalpindi has got compact but happy-go-lucky stadium. Arbab Niaz Stadium is catching up in Peshawar and perhaps it will be there in the eighth edition. I would love to see Quetta in this list too. But there may be many financial and political challenges in that.
We should also be able to provide the players a wholesome experience in terms of a package. If there is no Covid, they do not want to confine themselves to their rooms, no matter how luxurious the hotel is. I think this was one of the reasons that many star players were available when it was happening in the UAE but not now. Give them golf course, perhaps scuba-diving in Kund-Malir and they should be almost as happy as they were in the dunes of the desert.
Coming back to the quality of the sports being played, I think it has been top-notch. I heard many references to the PSL data while they were analyzing World T20 games, it should be a testament to the level of the competition.
PAGE: How could brands of Pakistan leverage their position by associating with PSL?
AQS: They started with a boom with almost every FMCG brand having their logos placed on the players’ kits but then I guess they went for the quantity instead of quality. Also, it was a one of the Big Three Middle-Eastern Airlines sponsoring the first event in UAE just before the middle-east conflict saw light of the day. Later, we started seeing many housing schemes, internet start-ups or entities promoting themselves instead of the typical brand engagement. Again, I think franchises and the PSL management are not taking the long-term view but instead only focusing from tournament to tournament.
It would be great if the basic framework is provided by the PCB Marketing team like official airline, official food partner etc. But sponsorships like official biscuit or official green-tea of a franchise are in fact diluting the overall value. They should take a step back, and try to focus on the quality.
The new Chairman PCB is in turbo-mode to upgrade the infrastructure including the option of building a new stadium in Islamabad, it sounds very exhilarating. He is targeting it to be completed before 2025 Champions Trophy that to me is a bit too ambitious. But he will still be my hero if he can give us a state of the art facility in the Capital. As in for Gwadar stadium, I have heard that it is too small for competitive cricket. However, in can continue to be used for fun games. Cricket cities could be established around Gwadar and Chitral stadiums where tourists could be offered homestay, this way the local economy may flourish and tourists can have the feel of local culture. It would be a dream coming true if international cricket could be played in the shadows of Nanga-Parbat, but it will involve many stakeholders including the military and civil establishment, but I will keep my fingers crossed.
PAGE: Do you think rise of Omicron – new Covid-19 variant, will affect PSL?
AQS: Seeing the tides of Omicron these days, it most certainly will affect the tournament in one way or the other. What will matter is that how many cases we are going to witness and what would be the response of the PCB. Series like Ashes and longer tournaments like Big Bash have lately seen many Covid cases, but none of the games were stopped or significantly delayed, there were only a few minor adjustments in the Big Bash schedule. I would urge PCB to go with just one plan, i.e. to continue completing the tournament with pool of reserve players no matter how many cases may come. They have agreed on a list of 20 players who will be readily available for selection and will remain a part of the bubble. I would got a step further and advice that all first class cricketers should consider themselves fit and available if the call comes. If the tournament goes unscathed, only then we can increase confidence of the world for the future series.