Unhappy at Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali‘s attempts to bypass the PCB hierarchy in meeting with Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan – also patron of the PCB – to discuss their reservations about the current domestic structure, board chairman Ehsan Mani has summoned the two for a meeting next week.
The new domestic structure, in which there are six regional teams and no departmental sides, was implemented last season, effectively under direct orders from Imran. Ultimately, Misbah and Ali – alongside Mohammad Hafeez – were joined by Mani and PCB CEO Wasim Khan in the meeting with Imran on Thursday. There, Imran insisted on pushing ahead with the structure as it stands, one that he has long been an advocate of.
But the meeting was an awkward one, not least because two of the highest-profile figures PCB employs – the head coach and selector and Test captain – were seemingly at odds with the two highest up the chain: Mani and Wasim. And the chairman and CEO were not happy with how they had been bypassed and Imran approached directly by Misbah and the players.
“The players know the structure has changed, as per the PM’s wishes,” a participant in the meeting told ESPNcricinfo. “The PCB implements that but then its employees decide it’s a good idea to go to the PM to challenge his decision and a structure their employers have implemented.”
“Every system needs to be given at least two to three years. The results will start coming in a year or so from now. If the prime minister thinks that this system will develop world-class players then we must back it for a year or the next 18 months at least. We shouldn’t rush for results, Pakistan is seven decades old, everything needs time and this system also needs time and our backing”
Misbah, Ali and Hafeez are not alone in their concerns, which, broadly, centre around the financial hit a lot of players have taken, as well as a drastic shrinking of the overall pool of domestic first-class players. Departments historically provided financial security to players not only during their playing days, but beyond, though it is also true that the number of active departments on the circuit has shrunk over the years.
The new structure, of six regional teams, has seen the number of active first-class players reduce from over 300 to 192. At the higher levels, players have seen their earnings drop too (as well as miss out on other employee perks departments offered) – although this season the PCB has enhanced pay scales across the board. The new structure has also added a weighty new cost burden on the PCB, which now pays the monthly salaries of all first-class cricketers. In the past, by dint of paying players’ salaries, departments picked up a considerable portion of that bill.
The new structure did have one high-profile endorsement, however. On the same day as the meeting, Shahid Afridi called for more patience with the set-up. “I don’t think there is unemployment at large with the end of departmental cricket, most of the sidelined players didn’t have a future in the game or were past their prime as players and nearing retirement,” Afridi said.
“Every system needs to be given at least two to three years. The results will start coming in a year or so from now. If the prime minister thinks that this system will develop world-class players then we must back it for a year or the next 18 months at least. We shouldn’t rush for results, Pakistan is seven decades old, everything needs time and this system also needs time and our backing.”
It is unlikely that any formal action will be taken against Misbah and Ali (Hafeez is not a centrally contracted player) beyond the meeting, but they are expected to be told in no uncertain terms that there cannot be such a situation again in the future.