KARACHI: Ramiz Raja has come out in defence of his brainchild — the Pakistan Junior League.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman had proposed the idea of the PJL as a first-of-its-kind franchise-based tournament for under-19 players soon after assuming the charge.

The board announced on Tuesday that it would take “complete ownership” of the PJL after the six teams on offer went unsold in the bidding process for their ownership rights — hence reducing it to anything but a franchise league.

Despite claiming back in April that feedback by potential investors showed “huge appetite for cricket and a strong commercial market”, Ramiz has said that the latest decision was taken because qualified bidders did not share PCB’s vision and objectives.

“It is a misperception and misleading to say that the PCB was unable to sell franchise team rights for the Pakistan Junior League,” the PCB chief told Dawn.

“The fact is we had the investors on the table, including foreign entrepreneurs, but the PCB called off the process because we felt our vision and objectives were not entirely aligned as far as some commercial aspects of the event were concerned.”

Ramiz, who has repeatedly talked about creating “products” to attract more investment towards cricket, said the PJL was never about generating profits and suggested the PCB itself was ready to invest in the venture.

“Before entering into this venture about 10 months ago, the PCB was aware that development tournaments are not profit-making or revenue-generating events,” said the former Pakistan Test skipper.

“But, as we do for our domestic events, there will be no compromise on the quality of cricket and the PCB will continue to invest in its pathways cricket to make Pakistan a stronger and successful cricket brand.”

PJL’s inaugural edition, set to be held next month in Lahore, will be inspired by Australia’s Big Bash League — of which all the eight teams are owned by the country’s cricket board — and the PCB expects the model will help in giving the players a competitive stage to perform.

“…. in line with the BBL model, the PCB decided to take complete ownership of the teams so that we can produce and present the six best and equally balanced sides in a professional and competitive environment,” Ramiz said.

“This, supported by PCB’s excellent event delivery, will result in a successful event and set high level benchmarks and standards for the future.”

Ramiz, in a video posted on the PCB YouTube channel on April 29, had also claimed that “nearly 24 to 26 companies have come forward and expressed their interest in owning the franchises”.

“The interest is unlimited,” he went on to say.

However, Dawn understands only nine bidders, including owners of two PSL franchises, qualified technically and financially. The remaining bidders failed to make it because of what was deemed by the PCB as their low profile.

The two PSL franchise owners eventually pulled out of the process since the six PSL franchises decided to either bid together or not bid at all.

The PCB, it is understood, didn’t have many options but to go with the BBL model.

According to sources, the lack of interest by bidders who the PCB would have deemed satisfactory to own the teams came as a surprise after it predicted that the PJL would be an attractive product after market research and analysis.

Experts had predicted otherwise. One of them, a sports management professional who has worked with the Pakistan Super League, took to Twitter last month and wrote a thread on how unlikely it was for “a new franchise, set up for players with a maximum life-cycle of two years” to create hype.

The expert suggested it was more profitable for the PCB to join hands with the PSL franchises to run the PJL sides.

“A Lahore Qalandars / Karachi Kings U23 / U19 will get way more traction and response than a Gujranwala Gujjars/ Hyderabad Hawks U23/ U19,” he wrote.

“A new team / new identity is unlikely to be disruptive and create the buzz that a franchise-based tournament requires.”

Dawn understands the PCB mentioned the PJL informally to the PSL franchises along with the possibility of the women’s PSL — planned to be inaugurated early next year.

The idea may not have been expressly talked about but the impression that the franchises had that the PJL may be an extension of their existing products.

Sources suggested the PCB intended on bringing in new owners for the PJL but there was lukewarm interest because of the concerns about the product’s cricketing and commercial potential.

The PCB has also struggled to attract sponsorships for other commercial inventory of the PJL. According to local media reports last month, the board received less than 25 per cent of the reserve price for PJL’s title sponsorship rights.

The reports claimed only three companies participated in the bidding process.

Ramiz, however, was confident that “cricketing reasons” were enough to consider the PJL as a promising venture that has attracted interest from players from across eight Test-playing nations.

“For the talented youngster, there is everything to gain from the Pakistan Junior League — from having iconic cricketers in their dugouts to high-quality playing facilities to top-notch logistical arrangements to broadcast quality coverage to player fees, which may be crucial for a number of under-privileged cricketers,” said the 60-year-old.

“These cricketing reasons have earned an overwhelming support from the cricket-playing countries, including nine Test playing nations, who have recommended around 140 cricketers for the draft,” Ramiz concluded.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2022

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