It’s Not Easy Being Green
How External Factors Affect the Game of Cricket

By Naimal Fatima and Tajwar Mazhar

 

There is almost tangible excitement in the air during the day of a Pakistan cricket game. Fans decked in green, surrounding televisions and radios, radiate anticipation and anxiety. The hopes of a nation ride on the outcome of two sets of 50 overs.  From origins as a colonist game of elites to one now played in every ally and watched in every corner of the country, today cricket is a Pakistani creed.

Even as host countries Australia and New Zealand face one another in the World Cup finale, rugby remains far more popular with football inching its way up. The absence of another commercially viable sport makes cricket king in Pakistan, and increases our stake in the game’s outcome.

Sports fans often see their favorite team as an extension of themselves. On the international stage, national rivalries tensions and are played out. A cricket rivalry with India has undertones that exceed healthy competition. Emphasizing national sports teams were seen as a way to foster strong national-identities in former Soviet countries, post-World Wars, and in times of economic recession. Sports are a textbook outlet for both national pride and grievances. Anger at players reflects tones of venting load shedding. It is easy to see why cricket is a proxy to channel unrest—one has to just see the public’s mistrust of decisions made by the Pakistani Cricket Board.

Pakistan’s cricket team wears a heavy crown.

While sports fan revel in that romanticized win for the underdog, the uplifting moral victory—those are hardly commonplace. Successful sports teams, be it club or international league, are reflections of management and financial prosperity and most of all stability—something Pakistan is unfortunately is lacking. (Note that Australia and New Zealand are two countries ranked as “Sustainable” by the Fragility Index, a rank second only to Finland. Meanwhile in contrast, Pakistan is on “High Alert.” –Link to Namra’s blog post.)

Country-wide, Pakistan has a governance problem—one that trickles down to all institutions including the Pakistan Cricket Board. Everything from consistent changes in the board of director to allegations of scandal is not the best recipe for strong leadership. Additionally, a seeming lack of transparency in the Board’s budget and expenditure can make cricket audiences suspicious of rent-seeking activity.

A slow rate of growth, inflation, political instability, and constant security threats are a reality of Pakistani life. Cricket however both distracts and unites four provinces, languages and dialects, income level, and religion.

And that is a lot to ask from a sport that is highly politicized and corporatized. 

Sometimes we are too quick to judge our cricket team and jump to hasty conclusions; however, it is important to see the deep seated reasons for their underperformance and dearth of motivation witnessed on the world cup field. Maybe it is time to look through the eyes and needs of the players so in future they can acclimatize themselves to play under all conditions and circumstances.  For all this, mental stability is a prerequisite and that can be bought through better job security, team selection, merit based system and better pay incentives.

Luck is a dividend of sweat but what is important to see here is that are the players given enough motives that they will give their heart and soul to the game? Are they psychologically satisfied with their salaries, rewards and job security? How big is the fear of being kicked out of the team if they fail to perform in one match or they are not on the coach’s favorites list? This all impacts their game, how they play and how they want to play.

A snapshot of the past several cricketing years bodes well for the issue of cricketer’s annual salaries and their match performance.  Pakistani and Bangladeshi players are lowest paid at £22500 and 12000 annually respectively. While Australians and English players get £400,000, South Africans get £105,000, Indians receive 82500 while West Indians and Sri Lankans get £77,250 annually which is again much higher than the average Pakistani and Bangladeshi players. 

The motivation for participating in cricket varies from person to person and it cannot be restricted to just one motive, however, there is no denial that money is a huge motivation and the great pay gap leads to difference in motivation and among many other reasons this can have jeopardized team’s performance in the world cup. 

Petitions in national assembly have been filed against Pakistani players’ poor performance in world cup despite being paid huge sums of money. When compared with other sports like hockey yes cricket players are paid high but when compared with the international cricket players then they are one of the least paid teams in the world. This does embodies some kind of pressure on the players that their counterparts are paid much higher than them even if they do not have a better game or talent. The Pakistani captain Misbah ul Haq is considered to be a good player and falls in category A (highest paid players) yet his annual salary is less than India’s category C players.

Furthermore, not all players receive huge sums only few in category A receive a pay as high as £ 3500 a month while those in category B, C and D receive much less. Pakistani players also don’t get to earn extra by playing Indian premier league matches and when paid less sometimes they do get involved into abhorrent practices of match fixing and gambling. It is mainly because the system is highly politicalized, propagandized and has had countless offshooted vague influences and processes. A revision of the system is necessary of course.

The need of the time is to understand the psychology of the players, PCB should bring more stability and certainty in the selection, retention and payment methods and more importantly develop domestic cricket that can inoculates to resist pressure.

Just like its players, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s revenue stream is limited. Hence so is their influence in the international cricket sphere. There is a buying power for a greater role in the sport.

India is not only one of the biggest markets for consumers—with and estimated 500 million tuning in to any one international game, with the Indian Premiere League providing substantial supplementary income for players around the world. In contrast to India’s essential role in International Cricket, Pakistan has not hosted a home game within the country since the terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in 2009.

India is among the countries that make up ICC’s ruling body, “the Big Three”, along with Australia and England. Improvement in governance rests on whether the Big Three govern sensibly and with some imagination regarding the development of the game rather than just focusing on revenue generation. The lack of transparency, short-term financial wealth goals and increased decision-making authority to the Big Three leads to a paucity of development ideas. The International Cricket Board seems silent and paralyzed by the Big Three. More transparency is needed in these institutions and sport should be treated as a form of entertainment despite their role as a major source of revenue.

At the end of the day, the Team Pakistan is a reflection of the many opposing forces faced by the nation for which they play. Instability, affluence, and foreign relations are just one part of this equation. Commentators during the 2015 World Cup often complained about the lack of team spirit, confidence, and discipline. Cricket players are no different than the individual average Pakistani citizen. It is dumfoundingly optimistic to ask the team to be better and more disciplined. Our society as a whole needs to have more cooperate spirit, confidence, and discipline.

Pakistanis are zealots for the game of Cricket, but it may take more than better fielding to see the World Cup in our hands in the near future.