Pakistan’s international commitments in the next Future Tours Programme (FTP) will focus on quality, not quantity, according to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
The new FTP for the period between May 2019 and May 2023 is close to what will be its final state, after members ironed out details at a scheduling workshop in Singapore earlier this month.
On the surface, the PCB seems to have come out of it badly. In total, they have 104 international matches inked in over four years (28 Tests, 38 ODIs and 38 T20Is). That is the lowest of all countries bar Ireland (102), Afghanistan (88) and Zimbabwe (88). For a board that was placed as the fourth-most valuable in the Big Three revamp of the game in 2014, that is an especially poor haul. Compare that to their current FTP, from May 2014 to May 2019 in which – if it plays out as is currently scheduled – they will end up playing 183 international matches.
The board can cite mitigating circumstances. They are the only country that has no matches scheduled against India, the side with the busiest schedule in the next FTP (159 matches). The PCB has initiated a dispute resolution process with the BCCI that – if it rules in their favour on a bilateral agreement signed in 2014 – they hope could add 19 more games to that calendar. That, however, is not really in their control nor, ultimately, is it likely to be in that of an independent dispute resolution committee of a sports governing body. Any resolution will come from higher political forces.
But board officials have also been eager to highlight that this haul represents an adherence to the guiding principle behind these FTP negotiations – that it is about quality of contest, rather than quantity.
“This is a quality against quantity thing,” one board official said. “At one point in the schedule, we tour Zimbabwe for a limited number of games. We could’ve scheduled more as we have a month left after it, but deliberately we haven’t – we don’t want to increase our quantity against lesser sides and drop our value.”
That value would be to a broadcaster; the PCB will begin negotiations for a new broadcast contract in 2019 with fewer games than the last cycle to show and most likely nothing against India. The board feels it can still do well out of that, able to boast of home commitments against what it has ranked as high-value opponents: South Africa, Australia and England.
A glance at the FTP would back that up, though only to a degree. Of their 13 home Tests, for example, seven are against high-value opponents and the rest against mid-value ones, such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Six of their 15 away Tests are against Australia and England.
The ODIs are a slightly different equation, given the mixing of the current FTP with the new one, and the introduction of two-year league within the calendar (rather than spanning it, as the Test league does). In that league, three of Pakistan’s eight opponents would be low-value ones: Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Netherlands (though a rivalry with Afghanistan has plenty of potential).
A team like the West Indies, which plays 62 ODIs in all, has as many as 29 matches against Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Nine of Bangladesh’s 35 Tests are against non-league opponents (Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan).
“All that talk of context, that uninteresting, non-competitive matches should be reduced – we have kept that guiding principle with us,” the official said.
Another factor is the impending expansion of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Next season, the league will include a new, sixth franchise and will last just over a month. From 2020, the PCB hope to have eight franchises and have thus carved out a six-week window in their home season for it. That has meant lesser space for international matches, especially Tests. Given the growing contribution of the league to the board’s financial health, that is a no-brainer.
The board sees gaps in the schedule as an advantage, allowing them some flexibility in being able to schedule more commitments should they be needed. That would, they acknowledge, be difficult against sides such as Australia and England, but perhaps not so against teams such as New Zealand or South Africa.
But those gaps are reflective of the biggest hole in their calendar – that of India. How those smaller gaps are filled – and, in fact, the final nature of the PCB’s FTP – will depend almost entirely on the result of the dispute claim against India.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.