Pakistan cricketers told to ‘prioritise country’ after poor World Cup

Star players have been denied permission to play franchise cricket as board doubles down on workload management.

Pakistan's Haris Rauf, center, and teammates celebrate the dismissal of Australia's David Warner during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match between Australia and Pakistan in Bengaluru, India, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Haris Rauf, centre, has been denied permission to play franchise T20 cricket in Australia after he turned down an offer to play for Pakistan in a Test series in Australia [File: Aijaz Rahi/AP]

Pakistan’s cricketers have been told to prioritise country over leagues with the new director of cricket warning against signing up for T20 franchises, two weeks after the South Asian nation wrapped up its poor run at the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Pakistan, who won the 50-over tournament in 1992, lost five of its nine matches at the World Cup, including the marquee clash against hosts India, and failed to make it to the semifinals.

After the dismal run, the team’s management underwent an overhaul. Star batter Babar Azam stepped down as captain across all formats, and the coaching staff has also been replaced by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Head coach Grant Bradburn, team director Mickey Arthur and batting coach Andrew Puttick were all let go while bowling coach Morne Morkel stepped down from his role as well.

Former captain and all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez has taken over the role of team director, and former Pakistan bowlers Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal are also part of the new-look support staff as bowling coaches.

“Every player has to understand that they should be available for Pakistan and their first priority should be to play domestic cricket in Pakistan,” a PCB spokesperson told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

‘Prioritise playing for the country’

Ahead of Pakistan’s departure for a series against Australia and New Zealand, Hafeez urged contracted players to “prioritse playing for the country” over franchise cricket.

“Contracted players must make themselves available for the national team,” Hafeez told reporters in Lahore on Tuesday.

Hafeez, who retired from international cricket in 2021, blamed the added workload of franchise leagues as a contributing factor for Pakistan’s poor performance in recent tournaments, including the Asia Cup, where it lost to India and Sri Lanka and failed to make it to the final.

He said players have suffered from fatigue and injuries with the increased frequency of T20 leagues.

“We experienced this in the Asia Cup and World Cup, where there was talk of fatigue, or players were getting injured because their workloads were too much, or they were not performing as they should.”

PCB officials believe that if cricketers play for international leagues after declaring themselves unavailable for the national team, they are inadvertently inflicting damage on the team.

“We have to watch our interests and do what is best for the team,” Hafeez said at the press conference.

According to the PCB, contracted players who were not selected for upcoming tours have been asked to play in the ongoing domestic T20 competition and for their first-class teams instead of searching for opportunities in the Abu Dhabi-based T10 League or other franchise tournaments.

Rauf was fit but chose not to play for Pakistan

Hafeez was questioned about PCB’s decision to deny fast bowler Haris Rauf the NOC (no objection certificate) to join his Melbourne Stars franchise in the upcoming Big Bash League in Australia after he declined to be part of Pakistan’s Test squad for Australia.

Rauf was expected to play in the three-match series, but he pulled out before the squad was announced on November 20 despite confirming his availability two days earlier.

“He [Rauf] told the chief selector [Wahab Riaz] that he wanted to play Test cricket but pulled out the following day,” Hafeez explained.

Riaz, who announced the squad, said Rauf changed his mind because he was “worried about his fitness and workload”. The PCB’s medical panel had declared him fit for the Test series.

Hafeez said Rauf seems reluctant to play the longest format of the game but added that the fast bowler was offered a contract with the understanding that he will “be available for Pakistan across all formats”.

It is not certain whether Rauf’s contract will be downgraded based on his decision, but Hafeez reiterated that the board’s NOC policy will be based on “what Pakistan needs”.

“It can never be the case that players treat [T20] leagues as first priority and Pakistan as second.

“If there is an opportunity that they can play [franchise cricket], that will be definitely considered.”

Rauf has not commented on his decision to opt out of the Test series.

The PCB declined Al Jazeera’s request to speak to the player and team director, citing its “no media interviews” policy during bilateral series and international tournaments.

Source: Al Jazeera