Pakistan players and PCB close to reaching common ground on new contracts

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Nearly two months after the end of their previous central contracts, the Pakistan players and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) are close to signing off on fresh contracts. There is optimism that all players will sign them this week and, if not, almost certainly before the Asia Cup starts on August 30 after a number of key objections were effectively addressed.

While a number of points of divergence between the players and the PCB look set to linger on, common ground has been found with regards to No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) for players for T20 franchise leagues. When Shaheen Afridi’s bumper ILT20 contract was signed, the PCB’s position was that it was the only league besides the PSL he, or any other Category A player, could participate in. Players in the lower categories would be allowed to play two leagues besides the PSL.

After pushback from players, the PCB has softened on that position. ESPNcricinfo understands all centrally contracted players will be allowed a maximum of two leagues aside from the PSL, contingent on international requirements. There is also greater permissiveness for players without central contracts; they can theoretically participate in as many leagues as they are drafted in as long as they can obtain NOCs from their domestic sides. One source familiar with the negotiations told ESPNcricinfo they wished to follow a “common sense approach with a view not to prevent players from earning”.

Other issues have proved more intractable, one of the reasons contract negotiations have been stretched out and agreement delayed for so long. A source at the PCB privately acknowledged that the turmoil at board level had unsettled players and undermined players’ confidence in the board, as well as the ability to negotiate in a functional and effective manner.

The last three months have seen caretaker PCB chairman Najam Sethi depart in contentious fashion, with Zaka Ashraf replacing him. Zakir Khan was was also replaced as Head of International Cricket when he retired, with the PSL head Usman Wahla returning to the role. During this time, several senior players have been dispersed across the cricketing world, making direct discussions difficult. However, all senior players are now in Sri Lanka ahead of the three-match series against Afghanistan, with Wahla joining them ahead of the series to finalise agreements.

Earlier this month, it was reported players were set to be given “historic hikes” in their central contracts, with Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Afridi set to receive as much as PKR 4.5 million (USD 15,900 approx.) before tax as a monthly retainer. While it was felt at the PCB that this increase would be enough to do away with any other concerns players had, this had not proved to be the case.
Players’ image rights, revenue sharing and independent sponsorship deals continue to present negotiating roadblocks. These issues came up last year ahead of the Asia Cup as well, with some players feeling they had been rushed into signing contracts ahead of that tournament without proper resolution. There appears to be some give from the PCB on non-exclusive sponsorship deals, meaning individual players can agree deals with sponsors that may be in direct competition with the PCB’s own sponsors. But it is not explicit how that would work in practice. It remains unlikely, for example, with Pepsi as the PCB’s long-time sponsor, individual players could strike separate commercial deals to advertise for Coca Cola. But areas of lesser strategic importance, such as telecommunication companies or housing schemes, could see more flexibility.

ESPNcricinfo understands the PCB is reluctant to go public with its revenue-sharing model – that is, how much money they set aside from revenue earned over a year to share with players – but is open to finding other ways to further financially compensate players. Both parties privately acknowledge that the issue of image rights will be kicked into the long grass once more, but it is expected that increases in retainers and match fees will appease players enough to sign their central contracts.

Should pen be put to paper this week, it would put an end to a significant distraction ahead of a busy time for Pakistan cricket. The ODI series against Afghanistan will be followed up by the Asia Cup, and then the World Cup in India, before the year is rounded out by a three-match Test series against Australia.

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