After winning their inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) title, Quetta Gladiators’ Head of Player Management, Nabeel Hashmi, discusses recruitment, community engagement, and what makes the champions tick.
In front of more than 40,000 spectators at the National Stadium in Karachi, Quetta Gladiators celebrated their maiden PSL triumph last month. It was the culmination of several years of tireless work behind the scenes, from the creation of a brand new cricketing franchise to the development of an identity and winning mentality.
Nabeel Hashmi joined the Quetta Gladiators after their inaugural PSL season in 2016. Previously a newspaper journalist with Pakistan’s Express Tribune and the UAE’s Sport360, Hashmi was initially hired as the franchise’s media officer. But that role has evolved and he now has a key role in both player acquisition and management.
MONEYBALL COMES TO CRICKET
Hashmi is not alone, with a number of other journalists-turned-mangers now operating all across the league. Young, hungry and boasting encyclopedic knowledge of the game, they have been lauded for introducing a ‘Moneyball’ approach to recruitment, whereby underrated talent is unearthed and opportunities are given to those who have statistical, rather than star, quality.
“It’s been great to see that people have been recognizing the success of this approach,” Hashmi tells Sport Industry Insider. “We’ve seen the likes of Tymal Mills and Elton Chigumbura perform well, plus players like Jofra Archer, Mohammed Nabi, Mahmudullah Riyad and Rilee Rossouw.
“We’ve often gone for relatively unknown names but they are always players we are confident can be match-winners. Fortunately we have been backed by our owners and the head coaches as well. I’m really thankful that they believed me blindly with all those PSL draft picks.
“Really, though, winning the PSL was a proper team effort. From head coach Moin Khan to skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, team manager Azam Khan, mentor Sir Viv Richards and of course our owner Nadeem Omar. Quetta Gladiators is a family and we won it together.”
— Quetta Gladiators (@TeamQuetta) March 26, 2019
PSL vs IPL
Comparisons with the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s most lucrative cricket tournament, are inevitable for the PSL but when it comes to player recruitment, the PSL draft is a more egalitarian process than the IPL’s glamorous annual auction. Each PSL franchise has the same amount of money to spend on players and Hashmi feels this level financial playing field makes the league more competitive.
“In the IPL you see the richer teams who have got more financial muscle, go and buy the big players. But in the PSL all teams select players, turn by turn. It means that realistically all teams should be well balanced and all should be capable of going for the title. As a cricketing product, I think the PSL is right up there with the best leagues of the world.
“People will always want to judge whether the PSL can be as popular as the IPL but it is a silly comparison as the money they have in the IPL is insane. Still, I have asked the big names who have played for Quetta – players like Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo – and they believe that in terms of the bowling, the PSL is the very best. Sir Viv Richards said that Pakistan has so many fast bowling options they should loan some out to the world!”
BUMPER NEW TV DEAL
The immediate success of the PSL has been a little surprising to many outside of Pakistani cricket but for those on the inside, it was always a success story waiting to happen.
“It is not a shock for us,” Hashmi explains. “Pakistani cricket was waiting patiently for a competition it could be proud of and now we have got it. The PSL has given us exciting new Pakistani players and a popular product that can be well marketed.
“The TV ratings for the PSL have been increasing every year and it has given a new lease of life to Pakistani cricket and its fans,” Hashmi explains. “You can see when the PSL matches are going on, markets shut down and there is less traffic on the roads. People are glued to their TV sets for the month or a half.”
— Quetta Gladiators (@TeamQuetta) March 28, 2019
Given the majority of the PSL still takes place in the UAE (with eight matches played in Karachi this season), TV rights have unsurprisingly become a key money-maker for the league and its franchises. The most recent TV deal, penned with a consortium consisting of Blitz Advertising and Techfront, runs from 2019-2022 and is reportedly worth $36 million.
“Quetta are currently waiting for our share from the 2019 PSL, but that central pool is predicted to be between around 350% bigger than last year. A lot of money has been put into the league to get it off the ground but now the rewards are coming.
“I think what we have here is a much more sustainable product than the IPL – most of those teams are still making losses. But now the next three years could be brilliant for the PSL franchises.
QUETTA GLADIATORS: FOR THE FANS
And rather than looking to emulate the pizzazz of the IPL, Hashmi insists Quetta Gladiators look to Australia for inspiration. Their T20 competition, the Big Bash League, places a major emphasis on community engagement. Hashmi insists investing in Quetta’s home province of Balochistan is a major priority for the franchise.
“We saw with the Big Bash how the kids come out and support their teams and how they reach out to their fans. This is so important to us. Quetta and Balochistan are areas that have been deprived for years – infrastructure is poor and there has been little for the people to be happy about.
“Quetta Gladiators have offered them some happiness and we want to invest more in those who support the team. We do talent drives in the area and take promising players to Karachi – because it snows a lot in Balochistan – so that they can improve. We give them valuable exposure.
“We have also launched an inter-school competition, which has been happening for the last three years and continues to grow. And we want to launch a mini-league, where three or four teams in Balochistan can compete in the televised tournaments – to give local players a chance to make it to the PSL draft.
“Most excitingly, our owner Nadeem Omar along with the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Jam Kamal Khan have just announced that we will build a state-of-the art cricket academy in Quetta. This will be an absolute game-changer for the region.”
“Now we are seeing sponsorship money flowing through the veins of Pakistan cricket again…”
Beyond the investment from Omar, an agrochemicals magnate, Quetta has been able to attract notable sponsors to its cause.
“It’s amazing to think how far things have come,” Hashmi says. “In that first season of the PSL, franchises had just 35 to 40 days to get everything in place – players, sponsors, kits. It was the first experience for probably 95% of people involved and was a great learning curve.
“But we knew there was a vacuum to fill. With no international matches, no Pakistan vs India series – we knew there was an appetite and now we are seeing again sponsorship money flowing through the veins of Pakistan cricket.
“At Quetta we are fortunate to have some great sponsors. Engro, the biggest conglomerate group of Pakistan, have taken almost 80% of sponsorship, including the kit, while our other sponsors include KFC, Soneri Bank and Sprite. We are doing well.”
A NEW DAWN FOR PAKISTAN CRICKET?
The next step for Quetta and the PSL seems clear, but bringing the competition back on to Pakistani soil on a full-time basis is a complex issue in terms of security and politics. Pakistan cricket’s second home has been the UAE since 2009, when a terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team’s bus saw the sport move out of the country to neutral ground. Slowly, however, cricket is returning with select internationals and more PSL fixtures being played back in Pakistan.
The desire is certainly there to play all PSL matches in Pakistan in the future; sold-out stadia would boost both the tournament’s atmosphere and its finances. But more than that the monetary benefits, many see this as a fight for the soul of Pakistani cricket.
“We recently saw thousands and thousands of people turn up in the street to celebrate in Quetta,” Hashmi says. “We were in open-top vehicles not bullet-proof vehicles. That says a lot about how things have improved in Pakistan in terms of stability.
“I speak regularly to the players and they are entertainers – they need jam-packed stadiums to perform well. They are never going to get that in the UAE. I think it’s imperative for Pakistan and Pakistan cricket that the PSL returns fully here. We saw from the matches in Karachi this year that the stadiums will be full. Just imagine the PSL matches getting distributed to Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Islamabad, Rawalpindi.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that he wants the PSL to come to Pakistan next year. He understands the importance of cricket and has shown himself repeatedly to be a man of his word. So yes, we are hopeful that the PSL will return.”