The Kashmir Premier League (KPL) has recently been in the limelight for its unique attempt to bring top-quality cricket to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) region of Pakistan. The tournament which will involve 6 regional franchises is scheduled to run between 16th and 27 of May and will involve well-known Pakistan players such as Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Hassan Ali.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the Director of Operations of KPL Mr. Taimoor Khan, spoke about the organizational structure and the reasons behind the establishment of this league, what it means for the reputation of the AJK region as an island of stability, the high quality of cricket talent in the area, the enthusiasm about this tournament amongst the Kashmiri diaspora around the world and his hope of seeing Kashmiri players representing Pakistan at the international stage.
By Amir Husain (18th March, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about the organizational structure of the Kashmir Premier League (KPL) and your role in particular?
Taimoor Khan: My exact designation is Director Operations, but I am very honoured to says that I am heading the KPL right now and looking after all operational aspects of the league. Apart from being in charge of player acquisition, I have also set-up the organizational structure of the league which includes the finance and marketing departments as well. I am extremely proud to say that we have been able to avail the services of some top-quality professionals who have been involved in the Pakistan Super League as well. As our Director of Marketing we have Fahad Zaheer Khan who has worked as Head of Marketing for Osaka Batteries and Volta Batteries and is someone who introduced these brands to Pakistan cricket and they have now become their main sponsor as well. All in all, we have a strong team at the KPL which augurs well for the success of the league. Of course, we are very fortunate to have the leadership of Arif Malik who is the Chairman of the league, Chaudary Shehzad Akhtar who is the CEO of KPL and the Pakistan fast-bowling legend Wasim Akram who is the Vice-President of KPL.
PakPassion.net: What was the exact reason behind organizing the Kashmir Premier League?
Taimoor Khan: Let me start by saying that the Pakistan Cricket Board lead by CE Wasim Khan, who himself has a Kashmiri background, is doing its utmost to engage with and bring into Pakistan domestic cricket some very talented cricketers from this part of Kashmir. However, we felt that more could be done to showcase talent from this part of Pakistan at a national level and we wanted to show the world that a league of a good standard can be organized here. We are of course very fortunate that we have a league of the quality of the Pakistan Super League which we are using as a benchmark for us and one we are all proud of, and of course, we have no intention of competing with that tournament. So, to reiterate the purpose of holding this league is to showcase the talent here, to highlight the beauty of this region and to send a positive message to the rest of the world about how peaceful this part of Kashmir is, especially as there are perceptions about the whole of Kashmir as an area of strife.
PakPassion.net: Given the number of other T20 leagues in place at the moment, what is the attraction of participating in the KPL for franchise owners?
Taimoor Khan: We have gone through a stringent process when vetting potential franchise owners and let me tell you that just because someone has money to spend doesn’t make him eligible for owning a team in the KPL. In terms of the financial aspects of the relationship, there is an incremental cost increase every year for the franchises but then we also have a strong marketing department which should help them to break even in the first 2 years, and then move on to make profits in later years. But then we must also understand that in a league like this, sometimes businesses come in to provide more exposure to their existing brands and also to enhance their existing source of income. So, participation in this sort of league can be a platform to showcase their business and it’s not necessary that franchisees are here only for the passion of cricket and some use this league to promote their business. Even if they do not make a direct profit from this venture, there is a lot to be gained for businesses from getting air-time and publicity connected with a high-profile league such as the KPL. But whatever the motives behind owning a franchise in KPL, the underlying sentiment is the desire to highlight what this part of Kashmir has to offer to the world and of course the cricketing talent that exists here and if things go well then who knows we may even have international cricket taking place in Muzaffarabad in the future.
PakPassion.net: What sort of challenges did you have to face when setting up KPL?
Taimoor Khan: When I joined KPL in February of this year, things were in a nascent stage with not much finalized but then the ball got rolling once the PCB sanctioned our status. This was a huge boost for us, and I am also pleased to say that we are modernizing the Muzaffarabad Cricket Stadium by putting in flood-light towers and making all the necessary changes from the outfield to the pitches, from dressing rooms to the stands – doing all that is needed, including lining up all experts we need, to bring this venue in line with international standards. I am convinced that once the tournament starts, the TV pictures will provide some great optics for audiences around the world.
PakPassion.net: What is your impression of the standard of cricket in the Azad Jammu Kashmir region?
Taimoor Khan: Let me answer this question by saying that just over a month ago we had open trials in Mirpur for Kashmir origin club-level players. These trials, which were overseen by former Pakistan players Saeed Ajmal and Azhar Mahmood, saw about 1500 players turn up from all 10 districts of Azad Jammu Kashmir, of which about 170 were selected for the final trials phase. Based on the feedback I got from both Saeed and Azhar, I can say with some confidence that the way club-cricket is organized here and the talent available is simply amazing.
PakPassion.net: So, how will these Kashimiri origin players take part in the KPL?
Taimoor Khan: The final phase of the trials was supposed to take place between 2nd and 3rd of March but have been postponed to 27th March and will now take place in Muzaffarabad. The idea of these trials is that out of the 170 players identified from the first phase of the trials, we will select 75 players who will become part of the draft which is tentatively set for 2nd April. So, the way the Kashmiri players will be able to showcase their talent and play alongside Pakistani international players will be that each team will pick 15 players in the draft, out of which 5 will need to be of Kashmiri origin. Now we do realize that a lot of Kashmiri origin families have migrated to different parts of the world and especially in the UK. In order to accommodate the interest amongst the Kashmiri origin players in UK, we organized trials there which included cricketers who are playing in the 2nd XIs within the county setup which gives you an idea of the quality of players who will be part of the draft for KPL. And to make sure that overseas Kashmiris get a fair crack during the draft, we have stipulated that a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 2 such players are part of the 5 Kashmiri origin players in each side. When the league does start, each side will have to field 2 Kashmiri origin players in every game.
PakPassion.net: What lessons has the KPL learnt from the PSL’s postponement due to COVID-19?
Taimoor Khan: There are two aspects to this issue that I would like to state. One is that a lot of players are getting vaccinations done and most should be vaccinated by the time the tournament starts. We are also governed by the guidelines and SOPs on this issue which will be provided by the PCB to us about 45 days before the start of KPL. It could be that the PCB may stipulate that all players participating in this league need to be vaccinated 30 days before the tournament begins. Also, we are in touch with vendors who can create bio-secure bubbles in case we are asked to create such an environment by the PCB. We will be more than happy to outsource this to experts as we have seen in the case of PSL that there is no short-cut to such safety measures. We are in constant touch with the PCB about any details on this matter, but we don’t foresee any issue if all players are vaccinated by the time the league starts.
PakPassion.net: How important is the presence of big names such as Shahid Afridi and Wasim Akram for the success of KPL?
Taimoor Khan: Wasim Akram is a legendary Pakistan cricketer and his presence in the KPL as Vice-President is a matter of honour for us and puts us in the limelight without question. Also, Shahid Afridi is an icon for Pakistan cricket and even though he is not playing international cricket, the aura associated with this cricketer is such that he can still make a huge impact on the marketability of any venture. But it’s not just Wasim Akram and Shahid Afridi whose presence is adding to the value of this league. Even before the draft, each KPL side which will consist of 15 players in total has been allowed to choose 2 Pakistan players as their Icon and Marquis players. So far Mirpur Royals have picked Shoaib Malik and Shaheen Shah Afridi, Muzaffarabad Tigers have Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Rizwan, Kotli Panthers have Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam, Overseas Warriors have Sarfaraz Ahmed and Hassan Ali and Rawlakot Hawks have taken Fakhar Zaman and Imad Wasim, whilst Bagh Stallions are yet to announce their Icon and Marquis players.
PakPassion.net: Based on your judgement, should the AJK team be a separate side in Pakistan’s domestic structure?
Taimoor Khan: Currently players from the 10 districts in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) can play domestic cricket as part of the Northern region. However, personally speaking, I strongly feel that AJK should be a separate side in Pakistan’s domestic set-up and that feeling is further reinforced by the highly professional manner in which club cricket is organized in these 10 districts. I have visited many of districts in AJK and have been impressed by the level of professionalism and zeal that I have witnessed at club-level cricket. I am confident that AJK is ready to be recognized as a separate region and will not disappoint the PCB, whenever they decide to take that decision.
PakPassion.net: If KPL does succeed to highlight local talent, do you expect players from the AJK to be representing Pakistan in the near future?
Taimoor Khan: Absolutely, as the idea of the KPL is to showcase the talent from this part of Kashmir and hopefully some Kashmir players will represent Pakistan and become superstars as well. They are extremely talented players here and what we at KPL are doing is to provide a platform for them to shine and show the world what they are capable of. But let me also add that we aren’t here to conduct just one tournament and move on, instead we have plans to organize inter-district T20 leagues so that we have activities that run throughout the year. We also have plans to build a state-of-the-art cricket academy at either of Muzaffarabad Cricket Stadium or in Mirpur where kids who perform exceptionally well in inter-district tournaments are trained and are available for selection in the draft for KPL.
PakPassion.net: Apart from the KPL, what other plans do you have in the pipeline to promote cricket in Kashmir?
Taimoor Khan: We aren’t here to conduct just one tournament and move on, instead we have plans to organize inter-district T20 leagues so that we have activities that run throughout the year. We also have plans to build a state-of-the-art cricket academy at either Muzaffarabad Cricket Stadium or in Mirpur where kids who perform exceptionally well in inter-district tournaments are trained and are available for selection in the draft for KPL.