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PJL Season 1 - the teams, the players, the mentors, and everything else you need to know

Babar Azam interacts with some of the overseas PJL players at the Gaddafi Stadium PCB

The first edition of the Pakistan Junior League (PJL) starts on Thursday, October 6. The tournament, a T20 league for Under-19 cricketers from around the world, was conceptualised by PCB chairman Ramiz Raja to develop teenaged players in a competitive scenario. It will be played in a single-league format, with six sides in action, and the top four going through to the playoffs, and a final, on October 21. In all, there will be 19 matches in 16 days, featuring the best local talent as well as overseas players.

What does the league hope to achieve?
"A young apprentice can be moulded into a genius with the right environment, which we intend to create in this format," Raja had said at the time of launching the tournament. The league is meant not only to identify talent, but to nurture them, and close the gap between the Under-19s level and the highest level of cricket.

All this, one might say, is what the higher levels of domestic cricket do. There is a structured pathway for age-group players in most parts of the world, from the Under-15s to the Under-19s. In Pakistan, historically, age-group players come through playing the longer formats of the game - two- and three-day matches, alongside one-dayers. It is then narrowed down and, if all goes well, there is a chance to play the Under-19 ODI World Cup, after which players break into the first-class circuit.

Pakistan cricketers have traditionally not been exposed to the T20 format during their development phase. But since the start of the PSL in 2016, where each franchise is required to field at least one emerging player in every game, a few new faces have come to the fore. The PCB is hoping that the PJL will build on that.

Wasn't there something about it being a franchise-based league?
Yes, that's how the PCB had envisaged it, anticipating a lot of commercial interest. In fact, after an initial tender from the PCB seeking expressions of interest, 24 companies had reached out. But not much came of it, and the PCB has decided to take full ownership of the tournament.

To avoid clashing with the PSL eco-system, the PJL has picked other cities with which to associate the teams. The names of as many as 12 cities were released for bidding, out of which six - Bahawalpur (Royals), Gujranwala (Giants), Gwadar (Sharks), Hyderabad (Hunters), Mardan (Warriors) and Rawalpindi (Raiders) have been finalised.

But the senior Pakistan team is also playing - will the PJL catch any eyeballs?
It is a concern, isn't it? In fact, scheduling has been a challenge, as the tournament overlaps with the Pakistan senior team's tour of New Zealand for a triangular T20I series. Right after that, the first round of the men's T20 World Cup begins in Australia. The PJL was originally scheduled to run from October 1 to 15, but that would have led to a clash with the last bit of the Pakistan vs England T20I series.

What do the teams look like in terms of personnel?
A total of 90 players, including 24 from 11 other countries, have been selected through a draft. The roster has Under-19 players from four Full Members - Afghanistan, England, South Africa and West Indies. Each team must compulsorily have a player from an Associate Member, so there are Charlie Tear and Gabriel Gallmann-Findlay from Scotland, Matthew Tromp from the USA, Kushal Malla from Nepal, Ali Naseer from the UAE, Burhan Niaz from Belgium, Nathan Edwards and Isai Thorne from the West Indies, Archie Lenham, George Thomas, Tom Aspinwall, Danial Ibrahim and Joseph Eckland from England, and Hassan Eisakhil from Afghanistan.

Each squad contains 15 players, including four from overseas. Selection was done by the head coaches of the teams, who have all been appointed by the PCB: Gordon Parsons (Bahawalpur), Toby Radford (Rawalpindi), Ijaz Ahmed (Gujranwala), Mushtaq Ahmed (Gwadar), Abdul Razzaq (Hyderabad), and Abdur Rehman (Mardan).

Each side can pick a maximum of three and a minimum of two overseas players in their XIs.

Are the players being paid?
They are, which sets it apart from the regular Under-19 circuit. The 15 players in each team are in three different categories: Elite (four players), Premier (five) and X-Factor (six). The salary slabs are US$ 16,000 for Elite, US$ 12,000 for Premier, and US$ 6000 for X-Factor.

The PCB will be covering all costs, including the players' salaries. Its board of governors had approved a PKR 15 billion (US$ 66.33 million approx.) budget for the 2022-23 season, out of which 78% has been allocated for cricket activities. The PJL expenses - logistics, salaries, broadcast - will presumably come from that.

Isn't there a clash with the players' academic schedules?
The PCB has kept a portion of the day aside to allow the players to join their schools and take tutorials online. In a separate session, PCB-appointed mentors will have discussions with the players on various subjects.

Mentors?
Mentors. The PCB has appointed six stars to mentor each side. The line-up is stellar: Imran Tahir (Bahawalpur), Shoaib Malik (Gujranwala), Viv Richards (Gwadar), Daren Sammy (Hyderabad), Shahid Afridi (Mardan), and Colin Munro (Rawalpindi). Separately, as a "roving umbrella mentor", will be Javed Miandad, helping and assisting everyone.

Where does one watch the matches?
In Pakistan, the league will be broadcast on PTV Sports. Matches will start at 6pm local time, with a 1.30pm start on days with two games. Start times have been planned to encourage school children to attend.