How Hobart Hurricanes’ Pakistan Connection Found in BBL

A friend makes bionic limbs. Back when he was studying for his masters, he went to his supervisor with a question about a process he was following.

“Probably a stupid question,” he said to the tutor, “but I’ve seen everyone else do it this way. But why can’t we do it this way?”

“I don’t know,” came the reply. Six months later and the friend of the bionic limb will give a presentation to an international audience on his discovery.

Sometimes it pays to ask why not. At this season’s BBL draft in August, the Hobart Hurricanes set tongues wagging after adopting a unique draft strategy that saw them tap into an underutilized corner of cricketing talent: Pakistan.

“Surprised everyone,” was one review. “An interesting tactic,” another. “Punter [Ricky Ponting] Defines the draft Gamble,” third.

The assessments were correct, in that the Hurricanes departed from convention, with no other team picking up a single Pakistani player (Usman Qadir has since joined the Sydney Thunder as a replacement) and the Hurricanes having three. made a choice But even vaguer, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why a remarkable Hurricane strategy should be of such, well, note. This is not IPL, there is no restriction on signing them.

And the Hurricanes signed them. Moreover, in Shadab Khan, Asif Ali and Faheem Ashraf, the Hurricanes’ “draft gamble” saw them collect three of the most internationally experienced players of any team, with 181 caps between them. Sydney Thunder was the closest with 144. Adelaide Strikers lead the pace with 115.

Especially Shadab was his man. In the first planning meeting several months out from the draft, the view was that the team needed a power-hitting, spin-bowling all-rounder. Months of negotiations continued in circles as all parties aggressively agreed with each other that Shadab, yes, Shadab, was what they wanted.

I always talked to Darren. [Berry] Because of the basics [in Pakistan] We haven’t had a coach since childhood, we are self-made players so he helped me with all these things.

Shadab Khan

The only problem for the Hurricanes was that they had the last pick on auction day. But, if the past few months have proven anything, it’s that they were putting value where others weren’t. And the green was unripe.

“We could have cut two and a half months into planning,” head coach Jeff Vaughn said one way, “but we’re really happy to get our guy.”

Besides a global superstar in Shadab, they added Asif, a powerful middle-order batsman who represented Pakistan in the recent T20 World Cup. Asif’s selection was a surprise to most, but again, the best-case scenario for the Hurricanes.

“We are very happy to add Shadab to Asif Ali,” Wan said. “Another one of our first two picks.”

In a game increasingly focused on marginal gains buried in laptops, the Hurricanes were picking cash off the ground that everyone else was too busy paying attention to.

This relationship with Pakistan is not a mere coincidence. Vaughan spent time in the country earlier this year while coaching with Australia while chief of strategy Ricky Ponting has long been a public supporter of Pakistan’s white-ball talent. But the real link comes through assistant coach Darren Barry, who coached with the late Dean Jones for two years at Islamabad United.

“It was a wonderful experience with Dan Jones and Darren,” says Shadab, who worked extensively with the pair while heading the team.

“I always talked to Darren about the basics because [in Pakistan] We haven’t had a coach since childhood, we are self-made players so he helped me with all these things. I spent two years with Darren in Islamabad so it is good for me because the coach is the same in the new set-up.

For the amount of money that is given around the franchise league, you can’t put a price on the importance of personal relationships. And it was Ponting in particular who wanted to rely on him. Cricket is a global game, but it would be naïve to assume that coming from abroad will always be an easy journey. Playing with people you know from home can help ease the transition. Not only are Shadab, Asif and Faheem compatriots, they are also club mates with Islamabad.

“It’s fantastic,” says Shadab of Asif’s signing. “Because it doesn’t usually happen that we play like this when we play in leagues abroad. I play a lot so my English is a bit better, but it means I can help Asif. [the] The accent is a bit difficult for me,” he laughs.

“It was definitely something we discussed,” Vaughan said of the Hurricanes’ focus on making sure the environment is as welcoming and friendly as possible. “I mean number one was picking the best players. But we all know when we play cricket and when we travel the world with people we know or are comfortable with. And we are friends, it makes your time and your time. The experience of hell is very easy.

“And just seeing Shadab and Asif over the last week and a half has been great, they’re like brothers, they really are.”

The theoretical availability of Pakistani players was the final piece of the puzzle for the Hurricanes’ strategy, although these best-laid plans have been partially undermined. Shadab was expected to leave for the white-ball series in January, but Faheem did not make the Test squad, with Zac Crowley and Jimmy Neesham selected as replacements respectively.

“Faheem was someone we had planned to maybe not be in. [England] Test series,” Vaughan said. “I’m very happy for him to be selected, but it was definitely part of the strategy, with the weight of the best players, but also their availability. And I think most teams don’t necessarily pick the best players who can only play four or five games. Longevity was also his lot.”

Historically and currently, English players have had the strongest relationship with the BBL. And in particular, England’s number two players, as their availability is often spot on.

But now with the global T20 sands shifting, the BBL may look to other sides following Hurricane’s example. Of particular importance are the two new competitive T20 tournaments, the ILT20 and the SA20, all but entirely under Indian ownership. Five of the six ILT20 teams are run by Indian businesses with the only Pakistani player signed, Azam Khan, who has been picked up by the only American franchise, the Desert Vipers. Meanwhile, the six SA20 teams are all owned by the same companies that run the IPL and have not signed any Pakistanis, although the league has said it is keen to include Pakistani players in the future.

A caveat here is that Pakistan’s home white-ball series against New Zealand and the West Indies means that the availability of their top players would have been poor, but it is still Pakistan cricket’s fear that as the IPL approaches. Spreads their wings, their players can be further marginalized and denied opportunities in the world league.

How unrealistic or distant this reality is, it doesn’t matter today. The monster under the bed may not be real, but it still keeps people awake at night. If you are a Pakistani player, a more powerful IPL is unlikely to be good news. Conversely, tournaments like the Hundred or BBL that are owned by the board make it a more attractive and potential destination for Pakistan’s stars.

For the BBL, Pakistan offers available, high-quality players. Which raises the question of why we live our lives. That Method, when you can do it This.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby


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