The PCB has granted Haris Rauf a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) to play in the BBL, marking a de-escalation in a stand-off with the fast bowler, after he opted out of the Test series against Australia. Zaman Khan and Usama Mir have also been granted NOCs to take part in the league, which begins from December 7.
The trio can play in the BBL until December 28, however, a schedule the board said had been agreed bearing in mind "the workload of players and the future tours programme of the national men's team." That likely refers to their potential involvement in Pakistan's T20I series with New Zealand after their tour of Australia, but those games don't begin until January 12. At most, Rauf and Mir will end up playing five games for Melbourne Stars and Zaman four for Sydney Thunder.
"The PCB understands that this decision is in the best interests of all the stakeholders involved while balancing the importance of game time with workload management," the board said.
Olly Stone, the England fast bowler, has been training with Stars and could be drafted into their squad as cover for Rauf at some stage. Stone plays county cricket for Nottinghamshire in the UK under Peter Moores, who is Stars' new head coach.
The granting of the NOC to Rauf ends worries that his stint with Stars would be delayed, after his decision to not play in the Australia Tests was publicly criticised by PCB officials. It has since emerged that the board has sent Rauf a show cause notice to explain his decision to pull out of selection for the Tests.
The chief selector Wahab Riaz publicly criticised Rauf's decision to not be available for the series at the end of last month. Wahab said Rauf had initially committed to the Test series only to pull out a day later, a version of events Rauf is believed to dispute. But it is a version of events that Mohammad Hafeez, the team director, also doubled down on in a press conference last week, before the team's departure for Australia.
The show cause notice is based on the alleged breach of clauses from the central contract which requires the cricketer to make themselves "available as and when required by the Board" and to "render professional cricketing services… diligently, faithfully and with utmost integrity".
That Rauf was in consideration for the Australia series was a surprise in the first place, given that he has mostly been seen and groomed as a white-ball specialist since his emergence through a Lahore Qalandars' talent hunt in 2017. But ESPNcricinfo understands Rauf had been sounded out about the possibility of some involvement in the Australia Test series during the World Cup in India. Pakistan's then management envisaged using him for maximum impact across shorter spells, especially at a venue like Perth, where Pakistan play their first Test. Rauf was said to be sceptical even then but had not ruled it out.
That thinking was confirmed by Pakistan's new captain Shan Masood who said before flying out to Australia that they wanted to use Rauf's extreme pace across short spells as England had used Mark Wood in the Ashes a couple of seasons ago. Wood though has been managed by England as a red-ball option for a while, having now played 31 Tests and over 70 first-class games.
Rauf has only ever played nine first-class matches and a single Test for Pakistan last winter against England, when Pakistan were also short of options. Rauf bowled 13 overs in the first innings of the Test in Rawalpindi and sustained a quad injury that ruled him out of the remaining series. He was not part of Pakistan's squad to Sri Lanka for their last Test assignment, in July this year.
The administrative instability at the PCB has not helped the situation. When the idea of Rauf in Australia was first considered, the people talking to him were completely different to those now in charge: Hafeez has replaced Mickey Arthur as the team director (and is for now the replacement of Grant Bradburn as head coach) and Wahab has taken over from Inzamam-ul-Haq as the new chief selector, the fifth man in that post this year. Masood has taken over from Babar Azam as the Test captain.
The issue had led to a degree of frustration among some centrally-contracted players, and the irony that Hafeez and Wahab are taking such stances has not been lost on them. As recently retired players, both found themselves in similar situations in their playing days not so long ago. In late 2019, Wahab took an "indefinite break" from red-ball cricket, pulling out from the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy days before the start of the tournament.
At 34 years old at the time, Wahab was playing less long-form cricket, but his decision to not make himself available for Tests was heavily criticised by Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's head coach at the time, as well as Waqar Younis, who was bowling coach at the time.
In January 2021, meanwhile, Hafeez was excluded from a T20I series with South Africa during which Covid regulations meant he had to return earlier from a stint in the Abu Dhabi T10 to be available for the Pakistan squad. Hafeez, who was enjoying a T20 rebirth at the time, told the PCB he could not make it by that date and eventually missed the series. He had earlier warned the PCB that the overlap between the Pakistan series and the T10 could impact his availability because he had committed to playing in the league.