Karachi: For millions of dirt-poor Pakistani boys, a professional cricket career is an escape route into a world of glamour, celebrity and untold riches. But it can also represent a fast-track on the road to ruin as the corruption scandal which has engulfed the international team has so dramatically highlighted.
Many of the country's best players - like Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, currently under investigation in the 'spot-fixing' scandal - hail from small villages, from poor and uneducated backgrounds.
Pakistani players' agent Salman Ahmed believes it is lack of grooming and guidance that leaves players stumped by excessive money and open to manipulation.
"An 18-year-old who bursts into the limelight and the glamour world needs special grooming. Not only in terms of cricket but manners and awareness of good and bad," said Ahmed, whose Portfolio World has had a contract with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) since January 2009.
"Most importantly, wealth managers should be introduced to them, to these boys, who at one time could not buy a Pepsi and today are brand ambassadors for it," added Ahmed, referring to Amir.
Former PCB chairman Tauqir Zia managed to establish the National Cricket Academy in Lahore seven years ago, where courses to educate the players were finally introduced. But many commentators believe that players focus on the remuneration details in a contract and ignore the code of conduct.
Big money came to Pakistan cricket only after Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer hired a dozen of them for his World Series of Cricket in 1978. Before the Packer circus, the only money-earning avenues for Pakistani players were stints in county cricket in England.
Currently, Pakistani players can earn money through central contracts, soft-drink and mobile phone sponsorship and endorsements.
Players in the A category of central contracts get 250,000 rupees (2,905 US dollars) a month; B category brings 175,000 (2,035 US dollars) and in C they get 100,000 (1,161).
In addition, a top category player gets 350,000 rupees (4,066 US dollars) for playing a Test match and 300,000 (3,485) for an ODI and 250,000 (2,904) for a Twenty20 match.
Players in the corresponding categories get 50,000 (581) less in each form of the game. There are special win bonuses and cash awards on performances, opening up riches largely unseen in a country where 74 per cent of the population survive on less than two dollars a day, according to the World Bank.
"An average player in the national team can make from 100,000 to one million dollars a year, depending upon his popularity and seniority," said Ahmed. Endorsements for bats can range from 30,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars per annum, while top players like Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar can easily make 25,000 to 150,000 a year through commercials.
But compared to the superstars of the Indian game, these sums are modest. Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni earlier this year signed a three-year endorsement worth 2.1 billion rupees (42 million dollars).
It was in India where Pakistani players looked set for life when they featured in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Four out of eleven Pakistani players were bought at the IPL auction for over 400,000 dollars a season, with Afridi topping the chart with 675,000, followed by Asif with 650,000.
But Pakistani players were then hit hard when they were banned from the next two IPL seasons after relations between India and Pakistan came to a flash-point following the terrorist attack on Mumbai, an atrocity which New Delhi blamed on militants based across the border.
Many observers believe that those losses in the IPL forced the Pakistani players to find short-cuts to boost their incomes and fell into the trap of the illegal bookies.
"All Pakistan players need is guidance and stability. This will bring loyalty and eliminate any short-cuts which one might need to take to fulfill dreams, aspirations, and at times unlawful desires," said Ahmed.