Syed Talat Hussain, Special to Gulf News
Lahore: The Pakistan Super League, Season 6, has taken the country by storm. Six teams, hundreds of players, almost 200 if not more advertisers, dozens of online and satellite broadcasters and millions of viewers: this is the stuff of sportsmen’s dreams.
For the uninitiated, this is cricket, a British colonial legacy that dozens of countries across the world now own as their own but only a handful excel in. Pakistan is one of the best. But PSL, like other similar leagues hosted by India, Australia, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, is more than just a game that evokes passions that non-cricket playing nations can only relate to by comparing the frenzy with the sports they invest their energies in: baseball, soccer, tennis. It has become a star attraction for the cricket lovers because of its short and sensational format.
In each match, two of 11-a-side teams compete for nearly four hours of swashbuckling display of hitting, catching, scoring and, in the media-fed camera-inspired ruthlessly competitive spirit of the game, shouting, cursing, sledging and self-fledgeling. The bright lights that beam onto the stadiums during night fixtures make the atmosphere no different from the WWE competitions — except that there is nothing fixed or fake about these encounters. The gladiatorial spectacles the game produces are real because the stakes are too high for the teams to do it in any other way.
All teams are owned by franchises — big businesses, wealthy individuals and media houses, who weigh the players in platinum, gold and silver categories and put a monetary value on them. This is no small money. Millions are spent creating a mix of local and international players who could combine to compete against similar combos by the others.
Pakistan, for long under the shadow of international cricket sanctions because of the security issues, has used all previous five PSL seasons smartly to shake off the virtual ban. That is why PSL is exceptionally special to the country since it has paved the way for the return of international cricket and has broken down the mental barrier many foreign players had about visiting and playing here.
PSL also means a world to the young underdogs of society. They have nowhere to showcase their cricketing genius either because they are too far away from the urban centres or are too far below the ladder of privilege and access to reputable platforms to announce their arrival. Every year, each team has to draft at least one “emerging player” in the squad and keep a few in the queue as replacements.
Team managements and coaches, again a mix of local and international former greats of the game, scout the country for talent and have consistently dug up gems. This year, a 19-year old skinny lad from interior Sindh is grabbing headlines for his exceptional pace and his jovial manner on the field. When he went for the trial before the coaches, he did not even have proper shoes. Another one is a mere 18-year-old from the once insurgency-infested region of Swat in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
There are dozens of others like them whose families had never dreamt of seeing their children rub shoulders with and compete against cricket’s superstars but are now mesmerised by the sight of street players being championed as natural born winners.
The franchises also compete with each other in putting their best social service foot forward. Almost all of them are now involved in creating high-class infrastructure and high-performance academies to constantly coach young cricketers and have thus spawned a financially sustainable model to develop the game at the grassroots.
Obviously, it’s (PSL) been a very, very good confidence building exercise in terms of convincing the overseas players that Pakistan was completely safe. We always felt that it was a safe country, but the decision to gradually shift the tournament to Pakistan was the final step.
– Ehsan Mani, PCB chairman to Gulf News
Regional representation is also a key to the success of the idea of the League. Much of Pakistan’s political discourse revolves around a sense of unbelonging in the impoverished areas to the high-powered and moneyed events often hogged by the richer districts, cities and provinces. The League has teams from all across the land, and even those at the margins of the national political universe can now be on the same path where the giant planets move. That is regional integration in a non-controversial way — something to write home about in an environment where everyone’s narrative starts with the standard grievance of being left out.
This year’s league is extra special because it has come after a year of spectator-less cricket on account of the pandemic. When the League started, the stadiums were to have only a few thousand spectators, but after seeing the crowd’s enthusiasm, the government has relaxed the entry policy; over 50 per cent of the stadiums can now be filled to enjoy the game.
There are nearly three more weeks left before the League closes, but already each match has become a celebrated event. This is a great build-up to the final match scheduled for March 22. That Monday night, the finalists would vie for a glittering trophy, for the ultimate high of earning unparalleled glory and, of course, for fat fortunes that the victors are showered with.
This will happen before millions of eyeballs riveted to the screens, fattening themselves by nervous eating, biting their nails and oblivious to the fact that they have to go to work or find work the next day.
– Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain1
Every big Pakistan businessman wants a PSL team now: Karachi Kings owner
By Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor
The franchise owners of the six-year-old Pakistan Super League (PSL) can, much like the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), look at their journey with a great deal of satisfaction. From a tentative start at their second home in the UAE with four teams in 2016, it has become one of the most vibrant T20 franchise leagues now – and one of the most high profile owners thanked his counterparts for the way they have stuck through thick and thin.
‘‘We have worked very hard to bring PSL where it is today,’’ says Salman Iqbal, owner of defending champions Karachi Kings and a media baron. ‘‘We are now the second largest league in the world as the Indian Premier League (IPL) has to be the biggest. In the Big Bash, the teams belong to the board and not to any private ownership like us,’’ he said during an exclusive interview with Gulf News on zoom.
‘‘It’s been a very, very interesting journey for all the franchise owners, especially the first four of us who started it six years back. After starting it in the UAE, we kept thinking that for the PSL to be a real success, it has to be brought to Pakistan where we eat and sleep cricket. We, along with Najm Sethi, the earlier PCB chairman, worked very hard to bring the league here,’’ Iqbal said from Karachi.
What gives the likes of Iqbal an extra sense of satisfaction is the role PSL played in ending the cricketing isolation of sorts for Pakistan – which has seen the likes of South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh touring the country once again after a decade-long gap.
‘‘PSL played a huge role in bringing back international cricket to Pakistan as we follow the same security protocol which is followed in international cricket here. When we first moved to Lahore to host the two semi-finals and final, we could hardly bring overseas cricketers. Kumar Sangakkara was the captain of Lahore Qalandars, but we had to relieve him from that match against Peshwar Zalmi as he was one of the players who were on that ill-fated bus in 2009. Lahore had to hence get a new captain,’’ he recalled.
Last year, pandemic struck the league at the fag-end when the two semi-finals and final had to be postponed indefinitely after a suspected case of COVID-19 in one of the camps. ‘‘It was a big decision last year when we couldn’t play the last three matches, but the league could be finally finished with Karachi winning their first title,’’ he said with an air of pride. ‘‘This time, the going had been smooth so far and the SoPs at the stadium are amazing. The fans are being scattered around the stadium with no huddles,’’ he said.
‘‘Some of the biggest names of the game had been part of our league, like Chris Gayle, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn or Rashid Khan…the England white ball captain Eoin Morgan had also come once. I remember how it was we bought the teams, there were a lot of negative vibes – including people in the media – who doubted if we could have the league up and running. Today, every big businessmen in Pakistan now wants to buy a PSL team,’’ he added with a laugh.
What could be the areas of improvement? ‘‘Now we would like to bring the revenue stream where we would like to be and break even,’’ Iqbal signed off.
PSL teams: The Super Six at a glance
Best finish: Runners-up, 2020
Lahore Qalandars, alongwith current champions Karachi Kings, are two of the most widely followed teams in the HBL Pakistan Super League – though they are yet to win the tournament. They, had, in fact finished as wooden spooners in the first four years on the trot before showing a dramatic improvement by finishing as the runners-up last year.
Best finish: Champions, 2020
Karachi Kings had to wait for four editions before they could lay their hands on the glittering PSL trophy at home last year. One of the most widely followed franchises, they boast of Babar Azam – the esrtwhile top-ranked T20 batsman in the world as their star player apart from having a well-rounded team with opener Sharjeel Khan, England’s new sensation Joel Clarke and a thinking captain in Pakistan allrounder Imad Wasim.
Best finish: Champions, 2016 & 2018
The only team to have won the championship twice, Islamabad has not been able to match up to the standards in recent times. They finished as wooden spooners in the last edition and in the build-up to the season, they suffered a crippling blow with the unavailability of Colin Munro — who had been retained by the franchise — because of a quarantine system put in place by New Zealand and would have not reached his home country until the middle of May.
Best finish: Champions, 2017
They have been one of the most consistent performers in the short history of the league, having won it in 2017 and finishing runners-up twice in the following two seasons. Darren Sammy, the former West Indies T20 skipper, was an inspirational force behind the team’s successful run in those early years but has now taken up the role of head coach. They will be looking to keep up the momentum under the leadership of senior Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz.
The last entrant in the PSL fray since 2018, Multan Sultans will be hoping to do one better than the play-offs. Mohammed Rizwan, the man in form who led Pakistan in Babar Azam’s absence during the New Zealand tour, is leading the campaign while they will be banking on the experience of Shahid Afridi to come good both with the bat and ball. Chris Lynn, the Australian opener, is arguably their most well-known overseas recruit.
Best finish: Champions, 2019
Quetta, who won the title once and ended as runners-up twice, had been ostensibly rewarded for their consistent policies – they being the only team to retain their captain Sarfraz Ahmed for six seasons alongwith coach Moen Khan. Their mentor, Sir Viv Richards, has decided to give the tournament a skip this year. After ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle looked in good touch in the first few matches for them, Quetta has to substitute him with former South African skipper Faf du Plessis after the West Indian left on national duty. They have been also joined by the pace ace Dale Steyn for the business-end of the tournaments.
Flashback: The five finals
2016: Islamabad United 175/4 (18.4 overs) beat Quetta Gladiators 174/7 (20 overs) by six wickets. Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai
2017: Peshawar Zalmi 148/6 (20 overs) beat Quetta Gladiators 90 all out (16.3 overs) by 58 runs. Venue: Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore
2018: Islamabad United 154/7 (16.5 overs) beat Peshawar Zalmi 148/9 (20 overs) by three wickets. Venue: National Stadium, Karachi
2019: Quetta Gladiators 139/2 (17.5 overs) beat Peshawar Zalmi 138/8 (20 overs) by eight wickets. Venue: National Stadium, Karachi
2020: Karachi Kings 135/5 (18.4 overs) beat Lahore Qalandars 134/7 (20 overs) by five wickets. Venue: National Stadium, Karachi
PSL helped nurture cricket talents in Pakistan
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
The Pakistan Super League is more than just a Twenty20 bash. It’s been the lifeline of Pakistan cricket. It’s kept the game alive for people of Pakistan when the cricketing world refused to tour the country.
The country was cast away in the wilderness following the militant attack on a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. That incident in 2009 robbed the country of international cricket.
In the absence of international games, cricket in the country suffered. The national team players could play only away tours, and the UAE hosted “home” Tests. That prevented domestic cricketers from gaining international exposure, depriving them of the chance to test their mettle against the best in the world. Due to the isolation, the cricket-loving nation was starved of international matches.
The Pakistan Super League stepped into the breach to provide an international platform for talents knocking at the doors of the national team. It also gave an opportunity to unearth talents lying undiscovered in the hinterlands. The high voltage drama and thrilling finishes captivated the fans. Big money too arrived as each of the teams were franchises owned by big businesses.
Since the inaugural edition hosted by the UAE in 2015, the league has grown in stature. It has provided an avenue for Pakistan players to parade their skills and attracted international players of repute. Local players are now able to rub shoulders with the stars and learn from them. That has helped raise the standard of the game in Pakistan.
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic brought Season V to an abrupt halt in March. But when the final was played in November after a delay of several months, the interest hadn’t waned. That’s proof of how PSL has caught the imagination of the Pakistan public.
The militant threat has dissipated. International cricket returned to Pakistan in 2020 after a decade, when they hosted two Tests against Sri Lanka. And the T20 league is attracting more world-class players who speak of PSL in glowing terms. South African great Dale Steyn was the latest star to attest to its competitive nature.
The tributes point to the popularity of a league that suffered birth pangs. It’s further proof that the league has evolved into a major T20 tournament in six seasons. It’s become a permanent fixture in Pakistan’s cricket calendar. PSL surely has come of age.
At National Stadium, Karachi
Mar 5, Multan Sultans v Karachi Kings, 7pm
Mar 6, Islamabad United v Quetta Gladiators, 2pm
Mar 6, Peshawar Zalmi v Lahore Qalandars, 7pm
Mar 7, Multan Sultans v Quetta Gladiators, 2pm
Mar 7, Islamabad United v Karachi Kings 7pm
At Gadaffi Stadium, Lahore
Mar 10, Peshawar Zalmi v Karachi Kings, 7pm
Mar 11, Quetta Gladiators v Lahore Qalandars, 7pm
Mar 12, Multan Sultans v Peshawar Zalmi, 3pm
Mar 12, Islamabad United v Lahore Qalandars, 8pm
Mar 13, Quetta Gladiators v Karachi Kings, 2pm
Mar 13, Multan Sultans v Islamabad United, 7pm
Mar 14, Quetta Gladiators v Peshawar Zalmi, 2pm
Mar 14, Lahore Qalandars v Karachi Kings, 7pm
Mar 15, Islamabad United v Peshawar Zalmi, 7pm
Mar 16, Multan Sultans v Lahore Qalandars, 7pm
Mar 18, Qualifier (1 v 2), 7pm
Mar 19, Eliminator 1 (3 v 4), 7pm
Mar 20, Eliminator 2 (Loser of Qualifier v Winner of Eliminator 1), 7pm