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PSL much more than just a T20 league for Pakistan

PSL much more than just a T20 league for Pakistan

The dependence on working-class expatriates to fill up the seats and the plan of achieving ambitious financial goals were not ideal, but the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has certainly managed to do one of the things its planners had envisioned: Give Pakistanis in Pakistan and in the UAE a semblance of pride.

And it’s been rather heady.

Viv Richards explained to rookie Bismillah Khan on using his feet and smacking offspinners over long-on, Darren Sammy took a 190-degree twist as he endorsed a brand of bubble gum, Rumman Raees fitted into the national colours under Wasim Akram’s mentoring, Umar Gul and Ahmed Shehzad were sweating it out to impress the selectors, while Chris Gayle had much more to offer than his Gangnam steps to win hearts. All along, Alan Wilkins was dazzling viewers with a new Urdu phrase each day: “Shahid Afridi, aaj tumhara khel bahoot achchha hai (your game today was very impressive)”, or the more thoughtful, “Bazid, yeh match kis taraf jaa raha hai (which way is the match headed)?”

If Bill Lawry had the mic in Dubai, he would likely have screamed, “It’s all happening right here”.

Putting to rest all ifs and buts, the PSL has been successful in putting up a competitive show.

The disgruntled Pakistani fan that felt taunted with all the Twenty20 action from around the globe suddenly had his own league to flaunt, his own teams to cheer for. A generation of cricket fans in Pakistan have seen little or no action in their own country, their heroes strut their stuff on foreign shoes. The PSL has come as a breath of fresh air for them, as an oasis is for a thirsty traveller in the desert.

“We always felt lost and isolated while watching the Indian Premier League and other leagues and wondered why we can’t have one of our own,” says Yasir, part of a group of schoolkids in Karachi. “We have the best stars who can defeat any opposition and not having our own league was very disappointing.”

Ahsan pipes up, “It would have been wonderful if PSL was held in Pakistan. We all would have gone to see the games; even my little sister watches all games with me. We know that in the current situation most players would not come and play here, but we are still excited to see the league start and I am sure that in next two-three years it will come to Pakistan.”

Various groups on Facebook and Twitter have played their part in promoting the league, too, giving fans platforms to voice their thoughts. Groups like Boys in Green and Cricket HQ are often hotbeds for heated debates when newsbreaks take place. Things get spicier when someone from India drops in and talks up the gigantic IPL. No millions for guessing the kind of responses he gets from the pumped-up PSL fans.

While the consensus in Pakistan is that the league should be held there, no one fails to see that it’s not possible in the current climate.

“Look, I would have been the first person to say that the PSL must be held in Pakistan, but let’s face it, there is little we can do about it,” says Najam Sethi, head of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s executive committee and the architect of the league. “In the PSL contracts, we had a box that asked foreign players if they were willing to play a game in Pakistan and not a single one checked it.

“We had to make a choice: Be rigid and hold the league in Pakistan, in that case leave out big names and major sponsors, or let the first drop of rain fall and build up a case from there on. We opted for the latter and the results are in front of you.”

With a mouthwatering blend of excellent individual performances and a few cliffhangers, along with the odd star turn from unheard-of players, the PSL has also forced former players to put aside their initial scepticism and come out in praise of the show.

“It wasn’t that I felt the league won’t pick up, but yes, I never expected it to mushroom this way and gather all this attention,” says Rashid Latif, former Pakistan captain. “The PSL management has done a commendable job and it’s giving the young and the experienced an opportunity to rub shoulders together. I am sure we are going to unearth great talents through this league.”

And for Rameez Raja, the former captain-turned-commentator who is also the league’s ambassador, the PSL is a dish that has to click. “I think the biggest benefit PSL has given to Pakistan cricket is self-belief, character, confidence and financial stability,” he says. “Pakistani players are known to crumble under pressure. Here, they are playing crunch matches every day and that too against top international players. And this, in turn, will teach them how to play under pressure. I must say that PSL is a lifeline of for our cricket.

“Not for once I had any doubts about its success. In fact, I expected it to be more popular as every league is based on its local talent. If you look at Pakistani cricketers, they are probably the best and most exciting players you will get to see. We needed a proper platform for our home-grown talent to gel together and showcase the kind of talent and power we have in our base.”

The TV ratings, so people in the know say, are good, but the one thing that has fallen short of expectations is the turnout at the grounds. The first two days had sizeable numbers at Dubai Stadium, but then figures dipped till the tournament moved to Sharjah.

“The PSL management was banking on the Pakistani expatriates to boost the league, but we all know that the majority of them are working class and can’t afford to skip work for cricket,” explains Majid Bhatti, the senior Pakistani cricket writer.

“Secondly, there is no public transport access to Dubai Stadium and using a taxi is a costly affair. Sharjah is totally different, where one can virtually walk to the stadium. But I am sure as we get close to the finals more people will show up.”

With the league now in the nerve-wracking playoffs’ stage, Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi and Sarfraz Ahmed’s Quetta Gladiators look the toughest nuts to crack. Just the other day, Quetta created ripples by chasing down a 200-plus target against Lahore Qalandars. Misbah-ul-Haq’s Islamabad United have been steady all along, while Shoaib Malik’s Karachi Kings are still thanking the fans that prayed for them and saved them from crashing out.

The format of the playoffs – similar to the Eliminator-Qualifier format of the IPL – ensures that the four teams have to battle it out till the very last moment, all getting a second shot at qualification for the final. That translates to more viewership, more business.

These aren’t happy times for Pakistan, forget Pakistan cricket, though cricket is one of the few things that does bring the people together.

In another country, a T20 league would be just another exercise in cricketainment. It’s much more than that to the people of Pakistan, even if the tournament is taking place in the UAE. It’s Pakistan’s way of spreading the love, the message of peace, and hope.

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