THERE was a time when this country took pride in being world beaters at hockey, having won every conceivable title on earth from an Olympic gold to the World Cup, Asia Cup and the Champions Trophy. Not only hockey, but we were world champions at squash too with names such as Hashim Khan, Azam Khan, Roshan Khan, Qamar Zaman, Jansher Khan and the greatest of them all, Jahangir Khan, to go with it.

Not surprisingly, then hockey, a team game, was proudly taken as our national game with cricket a close third making inroads to be ranked amongst the best.

Time and tide though take its toll and Pakistan, a country brimming with top-quality sportsmen, with the years passing by saw their pride dented as maladministration, neglect and alleged claims of corruption made our world-beating outfits decline and diminish at both hockey and squash.

Cricket, in the meantime, continued to progress despite the hiccups on their way for lack of facilities, questionable appointments in the cricket board, and also in selection of the teams where nepotism counted a lot.

Having said that, it did, however, grow up in stature as a sport in Pakistan with a huge fan following all over the world no matter where our team played.

The World Cup victory in 1992 at the MCG under Imran Khan was a kind of transfusion that Pakistan cricket needed to place them amongst the high-profile outfits.

In between, the country continued to march ahead producing talent from every corner of the field to keep the ball rolling.

Unfortunately, a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team during a Test at Lahore in March 2009 put a damper on all that and on a sport which was now been taken as the national game which had long since replaced hockey, thus becoming the outcasts for the visiting teams to this country ever since.

However, the cricketers of the country and their administrators at the PCB have no doubt crossed major hurdles, showing incredible tolerance and resilience to host their visitors in the UAE.

The ongoing PSL, now in its third edition and its final stages to declare a champion, has no doubt made a huge contribution to keep the game going to create opportunities at all levels and attract a massive following with the hope that if nothing else, then at least the recent matches played in Pakistan without any untoward incident may bring the game back home at all levels in the near future.

Mr. Najam Sethi has been called all sorts of names ever since he stepped in the PCB. Portrayed as an intruder, usurper and a rogue by his critics, he certainly has delivered to become a “lovable rogue” now. His good team work may see the revival of the game in the country at the international level.

Whatever the circumstances, it seems to me that things now look a lot better on all fronts to make a genuine attempt to play the PSL at home from the next edition. That could be the only way to stop the mercenaries drafted in for their own benefit and not for that of the franchise.

Poor Quetta Gladiators being the ones who were short-changed in the last two editions of the tournament and that does not speak well. A thin crowd in the UAE and a packed Gaddafi Stadium reminds us that it is time that we work on that to give the game a fresh breath of life and a change that we desperately are looking for to shift the scene.

In its purity, short format matches such as the T20 is not what cricket is all about or what Test cricket, the traditional game, can provide but indeed in a fast-moving world things ought to be aligned to the test of the times and T20 provides you just that in cricket.

Crash-bang-wallop type of matches also needs such players to suit such a format. Nothing short of that brings success as the players have to go in a different mode to bring in the desired result.

The pickpocket type of batsmen who steal a single here and a couple there or an impecunious inexperienced youngster seeking shelter at the crease to let the senior do the job is of no use in this kind of format but those with a venomous intent to strike the ball are the ones who take you past the post.

The same goes for the bowlers to restrict the batsmen with a sensible line and length to suit the situation.

The breathtaking close encounters in some of the matches, including the play-offs, were entertaining as was crowd reaction as the balance of the game tilted from one side to the other.

The final at Karachi is to be played on this Sunday and one hopes both holders Peshawar Zalmi and inaugural champions Islamabad United demonstrate their finest form to uplift the spirit of the game, as the PSL has successfully done during the last two editions.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2018


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