"So now you have seen it live, how does the PSL compare to the IPL?”
This loaded question has been posed to at least 100 times in the past few weeks. Probably because I’ve been in Dubai and Sharjah to cover the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
Well, by cover it, I was paid by the digital rights holder to make a series of eight “behind the scenes” videos. I spent my time interviewing coaching staff and team owners. I played golf with the players. I walked around the boundary fence interacting with the crowd. I climbed light towers and held fake press conferences.
PSL may not be the richest tournament, but it has the biggest heart
I even raced a virtual Uber and won.
The beautiful thing about covering a cricket tournament in this fashion is that there is no pressure to submit any match reports once the game ends. Instead, I could simply lap up the atmosphere, chat with whoever was in attendance and thoroughly immerse myself into the experience.
And it is with this purity of being at a cricket match as a fan, albeit one with a cameraman chasing you around, you can truly appreciate that the PSL is different from any other T20 league in the world.
In Australia, the purpose of the Big Bash League is very clear.
It is to encourage families, women and especially children, to discover and fall in love with the game. The marketing is tailored for the youth. The games are on prime time television right through the summer school holidays. It is Cricket Australia’s way of drafting new fans. Making money is a secondary consideration. That can come later. Because for now, it’s all about making cricket bigger and more popular with the kids.
At the other end of the scale, we have the Indian Premier League (IPL). The love child of Lalit Modi, the P.T. Barnum of his generation. He has manufactured a living breathing cricketing circus.
It pays the players mega bucks. It fills the stands. Merchandise sells out. Advertising during the matches is expensive. The best players want to participate. It habitually births millionaires. It has a gooey centre full of creamy goodness that if you consume too much will make you feel sick inside. But you keep coming back for more.
It’s 50 Shades of Grey, keeping the leather but adding willow for added kinkiness.
It pretends that it exists to develop the youth, but it is only there to make money. Lots of money. And with money comes power. And the BCCI loves power. There is no mistaking what the IPL is about.
But having now engaged with the PSL family, I’ve learnt that this event only three years old stands for something unique. Something special. A bigger cause. A noble pursuit.
At its core, the PSL is simply about bringing cricket home.
It is about creating dreams and then delivering on them. It is about community. The cricketing family. It is a pathway for the underdog to rise and be heard.
It is pure. It is Pakistan.
While in the United Arab Emirates, I spoke at length to Nadeem Omar, owner of the Quetta Gladiators. I spoke to Rana Fawad, owner of the Lahore Qalandars. I spoke to Asher Schon, owner of the Multan Sultans.
Without fail, all were united in one primary goal. Yes, they wanted to win. But these guys are in it for the long game.
They have chosen to do their bit, use their resources, and use their influence to help see international cricket played properly on Pakistani soil again.
I’m talking real international tours. No disrespect to Zimbabwe, but not them. No disrespect to Sri Lanka or the West Indies and their T20 matches. But it’s not about them either.
It is about Australia and England and South Africa. It is about India. It is about full Test tours. Multiple stadiums in multiple cities. It is about proving to the world that their country is safe.
It is about giving the Pakistani people a pathway to a better future. One led by cricket.
The players also understood this quest. Even the international players like Shane Watson, who weren’t quite ready to make the journey into the land of the green shirts. Everyone wanted to do their bit to the level that they were comfortable.
Critics of the PSL have pointed out that the stadiums in Dubai and Sharjah were not very full. This is true. But this fact misses the point. To understand, imagine playing the Big Bash in a non-cricketing country like Indonesia. Some expatriates will turn up, but it will not be a large crowd. This is what the PSL currently has to deal with. However, look at what has happened in Lahore and Karachi. The people responded.
There are other things that the PSL does that no other T20 tournament can match.
No other league has over 150,000 hungry cricketers turn out for open trials as happened in Lahore. Meritocracy in action. Wealth, family status, where you live or your education were non-factors. If you were good enough, you got selected.
No other T20 tournament is consistently discovering talent that so quickly flowers into international stars.
But perhaps most importantly, no other T20 tournament unites a nation like the PSL.
It may not be the richest tournament. It may not have the best skills. It may lack the best international players. But the PSL has the biggest heart. The biggest purpose. A true reason for existence.
It is about giving, not taking.
So when someone asks me what T20 league is better, the PSL or the IPL, the answer is simple to give.
“It’s the PSL mate. It loves you as much as you will love it.”
Dennis Freedman is an Australian cricket journalist and host of the popular Can’t Bowl Can’t Throw cricket podcast and is a regular contributor to Dawn.
He tweets @DennisCricket
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 1st, 2018