THE Pakistan Super League cricket carnival is all set to kick off in the UAE today with the launch of its fourth season. Six star-studded teams will be battling for supremacy and the bumper winner’s purse of half a million dollars.

Indeed, the cash-rich PSL, which is the PCB’s flagship event, has made great strides since its inception in 2016; it is ranked only behind the Indian Premier League in terms of popularity and scale among the many T20 leagues around the world.

Also read: Why PSL matters

The fact that the PSL has evolved into a global event after three seasons is beyond debate. With every season, the league has become bigger and better, attracting leading players from hosts Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other nations, besides drawing in top sponsors, broadcasters and, of course, millions of fans.

Take the ultimate PSL 2019 quiz you can't ace in one go

Islamabad United, led by Mohammad Sami, will be defending its title in the PSL’s fourth season which promises more competition than the last three editions put together. Though all six teams feature some fine players, the presence of South Africa’s AB de Villiers, making his PSL debut for Lahore Qalandars, makes this contest a special one.

According to estimates, PSL viewership last season soared to nearly 120m around the world and is likely to go up. With as many as eight PSL games scheduled to be played in Pakistan this time, including the final in Karachi on March 17, the PCB’s newly appointed chairman Ehsan Mani hopes to convince the ICC as well as foreign teams to resume international tours to Pakistan.

The PSL’s rapidly rising graph is a far cry from its launch days four years ago when there had been serious misgivings about its viability. Given the PCB’s unprofessionalism and poor working ways, not many were convinced about the league’s future.

The purists who scoffed at T20 cricket said the league was a destructive venture that could spoil the techniques of players and alter their priorities, given the money involved, causing them to shun the Test format. The PSL’s success has allayed such fears.

Take a look: 5 improvements Pakistan Super League 2019 could use

Having said that, the PSL has had its share of controversy. The nasty ‘fixing’ scam in 2017 involving four players jolted the league; stringent measures are needed to avoid a repeat of the incident.

The PCB, along with the managements of the six franchises, must also ensure that all foreign players feature in the eight games in Lahore and Karachi. Their abrupt pullout last year and in 2017 from matches in Pakistan was disappointing, and sent the wrong message to the international community about the country’s security situation.

The PCB has also received flak for its inability to relocate the league completely in Pakistan. If this situation is reversed, the PSL’s fifth edition could well prove to be Pakistan’s way back into international cricket after 10 years of isolation at home.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2019

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