THE biggest cricketing gala for Pakistani fans is just round the corner with the staging of fifth edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League across four cities in the country. Compared to the past tournaments, this one, without any shadow of doubt, will be memorable in every sense of the word because this time PSL is being played entirely in Pakistan. Regarded as arguably the fastest growing league in terms of popularity, the PSL has, indeed, become a household name with its unique identity of uniting the whole nation.
The gradual return of full-fledged international cricket in Pakistan is chiefly due to the PSL. Our young generation is not far behind in their support of the competing teams — Islamabad United, Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Multan Sultans, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators — named after six cities.
Always held in the months of February and March for a period of just over four weeks, the PSL has become the perfect launching pad for the budding cricketers to stake their claims for international recognition. Current stars such as Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf and Shaheen Shah Afridi, are a few examples of this because they all had graduated to the Pakistan team on the back of their performances in the PSL. And in recent times, we have already seen the likes of Haris Rauf and Ahsan Ali playing for the country.
The main attractions of the PSL are the galaxy of international stars who rub shoulders with the hordes of Pakistani players. Sharing the same dugout during the season is one of the salient features of our league, since it profusely offers the upcoming brigade the golden opportunity of learning the finer points of the game we all love so much. The camaraderie between the players, whether they belong to the same squad or in the opposing camp, is a fascinating aspect of the PSL.
The shortest form of T20 cricket has its own flavour. As the nomenclature suggests, it is basically all about the flurry of sixes and fours to keep the crowds enthralled to the action on the field of play. Most of the time, the bowlers are found to be at the receiving end of the flying bats. But there are occasions as well when the bowlers keep the batsmen guessing with the subtle change in pace. The mastering of slower balls is one art that makes T20 very exciting.
The competitiveness level of the PSL is second to none if compared to the other franchise-based T20 jamborees taking place in various countries and regions. And although the PSL is comparatively new on the horizon, it has rapidly become one of the most eagerly-awaited events. The idea of launching this league has really paid off handsomely. No doubt, the credit goes to the previous regime of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for making this dream come true, while the current PCB hierarchy has ensured the seeds sown in September 2015 to initiate it in early 2016 start to grow in stature.
The initial years were definitely extremely tough for the PCB because the major chunk of matches from 2016 to 2019 were played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), owing to security concerns. Logistically speaking, the costs of organising the tournament away from the home soil were exorbitantly enormous and the general turnout in those fixtures taking place in Dubai and Sharjah, as well as Abu Dhabi, remained quite disappointing.
The main reason behind staging the PSL in the UAE was the fear of losing the cream of international cricketers who were sceptical about coming to Pakistan in those days. However, with the passage of time, their fears were allayed. All of us should feel very proud of the PSL finally coming to the place where it really belongs! The host of overseas players thronging our playing fields stands to multiply our excitement.
If we look at the roster for the forthcoming edition, the majority of the names sound quite familiar. Admittedly, most of the foreigners are no longer representing their national sides, but they still carry a lot of weight in terms of their participation for different T20 leagues. Pakistan-born seamer Ali Khan already made international debut for the United States and has made a name for himself due to his exploits in the Caribbean Premier League.
The other international figures who are now well-known in Pakistan are Darren Sammy (the two-time World Twenty20 title-winning captain of West Indies who also led Peshawar Zalmi to PSL glory in 2017), Jason Roy, Luke Ronchi, Colin Ingram, Colin Munro, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Chris Lynn, Samit Patel, James Vince, Ravi Bopara, Rille Rossouw, Kieron Pollard, Liam Dawson, Keemo Paul, Shane Watson, Tymal Mills, Ben Dunk, Cameron Delport and Fawad Ahmed.
But perhaps, the most popular among the lot is Lahore-born Imran Tahir, the wily leg-spinner who retired last year after a long glittering career for South Africa. The veteran will be playing for Multan Sultans this year.
As far as our own Pakistanis are concerned, there is no shortage of big names — young and old — spread across the six squads. Defending champions Quetta Gladiators have former Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed leading them for the fifth consecutive season — a feat no one else has managed to accomplish. The wicket-keeper/batsman led the national team until as recently as early October last year before being unceremoniously shown the door after Sri Lanka, in historic moment, blanked Pakistan 3-0 in the Twenty20 International series in Lahore. With the T20 World Cup for men scheduled to be played in Australia during October/November, the coming PSL is a make-or-break event for the embattled, but never-say-die Sarfraz.
And looking to the future, there are several young kids on the block who may be the next ones to make the cut. Among them are Pakistan Under-19 captain Rohail Nazir and Haider Ali, both of whom figured in the just-concluded ICC World Cup for this age-group in South Africa. Also likely to push for places in the future senior national side are Mohammad Amir Khan and Aamir Ali, who also competed in South Africa in recent weeks.
One really can’t pick anyone to steal the thunder this time, but there is no denying all eyes will be glued on Babar Azam, the world top-ranked T20 International batsman and now captain of Pakistan in this format, to change the fortunes for the ill-fated Karachi Kings. The Kings have literally flattered to deceive in all previous PSL competitions despite having a decent squad at their disposal. They are heading into the tournament with high hopes because they are banking on the support of their fans in Karachi where they play five home games under their new head coach Dean Jones. The ex-Australian star is already a double champion because, under his charge, Islamabad United won two of the first three editions.
So kids fasten your seat belts to take the plunge in the world of PSL! We know each of you is passionate about your favourite cricketers as well as the teams. In terms of sheer team following, it is always a difficult task to understand the intricacies behind them.
For example, Lahore Qalandars are extremely popular among the folks. But that doesn’t mean the likes of Peshawar Zalmi, Karachi Kings, Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators and Multan Sultans are lacking in the fan-based club.
Rest assured there will be massive turnouts in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan who will be sharing the 34 fixtures of PSL V from Feb 20 to March 22. Just imagine what it would be like when Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars clash on home-and-away basis at the National Stadium in Karachi and Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. Their traditional rivalry is well-documented in the annals of cricket.
But kids, don’t neglect your first priorities and that is to keep focus on your studies while the PSL is on!
Published in Dawn, Young World, February 15th, 2020