THE world’s T20 leagues draw international stars and global audiences but they are primarily domestic tournaments. Establishing the PSL in the United Arab Emirates was a smart move and a successful one yet had a hollow feel to it. Home is where the heart is and where the fans are, and the Pakistan Cricket Board has managed that transition well.
The year 2020, which has started with battles against climate change and a new coronavirus, offers at least one unifying message: we should stay at home more. In this spirit, if not for these reasons, the Pakistan Super League’s full relocation to home turf is entirely welcome.
With T20 everywhere, the challenge is to give your tournament some meaning. The T20 Blast builds on historical deep-rooted rivalries between English counties. The Big Bash is high art in skill and spectacle, the ultimate test, everything you’d expect from Australia. The Indian Premier League is a commercial razzmatazz, a money spinner for all stakeholders with cricket as the marketed product.
Where does the PSL fit into this crowded landscape? It doesn’t have a legacy of domestic competition to build on like the T20 Blast, although regional rivalry in Pakistan is in plentiful supply and the PSL positively taps into those cultural identities.
It doesn’t guarantee the riches that the IPL does, and given the size of India’s domestic market it never will. But the PSL can still be a resounding commercial success, and become a cash cow to rebuild and develop the country’s cricket infrastructure.
It doesn’t offer as stern a test as the Big Bash except that the standard is high enough and only limited by the absence of the superstars of world cricket. In time, with international cricket’s successful return to Pakistan, that can change.
Most importantly, though, the PSL made sure that the world knew that Pakistan cricket was not to be beaten. It was a symbol of the resistance along with the number one ranking in Test cricket and the Champions Trophy win of 2017. It gave hope to cricket fans and players in the dark ages of international exile.
But the PSL has never been short of meaning. It helped prop up Pakistan cricket at a time when international cricket was exiled. It showed that region based cricket was viable. It proved that a Pakistan domestic tournament could be a commercial success and attract a global audience.
But with that success comes responsibility. Responsibility to the players to ensure a safe and secure tournament; normalising cricket must not lead to complacency in security measures. The sentiments of the Pakistani public mean nothing to terrorists.
Now that hope is being realised. The full PSL, with an array of international T20 globetrotters, will be played out in front of home supporters, often at a franchise’s home ground; eventually, all teams should host fixtures. It follows hard on the heels of international visits by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and a tour by the Marylebone Cricket Club. Cricket in Pakistan has rarely been so healthy, certainly in these last two decades.
Responsibility to preserve the integrity of cricket; corruption is a shackle that Pakistan cricket has struggled long to break, and the incidents at previous PSL tournaments are a stark warning that players and officials remain vulnerable. Zero tolerance must be the minimum starting point.
Responsibility to the public to create a fantastic spectacle; a world class tournament requires not only a high standard of play but also an international level of organisation, match experience for fans, and media coverage. There should be no half measures.
In 2020, cricket has properly come home. The first four years of the Pakistan Super League were an elaborate trailer for the main event. This is a second coming, a new beginning. The job isn’t done; it is merely started. No stone should be left unturned, no garland short of roses. Failure is not an option and, it is good to say, the world is watching and joining Pakistan’s cricket party.
The success of these measures will be that they go unnoticed, and they allow us to focus on the events on the field, on the heroics of Babar Azam or Naseem Shah, Jason Roy or Carlos Braithwaite, of new heroes for a new age.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2020