RAWALPINDI: Judging by eagerness expressed from cricketing diehards in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad during the rain-ravaged Test against Sri Lanka last December, it is a predetermined assessment that the HBL Pakistan Super League 2020 jamboree at the Pindi Cricket Stadium has guaranteed overflowing crowds.
Just to recap the Sri Lanka fixture — which historically marked the conclusion of nearly 11-year-old Test boycott of Pakistan — the last day produced exhilarating brand of cricket, highlighted by Abid Ali’s memorable debut century as well tons from Babar Azam and Dhananjaya de Silva who remarkably batted on all four days where play was possible — the fourth day was a wash out.
The most amazing feature on day five was the sight of 15,000-capacity stadium in the heart of Rawalpindi almost filled up despite the match heading for a predictable stalemate after as many as 528 minutes of playing time and amounting to 268.1 overs out of mandatory quota of 450 overs — were lost to rain, bad light and wet conditions over the preceding match days.
During the course of that first Test, some of the spectators — when contacted by Dawn — made elaborate mention of the PSL V edition while expressing their sense of excitement to watch some of the top T20 stars entertaining them during the eight-match schedule, which includes two day matches at the backend of the Rawalpindi leg.
“We can’t just wait for the real action [Pakistan Super League] because almost every one of us loves T20 stuff more than other formats,” Danish Ahmed, a senior school teacher from Islamabad, said at the time. “The fast pace of the game adds to the excitement. That is the real entertainment from the spectators’ point of view. The majority wants to be entertained and T20 cricket has all the ingredients to fulfil those requirements.”
And as per his assessment, the long wait is about to end from Thursday onwards for the fans living in the twin cities — Rawalpindi and Islamabad — and the adjacent regions. Giant screens are being placed at vintage points to enable the cricket buffs to get glimpses of their favourite players in action.
Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi would not only be using their home and away team kits because both franchises — and former winners of the PSL crown — are slated to play five games apiece here in Rawalpindi. And curiously, these sides will also confront each other twice on the same turf in the space of eight days.
It inescapably means that either Islamabad United or Peshawar Zalmi would be one the sides in the six fixtures where they won’t be taking on each other.
So the question now remains which team is likely to have the greatest following in terms of fans support? Many naturally think of Islamabad United would have the advantage because of their proximity with this rather old-fashioned garrison town.
However, Islamabad United’s team strategy manager Hassan Cheema was adamant in stating Peshawar Zalmi have an aura about them that is based on trust.
“There is obviously supernatural phenomenon every time people discuss Peshawar Zalmi. I have been involved in the PSl since the inception of this franchise-based tournament, and whenever my focus shifts to Peshawar Zalmi, I simply get stumped by the huge popularity they enjoy in the fan-base.” Hassan told Dawn on the eve of PSL V. “I’m in in no doubt which team will get the biggest support during Rawalpindi leg matches. Simple: Peshawar Zalmi. And I had seen in the past when the PSL was staged in the UAE.”
The weather here — which mercifully has been pleasant over the few days with the sun shining brightly as the winter nears its end — could still be the spoiler since rain is forecast for this Friday and Saturday.
“Nothing can spoil the enjoyment of a Pindiwal [native of Rawalpindi]. Not even the rain or thunderstorm. Because we love singing in the rain,” Ahmed Ryaan, who resides close to the Pindi Cricket Stadium, told Dawn. “There will be ample time to sample everything. And whether its cricket or rain, we will be savouring these moments as much as we can.”
The fans here just cannot wait, for either!
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020