IT started with a mistimed lip sync but the 2020 edition of the Pakistan Super League is finding its voice. Crucial both in terms of confirming the security of international players in Pakistan and showing off the quality of play in a land harmed by years of cricketing exile, the Pakistan Super League is ticking the necessary boxes.
Spectators and viewers are the lifeblood of any sport. The stadiums are bouncing, with Multan being the most feverish so far, in response to some thrilling cricket from a mix of familiar and emerging T20 stars. The online coverage is free and exhaustive, reaching a vast global audience, from the cleverly localised Game of Thrones intro to the charmingly amateurish edited highlights.
Some players whose shelf lives expired in the last decade, from Shahid Afridi to Kamran Akmal, are making us wonder how we ever doubted them. Time, of course, tends to paper over the deepest cracks but there is still life in the old warhorses of Pakistan cricket and it is worth enjoying.
Established international cricketers are demonstrating a new side to their game, a development in their skill set. Shan Masood, who began his international career as a stodgy opener with uncertain prospects, is recast as a strokemaking leader. Shadab Khan, with a disappointing international T20 average of 13, is showing that he can make an allrounder spot his own in the national team. Sarfraz Ahmed is simply underlining how he was wronged in Pakistan’s T20 selection.
Others, whose big time is yet to come, are hinting at the depth of talent in Pakistan and the potential for the future. The young pace bowlers, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, and even Amir Khan, are creating a thrill although the statistics might not always match their visual impact. Shaheen Afridi, at the ripe old age of 19 years, already looks a thoroughbred, possibly even a veteran. When it comes to batting, among a clutch of prospects, Haider Ali seems the one to watch.
And we haven’t got onto the impact of the overseas players, of their commitment to Multan or Quetta, places they might never have heard of had it not been for the Pakistan Super League.
These are the benefits of a major tournament with international competition. It tells us more about the capabilities and the potential of Pakistan’s cricketers, and the effectiveness of the cricket structure, than any number of domestic tournaments played with less local and international scrutiny.
Of course, some people aren’t happy. You can’t please all of the people all of the time; and you can’t please a few people any of the time. The tournament should be more about Pakistan’s players, they say. The players in the national team aren’t all featuring enough. The national T20 captain isn’t captaining a domestic franchise.
None of this matters. You can either take a short-term navel gazing view that Pakistani cricketers should be given priority, in which case the Pakistan Super League will shrivel back to a domestic sideshow. Or you can take a medium and long term view, that the franchises should pick the best players and prioritise selection and tactics on merit, and give the Pakistan Super League a chance to blossom.
The latter approach means that Pakistan’s cricketers will have to fight for their opportunity, and through competing they will understand what it is required to be among the best. In time, the standard and depth of Pakistan’s young players will improve.
Take England’s Premier League, for example. In its early days, when the national football team was inconsistent and generally lacked the quality of the top sides, people were quick to criticise the influx of international stars and how they would limit opportunities for English players. The national team would suffer. Today, the Premier League is the most valuable football league and possibly the best of all. England are revitalised as an international football team on the back of their young Premier League players. The same can happen with the Pakistan Super League.
That progress took almost two decades and was accelerated most recently by the guiding hand of the world’s best managers, such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. It’s important that the Pakistan Super League absorbs this lesson quickly, that young players need the leading coaches to develop them technically and tactically. Only Andy Flower of the current crop is a coach of international repute.
The Pakistan Super League has begun well in its inaugural home edition, although there is no room for complacency or sentimentality. The ultimate purpose of the league must be to strengthen Pakistan cricket, but the true value is in creating a tournament that cuts no favours on the basis of nationality.
That way lies success.
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Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2020