KARACHI: Fans had begun filling up the stands at the National Stadium, the anticipation building for the first match of the eighth edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League at the venue on Tuesday. Some carried Pakistan flags, others showed allegiance to the teams they were supporting. On the ground, players of Karachi Kings and Peshawar Zalmi warmed up for the clash. Some played football, others did light exercises.

Expectation simmering in the stands, plans for the future of the glitzy T20 extravaganza were being discussed in the closed press conference room. An hour before the start of the game, an impromptu news conference was announced with Pakistan Cricket Board interim management committee chairman Najam Sethi arriving alongside the digital broadcast rights holder for the PSL.

It’s been over a month since the interim management committee was installed for a 120-day period in which it has to hold elections, the move seeing the end of Ramiz Raja’s time as PCB chief. Sethi is the de facto chairman for the time and still revelling in the opening ceremony of the country’s marquee tournament in Multan on Monday, said he wanted to make it “bigger and better”.

Sethi was the league’s chairman when its inaugural edition was held in 2016 before becoming PCB chief the following year. The PSL has since grown into one of the top leagues around the world, only second to the Indian Premier League. Now back at the helm, Sethi outlined his ambitions. “My plan is to put more money into the PSL,” he told reporters. “We hope to bring more foreign players and bring through more domestic talent.”

There was no hiding about the fact that the PSL is PCB’s money-spinning venture. While the representative of the digital broadcast rights holder noted the fact that the league’s viewership went to far flung areas of the country, Sethi joked that the money being made by the rights holder would mean more capital for the PCB.

Once this season of the PSL reaches completion, it will be the first time that the league will be held across four centres of the country. “Organising it in four venues is a challenge, especially with Multan as the teams are staying in Lahore,” said Sethi. “With matches for the first stage being held in Multan and Karachi and then shifting to Lahore and Rawalpindi, we needed two production teams, which is a huge operation.”

But it hasn’t been without hiccups with the start of the opening match seeing a significant delay. But Sethi said he is “determined” to take the PSL to new centres. “We want to have PSL matches in Quetta and Peshawar with the security situation permitting.”

Quetta’s Bugti Stadium hosted an exhibition match between Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators, both teams consisting of local players only, last Sunday. Sethi said he was pleased at how the Bugti Stadium had been “transformed” for the game but added he couldn’t say the same about Peshawar’s Arbab Niaz Stadium.

“It’s in the same state as four years ago when I was last PCB chairman,” said Sethi. “But I believe if can take the PSL there, Peshawar will be a real winner.”

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2023

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