CRICKET: PSL ON CLOUD NINE

Published February 18, 2024
Lahore Qalandars successfully defended their PSL title after beating Multan Sultrans in the 2023 final | Source: X
Lahore Qalandars successfully defended their PSL title after beating Multan Sultrans in the 2023 final | Source: X

An increase of 45 percent in the broadcast rights, 113 percent in live streaming and 41 percent in international media rights for the ninth and 10th editions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is ample proof that our own Twenty20 marquee event is thriving.

The ninth edition, to be played from February 17 to March 18, has perched the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the six franchises and title sponsors Habib Bank — all part of a PSL family — on cloud nine.

“The record-breaking sale of international media rights shows the attraction of the HBL PSL in overseas territories across the world, and proves that the League continues to grow by leaps and bounds outside of Pakistan as well,” acknowledges the League’s Commissioner Naila Bhatti, someone who has been associated with the League since its inception, barring a couple of intermittent years.

Ever since the League was launched in 2016 — after initial hiccups and scepticism — the last eight years has seen it being reckoned as “the second best” League in the cricketing world, behind the most lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL).

The most popular and much awaited Pakistan Super League has kicked off its ninth iteration. Here’s looking at where it stands and how it got here

There are, of course, no comparisons with the IPL, which is more glitzy because of the money and clout India possesses, but PSL has definitely carved a niche for itself among a worldwide audience. The proof is in the pudding.

The exciting and talent-grooming eight editions have seen young local players fill their boots to help Pakistan cricket no end. From Hasan Ali to Naseem Shah to Mohammad Waseem Junior to Shahnawaz Dahani to Abbas Afridi to Ihsanullah, et al, PSL has given Pakistan some talented fast bowlers that has made Pakistan a superpower in terms of pace at the international level.

From Fakhar Zaman to Azam Khan to Saim Ayub and others, the PSL has also groomed a number of clean hitters for Twenty20 cricket which, because of its brevity, is fast becoming the most sought-after brand of the sport around the globe. 

Pakistan finished runners-up in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 and won the title in the second edition, two years later. So when the PSL was launched in 2016, the nation was always a force in the shortest format but needed strengthening.

With PSL held every year and talent coming regularly, Pakistan showed remarkable improvement and, in the last two editions of the global event, finished semi-finalist and runners-up, and will start as favourites to lift the trophy in June this year — PSL being one factor for helping push the envelope.

Cricket has become a part of our everyday life, because the ease with which it is played in every other street and the performance of the national team coincides with the mood swings of the entire country, where there already is a dearth of entertainment. People forget their pains of daily life when the national cricket team wins or takes part in a global event. The game has produced a number of stars over the years, who have inspired generations to make their presence felt on the field.

The two other sporting arenas where Pakistan ruled the roost earlier — hockey and squash — have fallen by the wayside. The national sport of Pakistan, hockey, has struggled and fallen prey to the apathy of the powers that be, while squash, which once churned out champions such as Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan and many others, lags far behind.

And this is where the emergence of the PSL came at the right time. For a country desperately searching for new heroes, cricket arrived in its newest avatar at just the right time for everyone to take note of it. Families are involved, backing the teams of their respective cities and buying the team shirts in numbers.

When the PCB launched the PSL, the initial five franchises — Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Islamabad United, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators — made all the effort to promote the League. To add the much-needed money to meet most of the expenses, Habib Bank then took up the gauntlet and, as per their slogan “enabling dreams”, have kept up the support until this day.

The initial impediment in PSL was that the first three editions were mainly held at the neutral venues of the United Arab Emirates, as Pakistan was not deemed secure enough for foreign players. That economic slough held back progress. But once the League began to be played fully in Pakistan, it not only added value but increased the fan base manifold. Large queues were seen outside most of the stadiums where PSL matches were held, despite the lack of facilities.

The quartet of PCB, franchises, HBL and fans have made the League successful, not only in Pakistan but also in other cricket-playing countries. To add to their zeal in the League, the zest was also seen in the development programmes these franchises conducted.

Their programmes helped harness raw talent. In terms of development programmes, Lahore Qalandars shines the brightest. They conducted talent hunt programmes across Punjab, unearthing talents such as Haris Rauf, Dilbar Hussain, Zaman Khan, etc and, despite not doing well in the first four editions, kept their feet on the paddle.

Lahore Qalandars’ high performance centre is a state-of-the-art facility, where players can come and train for free. Peshawar Zalmi not only conducted talent hunts but also contributed in various other ways. So has Karachi Kings — conducting trials in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) — Quetta Gladiators backing players from the most neglected areas of Balochistan, and Islamabad United and Multan Sultans have also matched other franchises in terms of unearthing new talent.

Standards-wise the PSL has also stood out. Islamabad United (2016 and 2018) and Lahore Qalandars (2022 and 2023) have both won the Leagues twice, while all other franchises have been triumphant once each. This year too, all the teams are stacked up well for the title and that ensures good and compelling cricket.

Going forward now, what the PCB needs to do is to abort all the efforts to dilute the standard of play, by disallowing minor leagues, such as the Kashmir Premier League (KPL) and Sindh Premier League (SPL), to carry on. PCB’s permission for such leagues has already hit the PSL franchises hard — they are facing problems in acquiring sponsorships, as the Pakistan market is not that big and prosperous.

The PSL franchises felt betrayed by the permission to other leagues as well. Although there is no comparison between the IPL and the PSL in terms of money and magnitude, it needs to be remembered that India does not allow most of its IPL players to feature in minor leagues in their country.

The other aspect that needs to be improved is the inclusion of some top stars, mainly from Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand. The budget for franchises to assemble full squads — which currently stands at 1.40 million dollars each — needs to be supplemented by the PCB.

With a handsome increase in international media rights, PCB needs to allocate around 25 percent of the windfall to the franchises, so that they can attract more renowned foreign players from major countries. Fans in Pakistan want to watch David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Kagiso Rabada, Heinrich Klaasen et al playing in the PSL. 

Moreover, there should be some pact with countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, to have reciprocal arrangements for players, as ours go to their leagues and vice versa. Some negotiations are also needed to avoid a clash of bilateral series with the PSL. This year, Afghanistan and Sri Lankan players are not available due to their bilateral series and that can take some of the sheen off.   

 The PCB also needs some active measures to take PSL to further heights. Constant changes in the PCB are also affecting progress. Here is a hope that the new chairman Mohsin Naqvi embraces all the challenges and makes the PSL more attractive and more successful.

The writer is a senior cricket analyst.
X: @hashmi_shahid

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 18th, 2024

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