Fans have described the Pakistan Super League, a T20 tournament that started on February 4, as the best thing to happen to Pakistani cricket in many years, though held in faraway UAE.
Hit by terrorism, Pakistan has not seen a full team tour by a foreign team in several years and this international isolation had deprived fans of cricketing events.
The Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) super league, similar to the popular Indian Premier League (IPL), has five teams representing four provincial capitals and one for the federal capital — Quetta Gladiators, Peshawar Zalmis, Lahore Qalandars, Islamabad United and Karachi Kings.
The absence of Pakistani players in the IPL played a huge part in the PCB’s decision to have its own league. So far, the experiment has been a success.
Stars Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Shahid Afridi, Kevin Pietersen, Lasith Malinga, Shoaib Malik and Kieron Pollard are playing in the competition, giving much-needed exposure and an international flavour.
Former fast-bowling great Wasim Akram says fans have long been hearing on and off about the PCB launching a T20 league. “On many occasions, these efforts faced hurdles that have been hard to overcome. This time, things are on track to redefine Pakistan’s cricket.”
Cricket fan Huma Mehmood says the PSL has helped revive the game’s fortunes in Pakistan. “We were not seeing much cricket as no one wanted to come to Pakistan,” she says. “But now we have our cricketers playing alongside international stars.”
Aside from fans, punters are delighted too. Millions of rupees are being wagered on teams. The fact that underdogs Peshawar Zalmi have done better than expected means good tidings for many bettors.
Raja Riaz, who used to avidly follow IPL matches, says the PSL is as good as any. “With the IPL there was always an issue of communication when it came to placing bets which went via Dubai. Now everything is direct.”
But the PSL is still on shaky grounds as a financial model. For the competition to continue in the following seasons, it needs to earn revenues.
Former cricketer Wasim Bari says collections from stadiums in the UAE have been lower than expected. “I think real money can be made once we hold the series in the (home) country. That’s where the money is.”
The maiden tournament has already spawned expectations and opportunities for many. PCB officials say the PSL can be a hunting ground for new talent for the country’s national team.
Young boys will be rubbing shoulders with the game’s greats and that probably is the biggest benefit they will get, they say.
Akram took the idea forward, saying the boys’ interactions with cricket’s biggest professionals are not limited to the field. He says there are so many things that one learns from senior professionals: training routine, mindset, handling pressure and even socialising.