DUBAI: A lot is at stake when the Pakistan Super League (PSL) gets underway on Thursday (February 9) in Dubai.
The Twenty20 extravaganza has been modeled on the successful Indian Premier League (IPL), and in many ways, Pakistan are hoping for similar benefits like India in terms of talents, especially for the shorter formats.
India have gained a lot from the IPL bonanza in terms of players who are able adjust to the modern-day limited-overs formats quicker than most others. India have managed to unearth a number of short-form players like Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Rishabh Pant and Yuzvendra Chahal. There are others like Karun Nair who shone in IPL, but struck gold with a triple-hundred against England in the recent concluded Test series after having already established himself as a long-format player in domestic cricket.
It is this ability that Pakistan are hoping their young talents also achieve through the PSL
Pakistan have had a tumultuous time in the shorter formats, especially in One-Day International cricket, and have slid to eighth in the world rankings. The slide is so drastic that Pakistan may not be assured of automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup, and may well have to take the qualifier route. Recent 1-4 ODI series losses in England and Australia highlighted the weakness in power-hitting, death-overs bowling and more importantly, fielding.
Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan captain, believes the PSL can certainly bridge the gap for Pakistan’s limited-overs sides in time.
“The IPL is massive, you can’t compare it with our league,” Akram, who has been involved with Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL as a bowling coach, told Wisden India. “The first edition (of PSL) did throw up some hidden talent, so I expect good results in the years to come. The initial problems in setting off were overcome last year, so I hope for better things this year.” Akram had mentored Islamabad United to the PSL title in the inaugural edition in 2016.
Rashid Latif, another former Pakistan skipper, is also hoping for more talent to stand out this year. “I think the real talent comes from first-class cricket,” he said. “But PSL is the stage where you groom your talent just like the IPL has done. So it is for the talented players to grab their chances, perform and then hopefully play for Pakistan.”
The PSL has had a chequered past, with a number of false starts. Originally meant to be launched in 2013, the tournament failed to take off then owing to logistical issues and then again in 2014 over lack of sponsorship.
But these issues have been a common feature in Twenty20 leagues across the world. The IPL and the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) have been hit by spot-fixing scandals. In fact, the BPL also faced charges of delay in players’ payments and could not be held in 2013. The Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) has not been staged after the first edition in 2012.
These examples did create doubts about the viability of the PSL, but the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), under league chairman Najam Sethi, has stood steadfast and pulled off their dream project. The first event in February-March 2016 netted PCB a profit of US $2.6 million ($2 million paid to franchises) and more importantly, the players were paid before time.
“The event was a success beyond expectations,” said Sethi. “We are ready to improve on that and have earmarked a profit of $3 million from the second edition. More importantly, we are hoping to develop some of our younger players.”
The five franchises — Islamabad United, Lahore Qalandars, Karachi Kings, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators — have more muscle this time and each has a strong claim to the title.
Brendon McCullum, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Kumar Sangakkara, relatively recently retired international stars, provide valuable experience to their respective sides.
Then, there is the Caribbean flavour led by their two-time World T20-winning captain, Darren Sammy. The West Indies contingent is made up of explosive players like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Marlon Samuels, the man of the final in both the 2012 and 2016 World T20s. Add a bit of mystery in the form of Sunil Narine, and you have a heady mix for this edition of the PSL.
The English contingent also has some interesting players with the maverick Kevin Pietersen leading the way with Eoin Morgan, the current limited-overs captain, opener Jason Roy, Luke Wright, the allrounder, and the rapid Tymal Mills providing the fireworks.
The one wish PCB have for this year’s PSL is to stage the March 5 final in Lahore. They hope an improved security set-up will convince the foreign players to shun their fears and travel to Pakistan – a no-go area for overseas teams since the terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009.
Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chairman, is hoping to buck the trend this year. “We see our dreams in PSL,” asserted Shaharyar. “It is our main hope to not only revive our teams’ standards, but also for it become a gateway for the return of international cricket to our country.”