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Rise and Rise of PSL

Updated: May 27, 2020

Rise and rise of PSL - Long may it continue

Back in the 70's to 90's Cricket coverage in Pakistan was very different from what we see these days. Now the audience are used to watching games in high definition obtained by using state of the art cameras that are distributed around the ground offering best possible views for deliveries bowled and shots scored. The latest addition to the already impressive galaxy of cameras is the spider cam that gets manoeuvred with thin cables around the ground offering a bird's eye view of the ground or shows a shot from a fielder's eye level. Though still no substitute for watching the game in the stadium, watching game on TV gets you a good enough match watching experience.

In the days that I have been talking about, TV coverage was done by cameras that were designed for indoor news shows. Result was a rather grainy and dim view of the ground and camera was hardly able to follow the ball. Change from black and white to colour was a big improvement but the picture quality as compared to today was decidedly archaic.

One thing, that was however at least at par with cricket coverage of today was the standard of commentary. In Pakistan, the bulk of commentary in those years was done by two cricket enthusiasts, Chishty Mujahid and Iftikhar Ahmed. Chishty was a Cambridge graduate whilst Iftikhar was a chartered accountant. Cricket was their passion and their love for the sport was palpable in the enthusiastic manner in which they used to describe the on field action. Iftikhar Ahmed was more emotional of the two and had an excitable persona. Chishty Mujahid on the other hand had a dry sense of humour who had a more laid back style of talking. Together, they were a quality team.

Iftikhar Ahmed was a very successful professional who stayed as President and CEO of Singer Corporation for around ten years. The highly demanding job did not stop him from carrying on as a cricket commentator. Once on air in the early 90s, probably because of his business executive pedigree, he made a very astute observation. He was discussing the various strategies that the sport of cricket should take for it to prosper in a fast changing world. In his opinion, for cricket to become global, it was very important to get into the American market. United States of America was and still is the biggest global economy and there were untold riches waiting for cricket and cricketers if the Americans started following the game. But he felt that it would only happen if a cricket game was to get down to 25 overs a side matches. That would mean that a game could finish in just over four hours which make length of the game almost at par with a Baseball match. He thought that only then one could hope to make the game sellable in that country.

I was watching that game on PTV and listened to these remarks with amusement. To me, playing an international game with 25 overs a side was unthinkable, even farcical. Iftikhar Ahmed's off the cuff comment however did not fall on deaf ears. When he made the remarks, he was accompanied by the renowned English commentator Henry Blofeld. Henry, who used to called Iftikhar as,' Chairman Ifti' (referring to his status of being the CEO of a big global company), was a graduate of the prestigious Eton school. He had the social connections amongst influential aristocratic circles in England. It is my theory that he was the one who mentioned this to the ECB officials who finally decided to start the first T 20 league in 2003. Cricket still has not broken into the US market but T20 format has renewed interest in the game on a global stage.

Amongst the various domestic T20 leagues, there is no doubt that Indian Premier League is the biggest one. Players around the world aspire to play in this championship. The games are played in front of packed houses and get telecast around the world. Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the process are continually increasing, their already considerable, financial clout. Although IPL has suffered in reputation as quite a few of their games have resulted in raised eyebrows around the world with spectre of match fixing looming large, such is the influence of BCCI that no one has the guts to express these doubts out loud. That is mainly why despite clear evidence of foul play by high ranking IPL franchise officials and some players, these charges are not pressed or followed up beyond a preliminary stage.

After IPL, Australian Big Bash league, English Natwest T20 Blast league, South African Ram Slam T20 league and Bangladesh Premier League were started and quickly gained popularity in the respective countries. None of these leagues however come even close to the relative global audience of IPL. The only league which could give IPL a run for money is the new kid on the block, Pakistan Super League (PSL).

Only in its third year, PSL has carved a name for itself on the global stage in no time. And this success has been no accident. PSL has had some good things going for it. Foremost amongst them is that Pakistan cricket Board (PCB) made a separate organisation which was responsible for organising the tournament. This lean management structure allowed an effective leadership that was free from the bureaucratic malaise of a large PCB. Mr. Najam Sethi who was heading the PSL board and is now the PCB chairman, has proven to be an astute operator. He has provided dynamism, vision and leadership and his role has been pivotal in establishing PSL as a tournament that is beginning to be followed around the world.

Pakistan Cricket Board did take its time before launching the league. And for a change, they did do their homework. Business viability of the league was given its due importance with various franchise owners having to pay handsome amounts of money to PSL board for the right to field their respective teams. Players draft system was properly thought through and financial rewards for the players were substantial. A Man of the Match award in PSL for example is worth 4500 US $, an amount that is four times the amount that is offered in the far richer IPL.

Cricket by its very nature would always be a prime target for match fixing. Being very cautious of the reputation of the nascent PSL, at the first hint of a possible incursion on the league's prestige in 2017, six players were suspended. After a thorough investigation when proven guilty, lengthy bans were slapped on two players (Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif - five years each) with lesser punishments awarded to the others. Everyone knew that PCB had learnt its lesson and were going to be fiercely protective of reputation of PSL. Match fixing and match fixers were not to be tolerated and would be weeded out.

The biggest obstacle in the way of a successful PSL of course was the fact that the tournament could not be staged in Pakistan. Given the security situation at home, it was obvious that if the league was to attract international players then PCB would have to stage the games in its adopted home of the UAE. Yes, financially it probably wouldn't be as lucrative and yes most matches would be played in half empty stadia but it would at least give the much needed international flavour to the tournament. The first PSL was therefore entirely staged in the UAE. And boy wasn't it a resounding success! The cricket mad Pakistanis had their prayers answered and they could finally see their favourite players compete with and against international players. The second year saw the final match being played in Lahore. Gaddafi stadium hosted the extravagant occasion in front of a jam packed full house. Cricket, after a hiatus of almost eight years was finally making a comeback.

Working on the same lines, third edition of PSL would have two play offs and the final in Pakistan. The build up to the play offs has not been without its fair share of drama. Till today, out of six participating teams, only one has been eliminated and any four out of the rest of five could qualify for the play offs. The points table looks really tight and it is very likely that the final positions could well be decided on net run rate (NRR) as the matches won and lost could result in almost equivalent points for various teams.

It all has unfolded like a carefully orchestrated drama. I hope and pray for successful completion of the three Pakistan staged games. After those we should see the staging of three West Indies T20s in National Stadium Karachi (NSK). Once completed successfully, PCB would be in a very good position to stage the entire PSL 4 in Pakistan.

That is when PSL would seriously begin to challenge IPL in terms of prestige, money and global following. A game between Peshawar Zalmi and Islamabad United, when played in Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium would be far cry from the game that was played recently between these two teams in Dubai. This game would be in front of a jam packed stadium which would have a sea of colours and flags. Noise would be deafening and the players would have an instant acknowledgement of their performance by thunderous claps, bugle horns and drum beats. Same can be said of all the other games that would be played in the home or away grounds of the six participating teams. The young audience would get a chance to see their heroes up close and personal and this would result in a greater influx of fresh young talent to the game. PCB would be duly rewarded for its meticulously planned return of cricket to the domestic scene and the people of Pakistan would get a chance to enjoy some high quality games right in their home cities. This would also result in greater financial rewards for players and provided the security situation continues to improve, we would see international players all lining up to get selected for one of the six teams.

But perhaps the biggest advantage would be the propagation of the real image of Pakistan around the world. When the pictures of enthusiastic Pakistani cricket fans dressed up in national colours would be beamed around the world, people would realise what a friendly, cheerful and fun loving folk we are. Images of a burqa clad lady cheering on her favourite team, sight of a young mother who is attending the game with her family of young kids, scenes of a turbaned and bearded elderly gentleman clapping enthusiastically as he is applauding a straight six down the ground or the sight of a youngster in jeans and T shirt displaying a cheeky comment about the opposition team would show what a diverse, full of life, charming and big hearted people we are. The so called soft image (or what I like to call as the real image) of Pakistan could not have been portrayed any better.

Since that fateful day in 2009 when terrorists fired on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team, Pakistan cricket went from one crises to another. 2010 saw the spot fixing scandal which was probably when we hit rock bottom. From then on, we have slowly but surely marched towards achieving our former glory. What we have done right is that we have learned from our mistakes. There has been an honest appraisal of do's and don'ts and thankfully, the master plan has been followed. It seems that we are finally, approaching the end of a long and dark tunnel. One can only hope and pray that we carry on with this process of recovery. Amen

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