Pakistan now has its own version of the Indian Premier League. To be fair, it was only a matter of time. After India, if there is one country that can match the cricketing devotion of its fervent fans, it is Pakistan.
In recent years, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even the West Indies launched their own versions of the IPL, with varying degrees of success. But Pakistan didn’t quite manage to get things off the ground. A big factor was the fact that international teams were not willing to tour Pakistan because of security concerns.
But things seem to be looking up now. After years of uncertainty, the Pakistan Cricket Board finally unveiled concrete plans for the Pakistan Super League in September. The inaugural edition is set to begin in February 2016.
It will follow a similar format to the other franchise-based Twenty20 leagues in the world, with five franchises representing the five provincial capitals – Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad – with prize money of $1 million.
And the PSL isn’t likely to be short of big names. Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara are among the more than 100 players who have signed up for the tournament.
The only caveat is the location. Despite being called the Pakistan Super League, the event will not be held in Pakistan. Though Qatar was the original venue, the Pakistan Cricket Board later declared that the first edition of the PSL would take place in the United Arab Emirates.
The PCB really did not have much choice in the matter. Most international cricket teams still consider Pakistan out of bounds. The Pakistani national cricket team continues to play their home games in the UAE. Zimbabwe tested the waters in May by touring Pakistan. However, there is still a long way to go before other teams will be willing to set foot in Pakistan.
Even so, the PCB tried its utmost best to host the event on home soil. They initially contacted agencies handling some of the top international players to consider playing in Pakistan, but the response was negative.
Without the participation of Twenty20 heavyweights like Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen, the Pakistan Super League would have ultimately turned out to be a damp squib. Therefore, the move to a venue outside Pakistan makes reasonable business sense.
Looking at the positives
In an interview, the PCB Executive Committee chief Najam Sethi was confident that hosting the PSL abroad would ultimately help Pakistan. Sethi explained that more than the venue, there would be a greater commercial interest in the Pakistan brand, which would result in better player remuneration.
In Pakistan, the dismay at not being able to watch its stars live is tempered with the hope that it may lead to a resurgence of Pakistani cricket.
“Look, it is true that people here badly want the PSL to be in Pakistan as we have been in cricketing isolation,” said Faisal Zaidi, a freelance journalist for Dawn and an avid cricket fan. “But let us be realistic, if it was held in Pakistan, no one would have come here. If it is played in the UAE and if it becomes successful, there is a chance that it will be moved to Pakistan after one or two seasons.”
Two other features differentiate the PSL from the IPL.
The first factor is the number of teams – unlike the IPL, the PSL will only have five teams, which means that the entire tournament will comprise of only 24 matches. That is much shorter than the IPL, where eight teams currently play each other over a period of almost two months.
The second factor is the auction system. The PCB will follow the draft format followed by the Caribbean Premier League, where each player is put in a certain category and chosen by ballot. According to Sethi, this will ensure that Pakistani players will make the same money as international players.
Considering the mercurial nature of Pakistani cricket, the first edition of the PSL is being keenly anticipated. The first priority would be to ensure that the inaugural edition goes off without any major hitch.
But more importantly, if the PSL can become the first step in the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan, it will be a huge success story for a beleaguered Pakistan Cricket Board and the game as a whole