The Pakistan Super League is now one of the most followed and well-organised tournaments across all sporting events
Updated Monday Feb 13 2023
Cricket, for the stakeholders of this most sophisticated and relatively fast-mutating brand of sports, has become a way of life, a source of entertainment, a culture, and a business with unlimited opportunities.
It has virtually turned into a lifestyle, according to some.
Having introduced centuries ago as a village sport in England, it has evolved from a leisurely pastime of the elite to the common person’s favourite sport. Not surprised, therefore, that over time, it has transformed from a rural recreation into Test cricket and then One-Day International (ODIs) and now the most popular of its off-shoots — the Twenty20 (T20).
History of the sport tells us that Test cricket was first played in 1877 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia between England and Australia and had become the most followed format — there was no other then.
The ODIs started in 1971 at the same venue and with the same teams when a Test washed out. It was then decided the two countries play limited over matches to compensate those who had paid to watch the Test. It attracted unprecedented attendance.
It not only enhanced the sport’s popularity but also turned out to be a money-spinning business till the sport had many facets of it turning into a so-called circus in coloured gear, floodlit cricket, and the introduction of the white ball and other innovations after Kerry Packer, the media tycoon from Australia, entered the scene in 1977.
And now we have T20 on our plate to savour, the shortest of the formats of the sport played at the international level.
It was first experimented in England in 2003 with a couple of matches to attract the crowds at county matches that were losing attendance by the day causing great concern to England Cricket Board (ECB).
The crowds thronged to the playgrounds to watch the new exciting format. When noticed by the ICC, the controlling body of the sport, they officially started it internationally in 2005.
Founded in 2015 with five teams and played for the first time in the 2016 in the United Arab Emirates, which had become Pakistan’s home ground after 2019 terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) — as it is known now — is a ‘jewel in the crown’, of Pakistan’s domestic calendar.
It will not be wrong to say that it has turned into not only a rich brand but, in fact, a lifeline to the sport that was struggling with an identity crisis and facing financial strangulation. Now we have its eighth edition, and I can comfortably say it is at par with all other leagues that mushroomed over the years.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) in India, which started a lot earlier with much richer backing, was the most followed league with financial resources a lot bigger than any other country and with big names of the sport being part of it.
The PSL, we can proudly say, it is now one of the most followed and well-organised tournaments, while a large number of international players has signed up for it. The popularity is such that international players now line up to join the league. In PSL 8, 21 foreign players will be making their debut.
Let me also remind the readers that Pakistan cricket was in its most disturbing state from 2009 onwards after terrorists attacked the Lankan team, which made Pakistan a no-go area for the international cricket teams for nearly a decade, forcing Pakistan to play home series against visiting teams in UAE.
It not only deprived fans in Pakistan of watching their stars playing in the flesh on home grounds, but the cricketing venues of the country had also started looking deserted.
From its away-from-home matches in the UAE to shifting back to Pakistan to play the super league without fuss or mishap, PSL immensely helped overseas teams gain confidence and visit Pakistan. Thus, prompting and encouraging international teams that Pakistan was a safe place to play international cricket.
They not only pioneered the revival of international matches in Pakistan, having recruited cricket stars in their six franchises through the draft but also helped bring in fresh faces and aspiring young talent from every nook and corner of the country to not only build a career for themselves at that level but also providing them with the opportunity to promote themselves to a higher grade of cricket while representing their country.
The present crop of youngsters such as Shaheen Shah Afridi, Nasim Shah, Mohammad Rizwan, Saud Shakil, Agha Salman, and many others and those in the past owes much to PSL that brought them in focus to later play for their country.
Babar Azam, now having moved from Karachi Kings to Peshawar Zalmi is one prime example of this league’s beneficiaries. The highest run-maker of PSL with 2,413 runs in 68 matches, he is one of the top-most-rated batters in the world and is now the captain of Pakistan.
A role model for other youngsters, proving to them that the ‘sky is the limit’ if one is focused. The PSL has attracted world stars such as Sir Vivian Richards, Darren Sammy, Joss Butler, Alex Hale and other big names to the league. It has also invited commentators of repute from every corner of the globe to tell the world that Pakistan is safe enough to host international teams.
The credit for successful visits of the Australians, the England team, and later the New Zealanders and their matches in Pakistan, and that too without any security mishap, goes to PSL and the efforts of officials like Najam Sethi and his predecessors.
Sethi, who got PSL off the ground in his first term as the top PCB official, is again at the helm of the cricket board. During the PSL 8 trophy unveiling ceremony, Sethi said: “PSL is close to my heart and it has always been my commitment and endeavour for it to become bigger and better and stronger each year”.
The euphoria that the PSL packs has now overwhelmed the sport’s followers. It is now being seen and believed. IPL may be an older and bigger league, but the much younger PSL has now established itself as much a crowd-puller as any other league around the globe.
Qamar Ahmed played first-class cricket for Sindh and Hyderabad and has also captained the teams. His work has been published in several national and international publications. He has also published his autobiography "Far More Than a Game".