PSL is not just a spectacle but a stage for new talent
Saj Sadiq casts an analytical eye over the Pakistan Super League and its star names
Lights, camera, action is the phrase usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters but the same refrain was heard in abundance in the UAE yesterday as the second edition of the Pakistan Super League kicked off in style at the Dubai Sports City Stadium.
For the millions of supporters and admirers of the unique brand of Pakistan cricket, the PSL tournament represents more than just a T20 jamboree.
The absence of international cricket in Pakistan has deprived the nation of watching top-level cricketers from around the world, with many left to look with envy at the popularity and success of other major tournaments like the IPL and Big Bash.
The advent of the PSL, now in its second edition, represents a quantum leap in the quality of T20 cricket previously seen under a Pakistan banner.
The country’s best players will be involved and the level of competition should also help provide quality, emerging cricketers ready to step up to the national team – a by-product seen for India and Australia respectively in the IPL and Big Bash.
With five franchises competing for the honour of lifting the trophy in Lahore on March 5, the stakes for this year’s competition could not be higher.
Named after the main regions of Pakistan, the teams have assembled an excellent array of experienced Pakistan players as well as up and coming talents who will be supported by a dazzling array of top international stars.
To consider any one team as a favourite in PSL 2017 is a folly.
In the first edition of the PSL, Islamabad United, a team regarded as underdogs and lacking the exciting, crowd-pulling names of other franchises won with a team that contained many ageing practitioners.
But they also produced one of Pakistan’s most promising batting stars, Sharjeel Khan, who is now considered an integral part of the country’s ODI and T20I teams.
In a sense, the success of Islamabad United represented the quintessential innovative spirit of Pakistan cricket which has helped it survive through the toughest of crises. Obviously, having match winners in the shape of Saeed Ajmal, Samuel Badree and Shane Watson was also crucial in their success and in this year’s tournament, the addition of England’s Steven Finn is also expected to be an important factor.
If Islamabad United had to climb a mountain to reach the pinnacle in the first edition of the PSL, they will find it even harder in view of the starspangled line-ups of the other teams.
The Lahore Qalandars squad are being captained by the hard-hitting no-nonsense Brendon McCullum who probably considers the UAE as his happy-hunting ground as it was in Sharjah where he struck a doublehundred at a T20-esque pace against Pakistan in 2014.
The Qalandars’ batting strength will be further reinforced by the free-scoring Jason Roy and the vastly talented Umar Akmal and Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali. The bowling department will rely on the spin magic of Sunil Narine and Yasir Shah and a variety of all-round talent in the shape of Sohail Tanvir and Bilawal Bhatti.
The Karachi Kings have the services of the national head coach Mickey Arthur who will know the strengths and weaknesses of such as Mohammad Amir, Imad Wasim and the new darling of Pakistan cricket, Babar Azam.
Of course, the presence of the everpopular and one-man run-machine Chris Gayle in the batting line-up and the captaincy of one of Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketers, Kumar Sangakkara will also not hurt Karachi’s chances of making it to the top either. Add to the mix Ravi Bopara and Karachi could be considered amongst the favourites.
In Peshawar Zalmi, the PSL have probably the most hyped and talked about squad. Powered by the business acumen of their owner Javed Afridi who has done his utmost to build the franchise into a household brand, Zalmi have some big names to back themselves up on the field of play as well.
A PSL marketing man’s dream, the mere presence of Shahid Afridi in the Zalmi team is enough to fill seats in the Dubai and Sharjah stadiums. But if his powerful hitting, which may have lost its lustre in recent times is not enough, then his ability to bowl spin will be a big plus for Zalmi.
Yet another Englishman, Chris Jordan, will be wearing the colours of Zalmi in this PSL and could remind the audiences why he is considered a top T20 player.
Darren Sammy’s leadership, which has steered his country to international titles, will be tested to the max but if his past record as a leader and a player is any indicator, it will tough for the other franchises to divert him from his mission to win the trophy for the Zalmis.
Eoin Morgan is another star turn for Zalmi who the UAE crowds will be looking forward to watching. Widely tipped as Pakistan’s next ODI captain and the current T20I leader, Sarfraz Ahmed has the tenacity to fight it out in tough conditions. This is exactly the kind of leadership which his team, Quetta Gladiators, will be looking for to shepherd a team which has the firepower of Kevin Pietersen and Ahmed Shehzad.
If the batsmen can blast a hole in the opposition’s defences, then the heavy guns in the shape of the yorker-expert Umar Gul and fast-improving England quick Tymal Mills will be expected to finish off the games for the Gladiators.
The Greatest Show on Earth it may not be, but for the cricket-mad nation of Pakistan, the PSL 2017 is a matter of joy and honour.
The tournament is the talk of the town in every city in Pakistan and there is an air of expectancy in the UAE as well. Already friends are making plans to get together to watch games and cheer their favourites on and if the spirit of the audience during the opening ceremony is any indicator, the tournament will probably surpass the popularity of the inaugural edition.
The final of the PSL is slated to be in Lahore and it is quite possible that some foreign players may make the trip to Pakistan to take part on behalf of the finalists, which would be a huge achievement for the PCB and a huge boost for cricket-mad Pakistanis.
Regardless of how and where this tournament ends, the world of cricket is bracing itself for weeks of high quality games with the toughest of the tough emerging as the winners.
For Pakistan, all eyes will be on the younger talent on display and the tournament would be surely considered a success if more talent of the variety of Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Asghar or Mohammad Nawaz can be unearthed in this year’s tournament.
Regardless of how and where this tournament ends, cricket is bracing itself for weeks of high quality games with the toughest of the tough emerging as winners
Star attraction: Kevin Pietersen will feature in this year’s PSL but not the IPL