By Syed Mustafa
Not since the days of those India-Pakistan humdingers in Sharjah had a sporting event caught the imagination of the nation in such a spectacular way. From the sprawling cricketing fields of the UAE to the slums and fan parks of Pakistan to the drawing rooms and TV lounges of the expats living in different parts of the world, the cricket fever had caught everyone in its firm grip. The fact that holding such a competition had become more or less a necessity owing to the continued banishment of Pakistani cricketers from a certain league, also added to the significance of the event. It was almost as if the whole nation had come together to give a befitting response to the neighbouring country.
Plans to hold the Pakistan Super League (PSL) had been in place since at least a couple of years but something or the other kept delaying it. In the meanwhile, the international players kept making progress in the shortest format of the game. The extraordinary show of skills on show in the IPL made the Pakistani fans wonder if their own stars will ever be able to catch up with their contemporaries. The concept did take a while to materialize but the results show that it was worth the wait.
Leading up to the tournament, there were all kinds of doubts, apprehensions and question marks around not only the organizers’ ability to manage a tournament of such magnitude but also their ability to engage the cricket-loving public, especially the fans back home considering the tournament was to be held in the Emirates. Another big challenge was to rope in the entrepreneurs to come forward and invest and also attract sponsors to shoulder some of their burden.
End of the day, the PCB succeeded in presenting to the world a tournament that was a masterpiece as far as the organizational prowess was concerned and left the fans yearning for more.
Witnessing the tournament as part of the extended squad representing one of the franchises was an experience in itself. Sharing the roof with around a hundred stars, from emerging to the super; watching them sweat it out during the training; observing their diets and the enormous willpower they would exhibit in choosing only the ‘right’ stuff from the tempting breakfast buffet; seeing them shed their stardom for a few hours on match days to plead and negotiate for ‘complimentary’ tickets for their friends & families; enjoying the game from just outside the boundary line; lazing around with them in the hotel lobby till late in the night and grilling them on their performances.
The cricket itself was gripping to say the least. The fans were quick to get behind their favourite teams based either on their ethnic affiliation or the presence of their favourite players. Quetta Gladiators – being the ‘smallest’ team on the basis of the price it fetched and also by virtue of representing the ‘neglected’ province of Baluchistan – quickly became one of the most popular teams of the tournament. Not surprisingly, Boom Boom Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi had the biggest fan base whereas Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars had support from their loyal regional fans. Islamabad United – the eventual winners – was perhaps one of the most low profile teams of the tournament and one of the least fancied to win the trophy.
It would be fair to say that much of the initial interest was generated due to the perceived upsets that saw Karachi and Lahore as well as Islamabad getting off to dismal starts.
Regardless of the results, it was great to witness the camaraderie among the players; in fact, it was common to see the youngsters turning to the greats of the game like Wasim Akram, Viv Richards and Andy Flower for advice irrespective of the franchise that they belonged to. The youngsters also got to rub shoulders with some of the finest international players including Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle and Kumar Sangakkara among others.
The tournament was lit up by the presence of a plethora of stars from the showbiz industry. All the teams had managed to draw glamorous celebrities as brand ambassadors; so there were the likes of Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malik, Fawad Khan, Ali Zafar and Ayesha Umer among others rooting for their teams from the Hospitality Box.
One of the most endearing and everlasting impressions from Season I would remain the unbridled jubilation of the great Viv Richards – the two-time World Champion who was almost always found on the edge of his seat in the dugout. Shahid Afridi remained the biggest draw-card of the tournament who would receive raucous cheers each time he walked out to bat. It was a touching gesture to invite kids from the Army Public School (APS) to witness a couple of matches during the latter half of the tournament. The fans also welcomed Mohammad Amir back to competitive cricket after a lengthy hiatus.
The tournament might not have brought immediate success to the national team’s fortunes – the team went on to perform poorly in the Asian T20 and World T20 Championships that followed – but it certainly equipped them to handle high pressure situations as a lot of matches went right down to the wire. The way young Mohammad Nawaz and the old warrior Aizaz Cheema held their nerves to pull off a stunning victory for the Gladiators against Zalmis in what was without any doubt the match of the tournament is a case in point.
With an even better array of international players lined up for Season II of the spectacle, we might finally get to see the dilscoops, the paddle sweeps and those massive hits out of the ground that the spectators love to watch.
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