PSL: The tournament that almost never happened

The Pakistan Super League (PSL) has seen a significant change in fate, with monumental growth. However, this was not always the case. In this piece, track the origins of the League, and the troubles it has faced to become one of the most successful cricket leagues in the world today.

Karachi Kings celebrate a wicket in PSL 5
Semi-finalists, Karachi Kings celebrate a wicket in PSL V (Courtesy: SportsFever 360 & Zahid Zaidi)

When the PSL launched in 2016, it was a 5-team tournament with just 24 matches, played in the UAE. If you compared it with any other league from the Test Cricket playing nations, the PSL was by far the smallest league. Even the Bangladesh Premier League and the now-defunct, Sri Lankan Premier League, had more teams.

The quality of cricket throughout the tournament was pretty average. With mostly imbalanced teams, bowling-heavy, batting-light squads, the pitches weren’t conducive for T20 cricket and all this resulted in low-scoring and one-sided matches.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) started with Brendan McCullum smashing 158 off just 73 balls. While the PSL started with Islamabad United Scoring 128/7 in 20 overs. During the 48 innings, play. Well before half the tournament was completed, the top four qualifying teams were virtually decided. There was no excitement left from a cricketing point of view.

Peshawar Zalmi star, Hassan Ali, throws the ball at the wickets, as Gladiators' Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed makes his way back to the crease
Zalmi star, Hassan Ali, throws at the wicket, as Gladiators’ Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed makes his way back to the crease (Courtesy: SportsFever 360 & Zahid Zaidi)

That was the bitter reality, but no Pakistani was willing to believe it. Why? Because they owned it. From the team owners to the few spectators in the UAE stadiums to the millions of fans watching back home, everyone owned it. This reality was overshadowed by the sheer passion, and ownership of Pakistani cricket fans.

The first close match in the PSL was played between Islamabad United and Karachi Kings, in which Karachi, needing 16 runs in the final over, could muster only 13 and ended up losing by 2 runs. At this point, you could already see Pakistani social media filled with comparisons with IPL. When Muhammad Nabi struck a last-ball four to guide Quetta Gladiators to a 2-wicket win against Lahore Qalandars, while chasing 201, you could see everyone going crazy with excitement and comparisons only continued to grow.

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Fast forward to 2020 and the PSL has gone through a lot of changes from the first edition. For starters, the first edition was exclusively played in the UAE and the current edition is being exclusively played in Pakistan.

It has come a long way. It is a successful tournament, one of the best ones in the T20 circuit. Unfortunately, though, the coronavirus pandemic has barred fans from watching live, but that has done little to reduce interest.

After all, the PSL has been so many things for Pakistan. Most importantly though, it has been Pakistan’s opportunity to show the world that they haven’t been left behind when it comes to the glitz and glamour of global T20 leagues.

Multan Sultans bowler, Imran Tahir, celebrates a wicket in the PSL
Multan Sultans star, Imran Tahir, celebrates a wicket (Courtesy: SportsFever 360 & Zahid Zaidi)

It has also quenched the thirst of Pakistani fans who have been deprived of seeing their local players play in a T20 tournament. Seeing their neighbours create a T20 league, which became one of the biggest brands in the world and not even being able to see your favourite players at the games has been extremely hard for them.

So, when the PSL came along, the Pakistani people became excited. For them it was a tournament that they could call their own, it was an opportunity for them to enjoy seeing their players playing with foreign stars in the same team.

It was no joke that the Lahore Qalandars vs Karachi Kings match was watched by more people in the country than the game between India and Pakistan at the 2015 World Cup. It was also a blessing in disguise for them, with a country divided, infighting on the political front and Pakistan cricket on a downward spiral, it was something to enjoy without the fear of getting hurt or having their hearts broken.

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It was not an easy road though, a final in Lahore in 2017, three matches and a final in Karachi in 2018, 8 matches in Pakistan for the 2019 tournament and now in 2020, the whole tournament is being played in 4 cities across the country. This is nothing short of a miracle for many.

Through cricket, Pakistan has shown the whole world, at least the cricket-watching world that this is not the Pakistan of 2009. This is a better and safer Pakistan. Because where else do you see people celebrating and cheering the oppositions’ players?  Where else do you see thousands of fans visiting the stadium?

Credit is due to the cricket board and owners but is the Pakistani cricket fans who have taken this league from a mismanaged, average and small tournament to a brand that has established itself around the world in a short period of time.

One of the banners at Multan Cricket Stadium aptly displayed the words “It is not Sultans vs Zalmi, it is Pakistan vs Terrorism”. The fact is, Pakistanis have won, in turn cricket has won, against all the beamers, bouncers and googlies and against all the odds.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Sportageous or its founders. Assumptions made within the article are not reflective of the position of Sportageous as an organisation and its founders.
Raafay Awan is a mechanical engineer, traveller and social worker who loves writing about sports and travel. He writes for several platforms and runs his own blog. You can visit his blog here.
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