Which region deserves to have the sixth PSL franchise to its name most?
Exceeding all expectations and silencing its critics, the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League turned out to be overwhelmingly successful. Pakistan Super League officially announced Pakistan’s acceptance and endorsement of commercialization of the game that was pioneered by India. While Pakistan Super League presents tremendous untapped potential in terms of the domestic structural revamp, player development and economic perks eventually, it presents the general public with a platform to look up to and creates a distinct identity in which they can fully invest their emotions.
People from Pakistan have long been following foreign leagues where Pakistani players were contracted, but with the introduction of PSL, the people of Pakistan finally have a product that they can call their own. The initial edition featured five teams – Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators, Peshawar Zalmi, Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars – that ensured representation of Pakistan’s most important regions. These franchises instantly enhanced the cricketing culture in their respective regions with one of the most gratifying outcomes being the elevation and recognition of Quetta as an equally important region of the country, both in cricketing terms and holistically.
Naturally, for the league to develop into a complete product, it will be requiring more teams that can accommodate a larger pool of domestic players. According to pre-determined plans, a sixth franchise will be added in the third edition of the league and everyone is extremely keen on finding out which city or region will be getting its own team.
With six T20 titles to its name over the years, Sialkot has been a domestic giant. Led by Pakistan’s first-ever T20 captain, Shoaib Malik, Sialkot Stallions were untouchable between 2005 and 2010, winning five consecutive titles. Moreover, the team has assisted in the identification and development of some of Pakistan’s most talented players namely Haris Sohail, Raza Hasan, Usama Mir and Bilawal Bhatti. The Stallions became the first Pakistan domestic team to officially receive an invitation to play in the Champions League Twenty20, to be held in the South Africa in 2012, where it competed alongside domestic champions from other countries. Besides its rich cricketing history, Sialkot has a deeper relation with the sports industry being a global hub for sports manufacturing goods that have been acclaimed internationally. If Sialkot is chosen, it will become the second team from Punjab in the tournament.
When it comes to developments in domestic cricket, FATA is a region that is progressing at an astonishingly rapid pace. While the region does suffer from lack of facilities with players migrating primarily to Peshawar to avail better opportunities, FATA continues to produce players rich in talent. Khyber and South Waziristan Agencies are continually producing notable performers like Asif Ali, Irfanullah Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Khushdil Shah and Usman Khan Shinwari who are taking Pakistan’s domestic scene by storm. While FATA is currently reaping the benefits of lucrative opportunities under the Peshawar Zalmi umbrella, the region is heading towards cricketing independence by creating an identity of its own and could eventually have a franchise in the league with Shahid Afridi, belonging to Khyber Agency, potentially leading the pack of cheetahs.
Similar to FATA, Hyderabad represents the Interior Sindh region that has long been neglected by the Board, but has continually produced resourceful players whose progress was unfortunately stagnated. Karachi, as both a city and a cricketing region, is too consumed in itself to open up new gates for the rest of the province which leads towards an unwelcoming prejudice towards players who do not belong to the mega-city. A Hyderabad franchise would be more representative of cities like Larkana, Mithi, Dadu and Jacobabad that have provided Pakistan with high-potential players in the form of Zahid Mahmood, Lal Kumar and Azeem Ghumman. Currently, the Pakistan Super League has only one non-Karachi Sindhi player, Sharjeel Khan, who would fit perfectly into the mold of captain if a Hyderabad franchise is made.
Multan boasts plenty of International players to its name with Inzamam-Ul-Haq topping that list. Multan unites players from cities within the South Punjab region especially Burewela and Kabirwala. As you begin moving towards the South, budding players from Chichawatni, Okara and Sahiwal are more likely to head towards Multan rather than Lahore due to similar constraints faced by people from Interior Sindh and FATA. Among the most recent performers, Sohaib Maqsood, Mohammad Irfan, Aamir Yamin, Rahat Ali and Zulfiqar Babar have all played majority of their cricket from Multan. There are few cities that are globally documented as a symbol of Pakistan and its rich heritage and culture with Multan being one of them which indicates greater commercial value and recognition making it an interesting choice for the sixth franchise.
When talks regarding a sixth franchise did surface, Kashmir emerged as a surprise option and was backed heavily by both Najam Sethi and the Owner of Peshawar Zalmi, Javed Afridi. Kashmir is a territory that instantly stimulates a plethora of emotions on both sides of the border. Besides the suggestion of having a Kashmir-based franchise, the region has remained relatively silent and barren in terms of cricketing prospects with Afaq Raheem and the more-recent Hasan Raza the only two coming to mind. Such a decision will be welcomed with joy by the public and there are no two ways about there is a deeper, strategic game to it. While Kashmiri support for Pakistan has always been heart-warming, ideally the Board would have a Gilgit-Baltistan-based franchise that would introduce and sustain developmental efforts in the Kashmir region to show appreciation for their continued support without directly inviting any unforeseen political heat or controversies. A Baltistan franchise would also ensure complete representation of every major region of Pakistan.
Regardless of which city or region gets a franchise to its name, Pakistan Cricket is developing and will continue to develop with a greater number of local players having access to international facilities and playing with and under current superstars of the international arena.
© Cricket World 2016