Will the Pakistan Super League bring back Pakistan's glory days?
There was a time when Pakistan was a cricketing superpower with the most talented fast bowlers in the world and a leader who could rein them in. Then things changed.
A series of bad decisions and internal politics that took out the stabilizing factors in the team, bickering, internal squabbling, controversies and divisiveness brought the team to its knees.
It didn’t help that a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team put a full stop on international cricket in the country.
After scraping the bottom in Test and One-Day International formats, Pakistan, under the stable leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq have redeemed some pride in Tests and are rebuilding in ODIs.
Where they’ve always excelled, consistently, thanks to their brand of all-guns-blazing cricket is Twenty20. They’ve been, from the inception, one of the top three T20 teams in the world.
The T20 tournament
Being good at a format is one thing. The country and the board benefiting from it is another. Thanks to frozen relationships with India, Pakistan players are not welcome at the Indian Premier League (IPL), which was a trendsetter of sorts (if you disqualify Indian Cricket League) in T20 club cricket.
The Big Bash was equally famous and before long a lot of countries had their own T20 tournaments.
Even Bangladesh overtook Pakistan when it came to having their own domestic T20 tournament with international stars while Pakistan cricketers could at best manage to be freelancers travelling across West Indies, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and England.
Finally, Pakistan is making a big leap with the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Ironically, the inaugural event will not be held in Pakistan but in United Arab Emirates.
Characteristically from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), there was confusion about venues, Qatar being a possibility. But, it has been confirmed now that Dubai and Sharjah will be the two venues where PSL matches will take place from 4th to 24th February 2016.
So after two postponements owing to sponsorship issues, one hopes the PSL will take off this time with a million dollar purse per team available.
US$1 million in prize money might not be a huge amount compared to the current T20 market but it is still a decent amount especially for the new T20 breed of freelancers.
The main aspect of PSL is its short format, which promises some high adrenaline games.
The action will be done and dusted in 20 days and considering there is a looming T20 World Cup in India a little afterwards, it could be an excellent curtain raiser of sorts for T20 enthusiasts.
While IPL manages to run along for the better part of two months, PSL neither has that many teams nor a window that big.
For its inaugural T20 tournament, it could actually be a blessing in disguise.
Five teams - Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar - will be playing against each other, leading to eight matches per team i.e. two per pair.
There are no semi-finals and instead, the IPL format of play-offs will be used to pick finalists.
Besides the top players in Pakistan who are likely to play more responsible roles if they can pull their weight for their teams, the PSL promises a bevy of international stars, including the whole West Indian coterie of Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine and Darren Sammy.
International stars like Kevin Pietersen, Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Brad Hodge and Shakib Al Hasan are also expected to bring star value.
A PCB release boasted of as many as 132 foreign player sign-ups which is quite a big number for an inaugural event.
The Pakistan stars who might draw crowds include Shahid Afridi, who is still a tremendous draw, along with Umar Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir.
The PSL, unless badly organized, shouldn’t be a loss-making venture. The tendering process for broadcasters is currently in progress and T20s in Sharjah and Dubai will have a reasonable draw.
The extravaganza will have enough eyeballs and the quality of cricket will determine the future of the tournament.
However, the single most important question is how much exposure Pakistan players from the domestic circuit will get from this event?
Of course, at the back of everyone’s mind, there will also be the possibility that PSL could move to Pakistan someday.
With Zimbabwe having toured Pakistan recently and PCB actively pursuing other visitors, this could be a giant step towards resuming normal cricket in the Land of the Sultans of Swing.
The esoteric trades of T20 are not an unattractive way to start the long journey back to being a noted voice in the world of cricket.
© Cricket World 2015