Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

There's no place like home as Pakistan Super League goes back to its roots for 2020 edition

Pakistan players get an opportunity to perform in front of packed venues in their backyard

When the Pakistan Super League upped sticks from UAE for good last March and headed home, it did not look back. Not in anger, at least, but certainly not with much affection, either.

Imran Khan, the Prime Minister, and Ehsan Mani, the PCB chairman, were both intent that Pakistan’s T20 league would be exiled no longer.

Even when rising tensions in Kashmir meant the security surrounding the final phase of the 2019 tournament was thrown into even sharper focus, they ploughed on.

Remaining in UAE was just not a consideration. Even though – as proved to be the case – they would have to play all the remaining matches in one centre, in Karachi.

That’s it, we’re done here, and we’re not coming back, they were saying to their hosts for four seasons. Not even a 'thanks for having us', either.

UAE might have been Pakistan’s second home since the first stirrings of Sharjah cricket in the 1980s. But since 2009, it had felt like a marriage of convenience rather than one that has really prompted such great passions as in times past.

The PSL seasons in UAE felt like four pilot editions of a show that obviously had a ready TV viewership, but too often the live studio audience failed to pitch up.

PSL was hardly alone in that. Pakistan international matches, as well as various other leagues, have more frequently than not been played in front of spartan crowds. Only Fridays and finals are guaranteed to attract numbers in the Emirates.

Of course, UAE and PSL had their moments. Like the Friday afternoon when thousands were locked out of Sharjah Cricket Stadium as Shahid Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi arrived for the first time, so swamped was the place – only for rain to play spoilsport anyway.

Or the opening weekend of the first tournament in 2016, when that most storied of cricketers, Mohammed Amir, took a hat-trick in the first game for Karachi Kings.

Or AB de Villiers’ reverse-ramp cameo in Sharjah last year, in a match that culminated in a last-ball six win for a side – Lahore Qalandars – who very rarely win.

A few moments of high drama aside, it did often feel like this competition was missing its soul in the Emirates.

Will it be totally different back home in Pakistan? It is impossible to say for certain, but it feels like a safe assumption to make.

Neutral territory will still be a thing. Or neutral venues, at least. The first PSL to be played fully in Pakistan will be shared between four venues: Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi.

So the idea of home advantage will only be felt at times, and by four teams – Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Multan Sultans, and Islamabad United – when they play in neighbouring Rawalpindi.

Not that franchise cricket is particularly beholden to the idea of place. It is more often about star appeal, and the first Pakistan edition has an enviable cast list.

Chris Lynn, who will be playing for Lahore Qalandars, said he could not wait for a first experience of Pakistan, when he was blazing a trail through the Abu Dhabi T10 at the end of last year.

He is not the only one. The likes of Dale Steyn, Jason Roy, Tom Banton, and others are likely to find the welcome a warm one when they take the field in Pakistan this month.

Those who will get the most out of the home PSL will surely be the Pakistani players, though.

Whether it be established names like Shadab Khan, Babar Azam and Wahab Riaz, or those yet to announce themselves like Dilbar Hussain or Rohail Nazir, they will find a public who adore their best endeavours.

Updated: February 19, 2020 02:18 PM

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