x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 February 2018

From Sammy’s supreme captaincy to the arrival of future Pakistan stars: PSL 2017 review

As the dust settles on the 2017 Pakistan Super League, Paul Radley assesses the second edition of the tournament.

Darren Sammy's leadership was integral to Peshawar Zalmi's triumph in the 2017 Pakistan Super League. KM Chaudary / AP Photo
Darren Sammy's leadership was integral to Peshawar Zalmi's triumph in the 2017 Pakistan Super League. KM Chaudary / AP Photo

When Darren Sammy was told by Shahid Afridi at the Pakistan Super League (PSL) draft he was handing the Peshawar Zalmi captaincy to him, he might have felt like David Moyes answering that call from Alex Ferguson.

That job was just about impossible, right? Taking over as leader from the most popular player in Pakistan cricket, the darling of the massive Pathan supporter base.

Yet he took what Afridi had done and improved it. Zalmi had not won the title under Afridi. Sammy made the most popular team champions, and made them more loveable in the process.

The West Indian had reservations about going to Lahore for the final when the competition started. The blasts that happened subsequently in Pakistan will only have exacerbated that.

And yet, not only did he go, he persuaded his doubting colleagues to go too. As a result, Peshawar won more than just the final against Quetta Gladiators.

“To me it was more than just a game,” Sammy said. “One of our mottos was to bring back the smiles, so I felt I brought a lot of smiles in Lahore and Peshawar. This trophy means a lot.”

Ending the exile

descriptive wordsCricket fans during the PSL final at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. Faisal Mahmood / Reuters

It is doubtful whether that one, glorious final will serve to coax international teams back to Pakistan. It will have been noted by the wider international cricket community, certainly.

So too, though, will have been the extraordinary operation in place to put it on. Sustaining things like 10,000 security troops — about one for every 2.2 spectators in the stadium — for regulation matches is not feasible.

But the PSL will not reach its full potential until it is played at home. There is a good reason for that. Grounds will not be filled on a consistent basis until they are played in the home cities of the teams the franchises represent.

“It is hard for them to come in for every game,” Mohammed Hafeez, the Peshawar all-rounder, said of matches played in the UAE.

“People have jobs, and only after that can they come and support the team. It is a great effort from them. But if the PSL can, in the coming times, happen in Pakistan that will be a great boost. People are waiting for that.”

Building future stars

descriptive wordsHasan Ali, right, of Peshawar Zalmi. Satish Kumar / The National

The three main aims of the PSL are: 1) to bring corporate investment to the game in Pakistan; 2) to prove cricket is ready to return to the country; and 3) to nurture new young talent.

This PSL delivered on the third of those most appreciably. Mohammed Asghar, 18, and Hasan Ali, 23, were the stars of the final for Peshawar, while Shadab Khan, 18, was touted by Dean Jones, his Islamabad United coach, as being “ready to play for Pakistan now”.

“What this tournament is going to do for Pakistan cricket in years to come is going to be pretty special,” Brendon McCullum, the Lahore Qalandars captain, said.

“You are getting international players and top Pakistan players mixing with up and coming, emerging cricketers. You are seeing guys having to play against top players, in front of big crowds, at crunch moments, and that is how you learn.

“You will learn quickly because of those reasons. Sharing a dressing room with guys like that also hastens your experience.”

The weather

descriptive wordsRain falls at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Satish Kumar / The National

Next time the PSL is scheduled for the UAE, the organisers might want to get together with the scientists at the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology and work out a plan.

One group was delighted to see the heavy and long showers that have been prevalent in the country over recent weeks. The other, not so much.

“We have carried out 12 cloud-seeding operations during the last three days,” Dr Ahmed Habeeb, a meteorologist at NCMS, was quoted as saying, coincidentally at a time when the PSL was at its busiest.

There are some things the PSL must have hoped they could guarantee. One of those was fine weather.

And yet one match was rained off entirely, and three others lost time to showers. Never before has that happened in a series in this country.

Rain stopped play nine times on a frenzied Friday afternoon in Sharjah. More time had been lost to sandstorms than rain in major matches at the UAE’s oldest venue in the past.

It felt as though 36 years of ran delays had been saved up and were being cashed in all at once.

The cricket

descriptive wordsBabar Azam excelled with the bat. Satish Kumar / The National

At the start of the competition, the cricket was so-so. It seemed like the players on each of the teams were just getting to know each other. Which they clearly were.

Just four of the first 10 matches went to the final over, with only one of those being decided on the last ball.

Then all of a sudden, things started to click. Eight of the last nine league matches were decided in the final over, with three of those reaching the last ball.

Tellingly, the big stars stood up to be counted when the PSL reached its crunch point. Chris Gayle, McCullum and Kevin Pietersen made 65 runs between them in their first 10 PSL innings.

Pietersen had three ducks, two of which were first ball and the other run out without facing, in the space of four innings. He still bounced back to post 241 runs in all, muscling Quetta into the final in the process.

Perhaps the most refreshing feature of the runs and wickets charts was how well Pakistan was represented. Kamran Akmal and Babar Azam reaped the most runs.

The top six leading bowlers were all Pakistanis, and that included emerging players like Hasan and Usama Mir.

So it bears repeating: the PSL 2017 shows the future is bright for Pakistan cricket.

pradley@thenational.ae

sports@thenational.ae

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