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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Pakistan Super League: Goals met for expansion, nurturing talent, but security question refuses to go away

The powers-that-be in Pakistan cricket wanted to gain three things by setting up its own domestic Twenty20 league in exile last year.
Shahid Afridi of Peshawar Zalmi bowls against Islamabad United during last year's Pakistan Super League tournament in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National
Shahid Afridi of Peshawar Zalmi bowls against Islamabad United during last year's Pakistan Super League tournament in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // The powers-that-be in Pakistan cricket wanted to gain three things by setting up its own domestic Twenty20 league in exile last year.

First, to bring private sector investment to a cash-strapped organisation. Second, to give a platform for young Pakistani players to perform on a big stage.

And, thirdly and most problematically, to ready a path for international cricket to end its exile from Pakistan.

As the singer Shaggy gets set to usher in the Pakistan Super League 2017 in Dubai tonight at the opening ceremony before the first match between defending champions Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi, here is a look at how far off the league is from achieving its stated targets.

1. Corporate investment

Ahead of its 2016 debut, the organisers were cautious about how their new baby would fare.

With good reason. It was thrown together at the last minute, at great cost overseas, and there was another league, with many of the leading names in the game, running at the same time on the same patch.

And, yet, not only did it break even – their lone aim for the first season – the PSL actually turned a healthy profit, according to the chairman Najam Sethi.

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■ More: Pakistan Super League fixtures

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Now they are looking at creating a sixth franchise. The administrators want to expand the tournament by one team, but the pioneering five have so far resisted.

“We are now looking to bring in a sixth team, and we require the permission of these five to move ahead,” Sethi said.

“Last year we didn’t get that, but this year my feeling is that, having seen how the tournament is working out, and how it is poised to become bigger and better, I think we will.”

There are three serious cities under consideration: Faisalabad, Multan and Sialkot.

“Those are the three places that boast the best regional teams,” Sethi said. “Faisalabad is a business centre, Multan is a cultural centre, and Sialkot is a sporting centre, with the biggest sporting export industry. So each has a claim.”

2. New talent

The fact PSL was a good platform for players to advertise their wares was obvious.

Curiously, though, it was not just young gems who were unearthed. Older stagers who had fallen through the cracks in the system also profited, such as Mohammed Sami, who was subsequently recalled to Pakistan’s T20 side age 35.

According to Dean Jones, the coach of the victors Islamabad United, PSL is the perfect opportunity for young players to learn from celebrated imports.

“We don’t want to be a one-stop shop, just another franchise in another T20 competition,” Jones said. “I want these guys not just to win here, but to develop and go on to play for Pakistan as well.”

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■ More: Jones, Islamabad warm up in Dubai

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Jones has it written in his notebook, in proud block capitals, which of his players have played for Pakistan subsequent to last year’s title success.

He thinks each can benefit from playing alongside world-title winning players such as Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Samuel Badree.

“I know they want success over night, but it takes four or five years before you see growth,” Jones said.

“A bamboo shoot takes five years to grow six feet tall, then every year after that it grows three feet. It takes a little while before we get some growth, and then things start to happen. We are slowly getting there.”

3. Security detail

This is the great imponderable. While there is tangible evidence PSL has brought extra finance to a board on its knees, as well as giving opportunity to new talent, the idea it will actually help bring cricket back to Pakistan remains on a knife edge.

So the final will be played there on March 5, according to the tournaments bosses. Even if it means having no overseas players at all, or at best a redraft of willing participants.

The steadfast plan to stage the final in Lahore may feel cavalier, but it is born from good intentions. When, otherwise, will international cricket go back there?

“Their contribution will be remembered by Pakistanis for a long time,” Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan bowler, said of those who would be willing to travel. “The passionate followers of the game will be hugely welcoming and thankful.”

Sethi says the security operation will be “fool proof,” and has been trying to persuade the players of such.

“Internationally reputed security consultants will travel to Dubai in the coming days to allay the doubts and fears of the players,” Sethi said.

pradley@thenational.ae​

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