PSL final: For Wahab Riaz and Pakistani players, a return to Lahore makes all the difference
Twenty20 franchise cricket is a curious thing. “Cricketainment” is built on loose alliances and fleeting commitment, yet its leading protagonists command vast wealth for their involvement. It demands immediate loyalty from supporters for artificially constructed teams.
The Pakistan Super League is an even more extreme case. Two seasons in, those supporters have yet to see their home team play at their own ground, or in the city they represent, or even their home country.
No wonder most of the relationships feel contrived. They are. Many of the travelling stars basically live out of backpacks, hauling up in the latest destination barely knowing where they are, get handed the shirt, and are introduced to their new teammates. Maybe they should be tested on whether that can name them all.
Take Kevin Pietersen, for instance. The former England player was asked his thoughts on the merits of Fakhar Zaman, the revelatory Lahore Qalandars batsman.
“Who?” Pietersen said witheringly, of a player who had just scored a sprightly 47 against his Quetta Gladiators team in a match he was playing in.
■ Rohan Mustafa: UAE captain has ‘no issue’ playing final in Lahore
When Pietersen left, immediately after Quetta had booked tickets to a PSL final he would not be playing in, he tweeted, referencing a six he had hit, and suggesting that the weather had been average, but the golf good. What about the cricket, Kev?
He was demob happy because he was heading home to his young family after a few months working overseas. Which is fair enough.
So is there any depth to it all? Any depth of feeling for the artificial, one-year-old constructs that go by the name of franchises, rather than clubs?
Consider the case of Wahab Riaz. The Pakistan fast bowler acknowledged he was “heartbroken” after a final over meltdown against Quetta at a packed Sharjah on Tuesday night cost his side direct progress to the final. He said he did not sleep all night after it.
Rare are the times when professional sportsmen admit to such feelings. Far easier to just spout trite nonsense about processes, executing plans, or bowling good areas.
But Wahab could not go down that route. He was fully invested in this. He had given his soul to the Zalmi organisation.
Poetic licence? It did not feel like it. When Peshawar finally won through to a PSL final for the first time in four attempts, by beating Karachi Kings at a little before midnight on Friday, Wahab broke down in tears.
Consider what he says, too. “It is a game to win to play a final, but it is a game to win to play a final in Lahore,” Wahab said, ahead of the final eliminator match against Karachi.
This was a crucial difference. Winning through to the final meant going home. Wahab has played 124 times for Pakistan in his 10 year international career. Only eight of those matches have been on home soil.
To do so in a big match in the yellow of Peshawar Zalmi, rather than the green of the national team, gives him a feeling of pride, too.
“We want to win this championship because of the way we have been working both for cricket, and outside cricket,” Wahab said.
“For the way the foundation has been working for under-privileged people, it is for them. If we can win it for them, it will be uplifting.
“People look at Zalmi not just as a cricket team, but as a foundation that helps poor people, whether it is in cricket or outside cricket. That is more important for us. That is what Zalmi really stands for.”
To add to the emotion of the occasion, if Peshawar are to win the title on Sunday night, they will have to do so without their biggest star.
Shahid Afridi left the field late in the win against Karachi with blood pouring from a cut on his right hand, after he fielded a powerful drive from Kieron Pollard.
Afridi has taken just two wickets in this competition, but played a vital role batting in the late overs, scoring 177 runs in all at a rapid rate. He will be sorely missed, not just by his team, but by the competition.
“I hope you have enjoyed whatever I gave in PSL, because whatever the cricket left in me is for you only,” Afridi said in a video message.
“My wish was to play the PSL final in Lahore but sorry, I wont be able to play because doctor gave me a 10-day rest order.”
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Updated: March 4, 2017 04:00 AM