Over three decades, Pakistan cricket has been on a rollercoaster ride, which peaked in the 1990s. This was a time when it also sunk into the depths of hell, on a tour to England.
Watching Imran Khan lift the World Cup in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, symbolised for every Pakistani the possibility of success in the face of impossible odds. Self-belief is so often lacking in young nations which were subjugated to colonial rule for centuries. That moment united a country.
After the victory at the MCG, Pakistan put forward world-beating teams at the next two World Cups. They included the fastest bowler in the world, Shoaib Akhtar, an off-spinner in Saqlain Mushtaq who broke Alan Donald’s record and created a delivery called the ‘Dusra’ which had never before seen in cricket. It included a couple of all-rounders, Azhar Mehmood and Abdul Razzaq, giving unrivalled depth to the team. Add to that Saeed Anwar, who held the record for the highest One-Day International score in cricket. And the crown jewel, in arguably the most lethal fast bowling pair in history: Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus.
Despite some rare successes, what was clear to everyone was that a revival was not possible without bringing international cricket back to Pakistan
However, the team lost its way as we entered the 21st century. As some icons retired, others lost form and a team filled with superstars, suddenly found itself fielding a playing eleven that could lose to any team on its worst day. The posterboy for the team, during this period of decay, was Shahid Afridi, a player with great marketing potential but not in the same category as the stars of the earlier decade.
Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come as Pakistan was embroiled in a conflict that swept away cricket in its midst. A brutal terror campaign signalled the death of international cricket in Pakistan. The attack on the Sri Lankan team and images of their rescue in a military helicopter were a nightmare for a nation of cricket lovers. It was without doubt the biggest tragedy in Pakistan’s cricketing history.
During the next few years, the team muddled along, playing home games outside the country. It struggled to cope with scandals that engulfed it from time to time, even leading to prison terms for some players. Yet, even in this gloomy environment there were performances that gave hope such as reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 world cup and attaining the top spot in test rankings.
Despite these rare successes, what was clear to everyone was that a revival was not possible without bringing international cricket back to Pakistan. If Pakistan cricket were to witness a renaissance and emerge from its dark ages, it needed to engage the millions of fans in the country, bringing cricket to their doorstep.
To achieve this, the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to launch the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Despite obstacles and notable naysayers, Najam Sethi continued to push the event through, with a clear roadmap in mind.
In its first year, PSL 2016 didn’t manage to hold any games in Pakistan but it was successful in roping in world-renowned players and producing cricket that was competitive and entertaining.
Next, PSL 2017 managed to hold the final of the tournament in Lahore. It marked the beginning of the transition, showing to the world that Pakistan was open and capable of hosting matches of an international level, without concern.
This year, PSL 2018 has spread it’s footprint hosting 3 matches domestically in two different cities, proving that PSL is not a one-hit wonder. And the story continues, with plans to host half of the tournament matches of PSL 2019 in Pakistan.
In a short period, PSL has achieved what was unthinkable, just a few years ago. The tournament has galvanised people, breathed life back into a cricket-crazy culture and most importantly, paved the way for the rebirth of the game.
And it is for this reason that PSL is not just a cricket tournament anymore. It has turned into a symbol of pride for our nation. Its is a story of perseverance, engendering a spirit in the people that has the potential to permeate every aspect of our society because cricket has always been more than ‘just a game’, for the millions who call Pakistan home.