The seventh edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is reaching its climax with only a few more matches until the final. The concluding game of the ongoing PSL season is scheduled for February 27 and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ramiz Raja wants PM Imran Khan to attend the final. The PM is said to have accepted the invitation and will be present at the ceremony.
Before the start of the PSL-7, the PM featured in a TikTok-style video walking in slow motion with dramatic music in the background announcing the formal opening of the PSL-7.
But Imran Khan had once bitterly criticised the PSL. Launched in 2015 thanks to the exhausting efforts of the then PCB Chief Najam Sethi, the PSL was dismissed as a Railu Katta league by Imran Khan who also referred to the players participating in the tournament as phateechar. Khan was in the opposition then. After becoming the PM, he himself is appearing in a promotional video for PSL – which is undoubtedly another U-turn among many of his forgotten ones.
After the 2009 gruesome attack on the Sri Lankan team, international cricket skewed in Pakistan and cricketers would shy away from coming to the country. The then PML-N government trusted Najam Sethi for the top PCB slot, assigning him a daunting challenge of making foreign teams’ Pakistan tour possible. Sethi’s efforts, despite being slow and less responsive initially, moved ahead with Zimbabwe finally coming to Pakistan in 2015 – the first test-playing nation to visit the country in six years. Sethi then envisioned a bold idea of having a league of the country compromising international stars. The idea soon became reality and the PSL was finally launched in 2015, though in the UAE grounds, Pakistan’s first best choice after home.
The next formidable challenge was to bring PSL to Pakistan where it actually belongs. Towards that end, the PCB leaped forward by organising the final of the PSL-3 in Lahore. The much touted final was organised under strict security measures with four key international players pulling out of the Pakistan tour. However, the PCB found replacements and the final went ahead with Darren Sammy-led Peshawar Zalmi winning the title. However, Imran Khan termed the PCB decision of staging the final in Lahore as ‘madness’, adding that “what sort of message would be conveyed to the world by having closed roads around the stadium and heavy security.”
PSL, since its inception in 2015, became a brand and gradually became the biggest cricketing event in the country. Since 2019, it is being held in Pakistan with renowned T-20 specialists appearing intermittently. How time changes; PTI and its supporters compare the league with the other top world cricket leagues and justify security measures and road closures taken for the successful completion of the event. The journey of PSL from being labelled as Railu Katta league to a showpiece event has been full of U-turns, a norm PTI and PM Khan are known for.
PTI is also using the ongoing PSL to showcase its image and initiatives. Not just deliberately colored in red and green Sehat Card is regularly advertised on a wide digital screen in the stadium, a local commentator gives a brief review and appreciates the initiative in presence of foreign commentators. The card’s publicity was carried out even during the Karachi leg of the PSL despite the fact the card had not been introduced there. Never ever has such a stint been witnessed during the leagues played across the globe.
The league entered into seventh edition successfully with previous editions featuring renowned T-20 icons such as AB DeVilliers, Brandon MacCullum, Chris Gayle, David Miller, Karren Pollard, Shane Watson etc. Every league around the world matures with time and becomes appealing for prominent players but PSL’s this season has underrepresentation of international stars. Out of top 25 International Cricket Council (ICC) ranking batsmen, only 4, excluding Babar and Rizwan who are on top slots but are locals, are appearing in the current season. Same goes for bowling; out of top 25 ICC bowlers ranking, excluding locals Shadab, Shaheen and Rauf, only 2 are playing in the PSL.
Indeed, PCB overpowered Corona related snags and managed to stage PSL-7 but it failed to deal with multiple shortcomings such as poor scheduling as several bilateral series were taking place or were about to take place in mid of the season. Resultantly, drafted players either skipped the whole PSL or left the league for their national duties. This factor probably also resulted in lesser attraction as we witnessed empty stands in most of the matches despite NCOC allowing a 100% vaccinated crowd in the stadium. To camouflage all these administrative flaws, the PCB shortened ground boundaries with an intent to entertain the incoming crowd. That hasn’t worked either; crowd attendance remained low whereas several cricket experts criticised short boundaries as the Pakistan team’s next big T-20 assignment is in Australia where boundaries are unusually long. PSL was the best prep for Pakistani players, they say, but with shortened boundaries, that opportunity is somewhat wasted.
When PCB was in need of inevitable support, including Imran Khan’s since he himself was a successful captain, to make PSL a success story, PTI and Khan politicised and mimicked the event, And when it has already become a brand, the party is taking all the credit and is using it to exhibit political initiatives. PSL was never a political show and so it never should be. PTI should let it remain a sporting activity, not a forum to discredit others or to take credit for itself.