Darren Sammy has expressed his love to play in Pakistan several times © AFP
An upscale chai dhabba in one of the posh localities of Lahore has installed a television on its most prominent wall. Previously, it was embellished with cheeky posters about the significance of chai is one’s life. The television is tuned to the channel which is showing highlights of the last Pakistan Super League (PSL) edition. The restaurant’s replacement of posters about its premier offering with a television perfectly encapsulates the current atmosphere in the country. It is, after all, that time of the year.
With the fourth edition of the PSL hours away, cricket is the talk of the town. Even the prime-time headlines have put the political tussles on the backburner. Rather, the news channels are carrying reports about which international players have joined their teams in the UAE and when the tickets for the Pakistan-leg of the league are going on sale.
Cricket is a passion in Pakistan. And, this league enjoys special adoration for the wonders it has done for a cricket-mad nation. Cricket boards around the world have launched franchise-based leagues to generate a revenue stream and furnish youngsters with opportunities to showcase their talent. So, when the PCB signed a broadcast deal for the next three years at a price 358 percent higher than the first one, and the title sponsor now standing at three times more than what it was in 2016, it served the first purpose. To some extent though, as all the franchises continue to make losses despite this being their fourth year into the business.
That the core group of Pakistan’s XI comprise players fast-tracked to the apex level from the PSL – and Pakistan are the top-ranked T20I side since last January – speak volumes about how it has been serving the second purpose. With the World Cup three months down the road, this edition promises to be all the more interesting as it dishes up crucial opportunities for players on the fringes to secure spots in the national lineup for the all-important event.
The league, however, has been the most crucial in serving another purpose which was to put Pakistan back on the map as a venue for international cricket. That Pakistan hosted an ICC World XI, Sri Lanka, and West Indies in the span of eight months within a decade of the March 3, 2009 attack is all due to the PSL.
The process of bringing international cricket back to Pakistan was always an arduous proposition. Mindful of what had put a halt on it, the PCB had to demonstrate its ability to host top-flight cricket to convince cricket boards around the world that Pakistan was ready to host international cricket.
So, it began from March 2017 with the successful staging of the final of PSL’s second edition in Lahore. Convinced with the security arrangements for the first time since the idea was first floated seven years ago, the ICC, within six months, sent a World XI side to Lahore for a three-match T20I series. The success of the series won over Sri Lanka, the targets of the gruesome attack almost a decade ago, and they returned to Lahore a month later, albeit for just one T20I.
To establish its credentials as a safe venue for international cricket, Pakistan were required to spread the top-flight cricket into more cities. The 2018 edition served that purpose with the successful staging of the final in front of the frantic 25,000 people at Karachi’s National Stadium. It saw international cricket return to metropolis after nine long years with the West Indies arriving in Karachi for a three-match T20I series a week after the PSL final. Since, Karachi has been the joint-host of the emerging Asia Cup and last month it hosted the West Indies women for a three T20Is.
The PCB might not be there as yet. Just recently, Cricket Australia turned down their request to play a couple of the five ODIs in Pakistan after the PSL. But that the PCB can discuss these prospects with a side that last toured them in 1998 is a testimony of the fact that the PSL has helped the board make strides in the right direction.
This edition is set to further aid the PCB’s cause with as many as eight matches scheduled to be hosted across Lahore and Karachi and most of the foreign players are said to have consented to playing these matches. AB de Villiers being one of them. His confirmed presence in front of the home crowd in two of the three matches at the Gaddafi Stadium has the whole country, especially the Lahoris, stirred up.
It is late at night and only two tables are active. Despite the load on the kitchen much lesser now, the order of one of the tables is delayed. The customer enquiries about it. The waiter, fixated to the highlights of the enthralling Quetta-Peshawar first eliminator from the last season, had forgotten to follow up on it. He can be forgiven perhaps. After all, it is that time of the year.