t’s evident that the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has become a sought after brand. In the lead up to the third edition of the Twenty20 league launch in 2016, excitement is in the air as business houses put final touches to their various deals with the league and the franchises featuring in it. That’s a good sign for the contest which was under a cloud year after being rocked by a corruption scandal.
But that’s behind us as the country’s cricketing fraternity is eagerly looking forward to PSL 3 which explodes into action at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium with defending champions Peshawar Zalmi taking on newcomers Multan Sultans on February 22.
With the addition of Sultans, PSL 3 has already made sure that it is going to be a bigger contest than the previous two editions. Najam Sethi, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman and the man at the helm of PSL, has promised that it is not just going to be bigger but also better in every respect.
Sethi and his team are certainly in a position to deliver the best PSL edition yet. They must have learned from their mistakes. When the league was launched two years ago, PCB was stepping into uncharted territory having never organised a full-fledged tournament on foreign soil. Barring a few hiccups, the inaugural edition was a success and hopes were high when the league returned to the UAE last year. However, the spot-fixing scandal involving leading Pakistan players like Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif cast a shadow over the competition in 2017.
Once again, the fixing menace will remain the biggest challenge facing the PCB this year. It is an open secret that professional T20 leagues like the PSL are almost always targeted by international fixing syndicates. Sometimes a few players are already on their payrolls and help them to trap more cricketers, especially the younger ones. It’s true that there are watchdogs working on behalf of both PCB and the International Cricket Council (ICC) but somehow the fixing mafias usually get through the net and manage to carry out their dirty business.
In recent times, anti-corruption measures have been beefed up with the ICC becoming more serious in its efforts to root out the menace of fixing from international cricket. But as top ICC officials like Dave Richardson, the CEO, have admitted it’s next to impossible for the game’s governing body to stop fixing altogether.
That’s why, personally, I will not be surprised if there are more corruption scandals in the forthcoming PSL. But I do wish that the PCB does everything in its powers to make sure that things run smoothly during the month-long league.
They have already taken some steps in that direction. For starters, they have changed the tournament hotel to minimise the risk of a repeat of the 2017 scandal. That’s a good move. I was witness to the casual environment at the Conrad in Dubai where so-called fans freely mingled with leading Pakistani cricketers featuring in the PSL. Most of the time gifts and envelopes were handed over to the players. It was difficult to tell whether they were genuine fans and sponsors giving away the goodies.
The Board should make sure that there is a stricter protocol though I must say that if a scam will be carried out to fix a match or carry out spot-fixing, money won’t change hands in full public view.
Enough of the warnings, though. I’m sure that millions of cricket fans in Karachi will be looking forward to the March 25 finale at the National Stadium. Despite being the country’s largest city, Karachi has been getting a raw deal from the PCB which has completely ignored it in its campaign to bring international cricket back to Pakistan. Since 2009 when the terrorist attack on Sri Lankan team in Lahore turned Pakistan into a pariah in world cricket, the PCB has managed to invite international cricketers to the country on a few occasions. But each time a team came, it just played in Lahore. The World XI was seen in action at the Gaddafi Stadium. Zimbabwe also played in Lahore so did Sri Lanka. It was high time that Karachi got its turn and finally better sense prevailed in the PCB. However, despite PCB’s assurances that the final of PSL 3 will be played in Karachi, there remains a question mark on whether it will deliver on the promise. One major hurdle was the bad shape of the National Stadium, which looked like a shadow of its past glory because of years of neglect. But that hurdle, I’m sure, will be overcome in the next few weeks. A bigger problem, according to PCB insiders, is that not many foreign stars are excited about the prospects of playing in Karachi. Well, we heard similar stories before the PSL final in Lahore but hefty payments, security guarantees and goodwill made sure that the likes of Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuel, David Malan and Chris Jordan featured in the final in which Peshawar Zalmi hammered Quetta Gladiators to win the title.
For the Lahore final, PCB had the complete support of the Punjab government with Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif taking a personal interest in the matter. This time around there is similar support from the Sindh government which is willing to go all out in its plans to bring the PSL finale to the provincial capital. Murad Ali Shah, the CM, wastes no opportunity in giving assurances that his government will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to make the final a resounding success.
With both the public and private sector behind it, things are looking good for PSL 3 and that’s a good sign for Pakistan cricket.