The Pakistan Super League will return home next week with local title-aspirants Karachi Kings taking on in-form Peshawar Zalmi under the floodlights of the iconic National Stadium that is still undergoing facelift ahead of the final phase of the league. The matches in Lahore and Karachi including the finale on March 17 should provide a perfect climax to season 4 which has been marred by empty stands at the Dubai International Stadium, the venue which was once again given the lion’s share of PSL matches.
There is no doubt about the fact that within a short span of four years, the PSL has established itself into a much sought-after brand. In fact it became a household name back in 2016 when the inaugural edition was launched in Dubai. Despite facing its fair share of problems, the PSL has made big strides.
Today, you can see people belonging to all walks of life discussing PSL scores, player performances and rivalries between the competing city-based franchises.
Unfortunately, the one rivalry which was supposed to be the biggest – between Karachi and Lahore – is yet to really ignite but that’s due to the fact both the teams have more or less under-performed in the previous three editions of the PSL. They haven’t done much better in season 4 either with Karachi Kings languishing on the fifth place just before perennial under-achievers Lahore Qalandars.
As usual, the top trio consists of Peshawar Zalmi, Quetta Gladiators and two-time champions Islamabad United. These three have been the most consistent teams in the past editions of the PSL and once again look good as we move towards the business end of the season. Zalmi are on the top of the points table followed by Gladiators and United.
The UAE leg of the PSL will conclude with three games in Abu Dhabi early next week. Abu Dhabi has been added as a PSL destination this season with the hope that the Pakistanis based there will turn up at the picturesque Zayed Cricket Stadium in big numbers.
But that’s quite unlikely. Now in its fourth year, what PSL needs is bigger crowd support. And it should become quite clear now that such crowd support won’t be possible for the PSL in the UAE. Apart from the few games that are played at the Sharjah stadium, PSL matches fail to attract substantial crowds. That means lesser revenues. But that’s not the only problem with thin attendance. Big crowds aren’t just good because they bring bigger gate money. Housefuls give you the sort of atmosphere needed to turn a good match into an epic one. No matter how close a game is or how good the performances are, empty stands will always dim the fun. That is one of the biggest reasons why PSL, despite all its close encounters, is yet to really make its mark as a top-class T20 league.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the league’s organisers, are fully aware of it. They have been making efforts to have more and more PSL matches on Pakistani soil. This year, we will have seven matches at home – four in Karachi and three in Lahore. That’s certainly a big development.
Next year, the PCB is hoping to bring the entire PSL season to Pakistan. But that’s going to be a tough task. Take a look at the forthcoming Pakistan phase of season 4. Due to border tensions with India, there were fears that the PCB might be forced to give up plans to host the final leg at home. Thankfully, a de-escalation of tensions between the two countries allowed PCB officials to announce last week that the final phase will be held in Pakistan as scheduled. Javed Afridi, owner of Peshawar Zalmi, was quick to announce that the entire Zalmi squad, including its foreign stars, was ready to travel to Pakistan to play their PSL matches in Karachi and Lahore.
However, despite all such assurances, it remains to be seen as to how many foreign players will actually make the trip to Pakistan next week to feature in the final phase of the season. Much will depend on the happenings of the next few days. One more untoward incident could force most of the overseas players to change their minds about travelling to Pakistan. This is the kind of uncertainty that has been forcing PCB to hold the best part of PSL and almost all its international matches in the UAE since the last ten years. Unless things change, Pakistan will continue to rely on venues in the UAE to stage their matches. And that doesn’t augur well for projects like the PSL.