Imagine a Pakistan Super League match taking place in the picture-perfect confines of the Swat valley. Nobody could have even thought about it in the not too distant past when army tanks were shelling at enemy shelters from the various open spaces in Swat including sports grounds. But ask Javed Afridi, one of the most dynamic figures in the PSL, and he will tell you that having PSL matches in places like Swat and Swabi are very much a possibility.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently announced that in 2020 the entire PSL will be held in Pakistan. Pakistan doesn’t mean just Karachi and Lahore. It means each and every city in our country. Personally, it’s my dream to have matches in places like Swat, too, so the world can also see the majestic beauty of Pakistan,” Javed told me in an interview, just hours before his team – Peshawar Zalmi – was supposed to meet defending champions Islamabad United in the final Eliminator of PSL 4 at Karachi’s iconic National Stadium last Friday night.
Since joining the PSL four years ago as owner of Peshawar Zalmi, Javed has initiated several projects with the primary aim of projecting Pakistan’s positive image abroad. He instantly developed great rapport with his team’s foreign players something which was evident back in 2017 when Peshawar was the only team whose foreign players had no qualms about visiting Pakistan for the final even as overseas stars from other teams refused to do so.
Two years later, Javed is at the forefront of a campaign aimed at staging the entire edition of PSL on Pakistani soil.
The inaugural edition of the PSL, held in 2016, took place in the UAE from start to finish. In 2017, the event’s organisers managed to hold the final in Lahore. Unfortunately, most of the stars of Quetta Gladiators refused to travel to Lahore and the outcome was a one-sided win for Peshawar in the final. Last year, there were a few games in Pakistan including the final in Karachi. There was a better participation of foreign players. Both the number of games and overseas participation grew this year with Karachi hosting the final phase of the season including Sunday night’s grand finale.
“It’s been a great journey,” says Javed, who is today recognized as an important stakeholder of the league. “Today, the brand value of PSL stands at 550 million dollars. The league started from scratch and today everyone wants to be a part of it. So if you ask me, I would say it’s a big success.”
Not everybody thinks like that. The previous owners of Multan Sultans closed shop after just one edition. A few other franchise owners are always complaining about the financial losses they have incurred. But Javed has a different viewpoint.
“Being part of this league means that you keep on investing. It’s not like you buy it now and just start making profit. That said, since 2016 our Zalmi brand has grown and I see it as one of the best investments I’ve ever made.”
Javed and other ardent PSL supporters believe that the league’s true potential will be materialised once it comes to Pakistan fully and permanently.
“It is estimated that if held in Pakistan every single PSL match will generate a million dollars just through gate money. Back there (in the UAE) you can’t generate a fraction of that amount.”
In India, IPL matches are held in every nook and corner of the country attracting packed crowds for almost every game. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened as far as the best part of the four PSL editions is concerned. Most of the PSL matches have been played in front of an empty Dubai Stadium. In the UAE, only the games in Sharjah attracted decent crowds. The ongoing edition of PSL really came to life once it moved home for the final phase of the season.
I’ve talked to many other PSL stakeholders and some of them believe that even if all the matches of the league are held in Pakistan, it might not be possible for the organisers to fill the stadiums for all the games. Some fear that not many fans would come to see matches on weekdays.
“Why not,” asks Javed. “You give me one centre, say Peshawar. Give me some PSL matches and I will make sure that the stadium is full for each and every game even on a weekday. I’m sure others (franchise owners) can do the same.”
Another stumbling block in the way of a successful PSL season in Pakistan could come in the form of low turnout of foreign stars. Overseas players were the primary reason why the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was forced to initiate the league in the UAE.
Will they be willing to spend five weeks in Pakistan for a full PSL season?
Javed believes that it is certainly possible if they are made an offer they can’t refuse.
“If I ask my (foreign) players today for their commitment to play a full season in Pakistan next year, they will not hesitate in doing that. I remember asking Darren (Sammy) back in 2017 about travelling to Pakistan and he said yes. Not just that, he helped us in roping in other players as well.
“The thing is that you have to develop a relationship with the players. Most of them have already experienced that Pakistan is a safe, welcoming place for them. You have to keep talking to them. They are important to the league and should be duly rewarded.”
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News