o the big day is finally here. ‘International’ cricket is all set to return to the iconic Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in the form of the much-hyped Pakistan Super League final. Regardless of the fact that most of the PSL’s biggest overseas stars have stayed away from the final, today’s match is being billed by its supporters as the biggest thing to have happened in Pakistan cricket for quite some time.
Whether that’s right remains debatable but one thing is for sure: A PSL final on home soil is certainly a big development. We might not be sending the right message to the rest of the world with all the bullet proof busses, cops in riot gear, bomb disposal squads and other security-related measures but that’s the kind of world we live in. Foreign cricketers like Kevin Pietersen, who politely withdrew from the final just hours after his Quetta Gladiators made it to the title clash, will not come to Pakistan no matter what kind of cash we offer them. The security situation in the country will have to change before the overseas sports stars change their view of Pakistan.
But for now let’s talk about the PSL final.
Three of the more glamorous teams are out and now we have Quetta and Peshawar aiming at the coveted crown. Islamabad United, the winners of the inaugural PSL last year, were knocked out by Karachi Kings. But Karachi, who were looking dangerous after a couple of very exciting wins, were unable to build on the momentum as they went down against Peshawar in the last playoff at the Dubai International Stadium on Friday night.
Since the start of the PSL last year, much has been said and written about the unbelievable atmosphere in the Quetta dugout. With the great Sir Vivian acting as the team’s mentor and perhaps their chief cheerleader, Quetta certainly looks like the happiest team in the PSL. Mohammad Hafeez pointed it out after playing a match-winning knock in one of the Dubai matches.
But believe me when I say that Peshawar aren’t far behind when it comes to camaraderie among its players and officials.
I was witness to what was a glimpse of the way Peshawar players and officials have gelled to become one of the most successful and crowd-pulling of the PSL teams. It was at a sponsors’ dinner at the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. The players, both from Pakistan and overseas, came across as a happy bunch, sharing the sort of jokes that only long-time friends can enjoy. You could see Kamran Akmal mimicking Mohammad Hafeez’s bowling action to the delight of all the fellow players including Hafeez himself. You could see Hafeez making fun of Darren Sammy’s Caribbean accent. “When Sammy and (Marlon) Samuels are talking, we can’t understand a word,” said Hafeez.
You could also see that the players were close to their coaching staff including Mohammad Akram, the chief coach. They also seemed to have great respect for Javed Afridi, the team’s young owner. Probably Javed’s great passion for cricket in general and for the PSL in particular is one of the reasons why he has emerged as one of the most likeable franchise owners in the PSL.
It is often said that in sports sometimes the decisive thing is the atmosphere in the dressing room. If you have ego clashes, insecurities, petty fights in the dressing room then there is a big probability that your team won’t achieve much on the field. Even with big stars, a team is unlikely to win major tournaments if there is a lack of harmony in the dressing room. That’s because disharmony festers disunity. And without unity and team spirit, you are unlikely to win any major tournament.
Both Quetta and Peshawar are examples of happy and united teams doing better than sides with big stars but little spirit. I’m not saying that teams like Karachi and Lahore weren’t spirited. But they couldn’t match Quetta and Peshawar.
Despite its growing popularity, PSL is just a small part of Pakistan cricket. But through the success of teams like Quetta and Peshawar it is teaching people at the helm of our national team how to manage players and get the best out of them. For so many years, Pakistan’s cricket has suffered because of fractious and dysfunctional dressing rooms. They are supposed to be the inner sanctum of any sport. What happens there stays there. But in Pakistan cricket things have often gone too far and into the public domain. All of that should change and change for the better. Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s head coach, should see to that. Arthur couldn’t really turn Karachi into a winning outfit but one hopes that he does a better job with the Pakistan team.