Just when one was beginning to wonder where the fourth edition of what had been quite a lacklustre edition of PSL was headed, AB de Villiers brought the contest to life.
The aging South African star began the T20 league as its biggest draw but struggled in his initial outings for perennial under-achievers Lahore Qalandars in Dubai. However, the master blaster was a different man when greeted by the shorter boundaries at the Sharjah Stadium as he smashed a 29-ball 52 to give the Qalandars a thrilling last-ball victory against Multan Sultans in a high-scoring encounter on Friday.
This edition of the PSL received another much-needed shot in the arm just hours later when another of its aging stars – Mohammad Sami – rolled back the clock with a fiery spell that concluded with a match-winning hat-trick for the Islamabad United captain in an explosive encounter against Peshawar Zalmi.
The two exciting results and a packed Sharjah Stadium on Friday were just the ingredients needed to inject life in PSL 4 after a drab Dubai leg that got off to a false start with American rapper Pitbull pulling out of the event’s opening ceremony at the eleventh hour.
The empty stands in Dubai and a below-par showing by a majority of the participating players in the initial games should prompt the event’s organisers to start working on remedial measures. Three years ago, when the PSL was launched by the PCB it was a novelty. Now it’s a routine league that has to reinvent itself to stay relevant in a cutthroat world of T20 contests which have mushroomed all across the cricketing world in recent years.
The Board has to think of new ideas. The thing is that the PSL is an important asset of the cricket board and should be treated as such. That said, our cricket think tank shouldn’t make it all important either. Recently, coach Mickey Arthur remarked that good performances in the ongoing PSL can help players earn spots on Pakistan’s touring party for summer’s World Cup in England. I don’t agree with him. One or two match-winning performances in matches of what frankly is still a B grade T20 league shouldn’t be allowed to tilt the balance in favour of any player who has otherwise not been a part of Pakistan’s World Cup plans.
The World Cup is too important an event for us. What Pakistan will need for the tournament are well-rounded, fully fit players for the grueling contest starting in England from May 30. The tournament will conclude on July 14 making it a lengthy affair where only fit and consistent players would be able to make a difference. Unfortunately, most of our players lack in one area or the other. The ones who are fit enough might not be consistent enough and vice versa. And there are some players who lack in both the areas. That’s why Pakistan will need to think twice before picking a player in their World Cup squad just because he does well in a few PSL matches.
Take for example the case of Umar Akmal. The 28-year-old has been out of the picture for Pakistan for quite some time and not without reason. He last played for Pakistan back in January 2017. But after back-to-back knocks of 75* and 44 for Quetta Gladiators in the PSL, Umar must now be fancying his chances of making a comeback in the national team. Considering the quality of bowling attacks in the PSL, one can expect a few more substantial scores from Umar in the forthcoming PSL matches. He might end up being one of the leading run-getters of the current PSL season. Should that be enough to pave the path for his comeback in the Pakistan team? I don’t think so.
It is true that in the last three years PSL has helped Pakistan unearth some exciting young talent. Players like Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan have successfully used the league as a stepping stone and are now regarded among the leading players in limited-overs cricket. But overall, the quality of our player pool hasn’t really improved. While we have gained players like Hasan and Shadab, we have also said to goodbye to legends like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. They were complete packages. They had the grit and determination as well as the fitness to go with it. Our new generation of cricketers isn’t really complete packages. That’s the reason why we are struggling in any format of the game that is not played over 20 or less overs.
There are still more than three months to go before the World Cup gets underway. Pakistan should use the coming weeks wisely. They will have to ensure that all the players in their World Cup squad are at their peak. Only then can we fancy our chances of winning the coveted title.