It was the day after Peshawar Zalmi suffered a crushing defeat in the Pakistan Super League against Quetta Gladiators at the Dubai International Stadium. The loss left Peshawar on the verge of elimination. They now needed to win their last two games of the group stage against Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars and then hope that results of other matches went their way.
The defending champions, everyone agreed, were in clear and present danger of bowing out of PSL 3, at the first hurdle.
I met Javed Afridi at the Club Lounge of Inter-Continental, the trendy hotel in Dubai Festival City which was serving as PSL’s headquarters. Javed had just finished a meeting with Mohammad Akram, Zalmi’s coach.
“It must be quite tense for the team,” I asked Javed. “Not really. We still have two more games to go. Winning and losing is part of the game. I have complete trust in my team. I’m sure they can do it,” he responded with a big smile.
A few days later, Zalmi proved Javed right. With Kamran Akmal in top gear, they recorded commanding victories against Karachi and Lahore to sail into the PSL playoffs.
There were scenes of jubilation at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday night after Kamran’s undefeated 107 put Zalmi in the playoffs. Javed was the happiest man in the field as he embraced each and every member of the squad. He showed faith in them and the team had responded.
Earlier, during our meeting, Javed had shared with me the reasons why he bought a PSL franchise besides talking on a variety of other issues. Following are the excerpts of the interview.
TNS: What were the reasons that prompted you to buy a franchise in PSL?
JA: I always wanted to contribute for the betterment of Pakistan cricket. Once the doors of international cricket on Pakistan were closed, Haier came to the forefront and sponsored many domestic and international events. When Mr Najam Sethi proposed the Pakistan Super League, there were no second thoughts but to buy a franchise in it. This is our league and we are the ones who will have to do our bit in making it successful.
TNS: What does Zalmi stand for?
JA: Zalmi in Pushto stands for youth. Our franchise Peshawar Zalmi is based on youth and their exuberance. We can proudly say that we have the most loyal set of supporters and we always try our best to do justice to their sentiments and emotions.
TNS: Are you happy with the way PSL has grown in the last three years?
JA: Yes, Alhamdulillah. The Pakistan Super League has excelled with every passing year. When it started back in 2016, it was a smaller entity but now it has emerged as one of the top leagues in the world. I’m sure it will continue to progress in years to come.
TNS: There are occasional rumours that some franchise owners are not happy with PSL. What are your feelings?
JA: No, that is not the case. I wouldn’t say I’m not happy with the PSL. Of course, I am. There were some concerns which I raised in front of Mr Sethi and those were for the betterment of the league itself. I’m glad he was cooperative in that regard and together we shall make this league bigger and better in the upcoming years.
TNS: As a business enterprise is Zalmi a good investment?
JA: Peshawar Zalmi is not just a cricket franchise which is based in the provincial capital, it is an epitome of zest, zeal and valour among ardent cricket fans in the country. Alhamdulillah, we are the defending champions and we are contributing towards a positive cause. I’m very happy with how things have panned out in the last few years with my franchise. I’m sure it is a good investment in all aspects.
TNS: What are the future plans for Zalmi?
JA: Zalmi is not only confined to Peshawar Zalmi. We have roots in South Africa as well. We are looking forward to the upcoming Global T20 League. Other than that, the Peshawar Zalmi Foundation is doing its bit in promoting cricket at the grass root level in KP. The Zalmi School League has provided a perfect platform for young and aspiring cricketers to showcase their talent. Then we have the Global Zalmi League as well. The league which expanded to more than 16 countries in the world under the umbrella of Peshawar Zalmi. So there is a lot on our plate at the moment and we continue to serve cricket fraternity throughout the year.
TNS: As a stakeholder, what do you think PSL should do to become a better league?
JA: For the Pakistan Super League to become a better league, it is need of the hour for the league to be organised in Pakistan. Having said that, I appreciate the efforts of Mr Sethi who has worked his socks off to make the league possible and to be able to attract international cricket to become part of it.
TNS: There aren’t big crowds attending PSL matches. What more can the Board do to ensure bigger attendance?
JA: As I said, it is very important for the league to be staged in Pakistan. We can see the difference when the matches are played in Pakistan as compared to when they are played elsewhere. Low attendance affects the corporate sector as well and eventually leading to very little or no sponsors showing interest in investing in the league. Bigger crowds will attract sponsors and it will go a long way in the better hosting of the league.
TNS: This year your team has had injury issues. How much has it impacted the team’s performance so far?
JA: Yes unfortunately, we have had a few injury issues, both before and during the tournament. Dwayne Bravo had his issues with fitness, Shakib wasn’t fully fit either. Hasan Ali got injured during the New Zealand tour and that was a huge blow for us. Darren Sammy also got injured during the match and that was a major setback too.
TNS: How big a loss was Shahid Afridi’s departure?
JA: Shahid’s contribution to Peshawar Zalmi is for everyone to see. His presence in the field and off it is a source of inspiration for many youngsters. His departure has obviously had an impact on the team, but I believe we have the right players to make up for his absence. As a unit, we have progressed and will continue to do so.
TNS: What impact has Sammy on the team?
JA: Darren is a great team man. His work ethic and sportsmanship is second to none. He is a two-time World T20 winning skipper. Other than that, he is a wonderful person. He treats every player in the team in an honest manner. His impact on the team is very hard to put into words. We are very fortunate to have him as our leader. He has gelled with the team very well and he is taking us forward.
TNS: Zalmi was able to bring its entire team to Pakistan unlike Quetta. What were the reasons behind it?
JA: I feel honoured to be able to bring all my international players to Lahore for the Pakistan Super League final. Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels, Chris Jordan and Dawid Malan were really kind to agree and come to Pakistan. That set a benchmark for others to follow. I’m hopeful the other franchises will follow the lead and be able to convince their players to come to Lahore and Karachi for the playoffs this season. That will go a long way in bringing international cricket back to Pakistan.
TNS: Will all your foreign players visit Pakistan now that Peshswar Zalmi have qualified for the playoffs?
JA: Yes I’m very hopeful that all the foreign Peshawar Zalmi players will be visiting Pakistan this season as well. The players are excited on the prospect of playing in Pakistan once again.
TNS: What is the role of Zaheer Abbas as President?
JA: Zaheer Abbas is someone who needs no introduction. His cricketing knowledge and intellect is not hidden from anyone. He comes with loads of experience and we look up to him when we have no other person to look up to. As a President, he gives us guidance and provides us with much needed insight which keeps us going.
TNS: How important is Younis Khan’s presence in the Zalmi dressing room?
JA: Younis Khan is a legendary batsman and his presence in the dugout is of great help for the cricketers in the team. He is the mind behind the Peshawar Zalmi machine. He is the person who understands modern cricket in and out. I’m sure every single player he has worked with in the training sessions has benefited from his experience and skill.