The age of the Twenty20 league with its ability to entertain the cricket-loving masses of the world in a short period of time is truly upon us.
Whilst the Indian Premier League has set high standards of excellence for this format of the game, it is also true that in recent times, the advent of the Pakistan Super League seems to be taking on a cult following status of its own and is fast becoming an important part of the global cricket calendar.
With three seasons of this very lucrative format now done and dusted, any doubts about its relevance to Pakistani cricket can safely be laid to rest as it has become clear that the PSL is truly and undoubtedly an essential part of the cricket culture in the country.
Like in the previous editions, meagre crowds in Dubai continued to be a source of some debate during the UAE leg and only during the Sharjah stints of this tournament did the stadium come alive with enthusiastic supporters in the Emirates. But, apart from the absence of supporters in Dubai, the PSL of 2018 will be remembered as one of the most interesting, competitive and thankfully, for the organizers, one where the emphasis remained solely on cricket and nothing else.
For a start, the inclusion of Multan Sultans as the sixth franchise introduced another set of talented, experienced and some young players into the mix. And for a significant period of time during their first tournament, Multan threatened to upset the superiority held by the existing 5 franchises. A combination of good selections and some excellent performances by the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and bowling by Imran Tahir seemed to have caught the other teams napping before the giants of PSL finally woke up and went about their business.
Whilst close matches which went to the last over or the 2 super over classics added a new fun dimension to these games, the emergence of some excellent young prospects were the true highlights of PSL 2018.
Before the start of the tournament, Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur had indicated that he would consider this edition of the PSL a success if it could unearth 2 more talents who could serve Pakistan. The 2016 PSL had unearthed Hasan Ali who became ICC’s Emerging Player of the Year in 2017, whilst the second edition of the tournament revealed the precocious talent of Shadab Khan. Could the 2018 version bring forth more good news for Pakistan cricket?
If one were to look back at some of the excellent performances by the likes of the 17-year-old Shaheen Shah Afridi who took 5 wickets for just 4 runs in a blistering spell against Multan Sultans, then the answer to Mickey Arthur’s wishes seem to have become a reality in the fast-bowling department. The batting and all-rounder departments for the Pakistan national team could be served in the future by the likes of Hussain Talat of Islamabad United, whilst the hard-hitting Asif Ali who wowed all with his magical batting display in the final against Peshawar Zalmi where he hit 26 runs off just 6 deliveries can also lay claim to be a stand out talent of the tournament. All three have now deservedly found their way to international selection for the upcoming T20I series against West Indies.
What the PSL 2018 also proved once again and will continue to prove in future is that age is but a number. Shahid Afridi whose brilliant and athletic boundary catch and a tally of 13 wickets gave his side Karachi Kings a shot at the title, continued to entertain the masses. As did Kamran Akmal who at the age of 36 ended up as the second highest scorer, second only to the sublime batting genius of Luke Ronchi.
Whilst Kamran continues to impress all with his batting prowess, his brother Umar Akmal did the opposite of that for his team Lahore Qalandars. Sidelined after 5 games due to a lacklustre batting display, Umar was told to stay at the team hotel as his team struggled yet again to make a mark in the PSL. Lahore Qalandars have a lot to answer for as their ability to lose games from winning positions continues to disappoint and puzzle their long-suffering supporters.
What was generally an excellent few weeks of cricket for supporters of Pakistan cricket, became even more exciting with the highlight being the holding of 3 games in Pakistan. The 2 eliminator matches in Lahore were attended by sell-out crowds and the fervour felt by the Lahorites was also shared by the overseas players who came in large numbers to Pakistan. The icing on the cake was the final in the City of Lights, Karachi which brought high-quality cricket and smiles to Karachi after a period of 9 years. It had been a long wait for Karachi to see high-class cricketers in action, but given the fervour, passion and terrific atmosphere at the National Stadium, cricket remains in the blood of Karachiites.
The enthusiasm of spectators at all Pakistan venues was proof, if ever needed, that cricket is the uniting force which binds the nation. And if there was one fact that united all cricket-lovers, it had to be the dominance of eventual winners Islamabad United who apart from a brief period, always looked like champions. Their 3-wicket victory in the final against an equally competent Peshawar Zalmi was well deserved and brought the 2018 edition of PSL to a memorable end.
If PSL 2018 left no stone unturned for its entertainment value, the proposal to hold half of the games in Pakistan next year will have Pakistan cricket fans waiting eagerly for the fourth edition to begin. Whilst the notion of holding more games in Pakistan may feel fanciful to some naysayers in terms of foreign participation, one only has to pay attention to some of the remarks of overseas players about the excitement of playing in Pakistan and why they felt at home in the country. Regardless of how many games are played at home next year or whether the tournament can be moved in its entirety to Pakistan in the future, PSL’s status as a premier world-class Twenty20 tournament will continue to rise and that can only be good news for Pakistan cricket.