By Tahir Ibn Manzoor
The Pakistan Cricket Board, especially former chairman Naseem Ashraf, must take credit for floating the idea of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2008.
Ashraf was the catalyst for the success, learning astutely from the success of the Indian Premier League which had just launched to widespread acclaim.
T20 cricket emerged after humble beginnings in England and Australia to transform the cricket landscape. This shorter version of the game is heavily franchise based and lures some of the top players from international cricket.
The question for the PSL is whether it will be as successful as the IPL and BBL in Australia. Efforts have been made certainly to throw a ball in the court of big corporate sectors to cater up the demands. The PSL is too young to overpower IPL, but it must take heed of lessons from other leagues organized across the cricketing world.
It has the potential power to unite long-time bickering boards of India and Pakistan if players from both countries can compete in the leagues.
The PSL had not been possible for many years due to the political disturbance in Pakistan. But now it has the potential to unite international cricket in Pakistan.
Pakistan Super League was just an idea for Pakistan, but given his passion for the sport PSL Chairman Najam Sethi in a freewheeling interview is determined that cricket will return to Pakistan.
He also expressed his thoughts about the inclusion of international players PSL will be featuring and is hopeful that it would become the huge success and the highest platform for the domestic-level players to gain the experience and represent the Pakistan at highest level.
Sethi talks about the negotiations and the main focus is ‘to upgrade the stadiums’ in Pakistan and to bring International cricket to Pakistan.
Q&A session with PSL Chairman Mr. Najam Sethi:
From rookies to riches how you see the success of inaugural edition of Pakistan Super League away from home?
While it is extremely unfortunate that were not able to play back home in Pakistan, my team and I like to see the positive side in every situation. This is Pakistan’s chance to showcase itself on a global front in the home of the International Cricket Council – Dubai – and a venue that has a rich history of being associated with modern-day cricket – Sharjah.
Of course it will be difficult to match the enthusiasm and interest of fans back home but we must do everything to get this kick started. At least the grand-finale will set the tone.
The PSL is bringing together top international cricketers from different countries. Do you think it will attract a lot of cricket fans when there are only 24 matches to play with?
24 matches in 16 days – that’s a lot of activity. We have had players from 9 different nationalities and we hope to attract fans from these countries too. With top international cricketers playing, this will be a unique opportunity for fans in the UAE to witness such entertaining cricket with so many different players.
PSL 2016 had featured five teams with each team representing a city. The tickets were also available at the affordable rates good move. What was the role of franchises in it?
Our ticket strategy is tailor-made to facilitate fans. This League, our efforts, all of this is for our fans. You will notice in future that all the teams are very evenly-matched and, therefore, all teams will be attracting fans because of the quality of cricket.
PSL can’t be successful without filling the Pakistan stadiums if we talk of crowd factor. Do you agree or not?
I agree. Obviously, any league depends on pulling in crowds and, in the years to come, all of us would want to see cricket returning to Pakistan as early as possible.
Do you think PSL will become a huge success other than IPL and Big Bash League?
I am confident that PSL will be a huge success. We have top players, coaches, enthusiastic franchise owners and an inspired management team that is working for a cause. The ingredients are there for this to be a huge success!
The idea of PSL floated in 2008. How do you rate its progress and promotion since past 7 years?
You are right, the idea was first floated a number of years ago. Plans were shelved for various reasons in the past, but mainly because of lack of managerial expertise. Now we have overcome that hurdle by consulting with the Repucom who are the experts in this field.
Talk about some of the finds of this PSL 2016. Can you point out any specific aspect from the domestic circuit of Pakistan?
Well, we will have to wait and see how the players perform in the 2nd edition. It is heartening to see emerging cricketers in all five squads and this League will give them a great chance to develop skills that will eventually help Pakistan Cricket. You can look at this as a fast track learning program for players who have the potential to represent the Pakistan National Team.
Being a PSL chairman you always want to take it home. How long it will take as PSL is said to be the stepping stone?
We want to take cricket back home, of course. But there are ground realities and we have to work with these realities in mind. However, I am positive that the security situation will continue to improve and we will bring back the League to Pakistan in the years to come. We’re playing the final of 2nd PSL edition in Lahore.
What does an opportunity of PSL mean to you and Pakistan itself?
This is huge for Pakistan. After India, we have the greatest number of eyeballs. It is our chance to showcase a positive side of Pakistan and to make the right kind of headlines. Our people need entertainment and reasons to celebrate life. With the PSL, this is what we aim to provide them with. We want Pakistanis to proudly own their own T20 cricket league.
No Test matches in Pakistan since 2007, do you think it will play the role of trust building to see all-forms of international cricket revival back in Pakistan?
Of course it will. Top international players and coaches will be interacting with our players and officials. They will see firsthand how we organise the League and they will take back what will hopefully be a positive word about Pakistan. In the years to come, they will also believe our word when we tell them first-hand that the security situation is improving.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the PCB and BCCI in 2014 to play six bilateral-series till 2022, is it failing?
It is most unfortunate that BCCI has not been able to honour the MOU for various reasons. However, we were hopeful that the Indian government will give permission to the BCCI to play PCB outside India. But it did not happen until now.
Indo-Pak series is important for both the boards itself and above all the cricket? Has politics ruined the gentleman’s game?
Indo-Pak cricket is bigger than any other cricket – even the much-celebrated Ashes. With the largest TV audiences in the world, the two sides must continue to find ways to play cricket. If we can play cricket in ICC tournaments, it is odd that we cannot play bilateral matches.
How long it will take PCB to renovate stadiums in Pakistan? T20 cricket has emerged as an instant hit how you see it in Pakistan?
Upgrading our stadia is a key plan and we are working on this. You will understand that the lack of international cricket has affected the standard of our stadia but we are working on upgrading these. However, I must add that we still have full capability to organise international cricket and the entire world witnessed this with the Zimbabwe series in 2015. Our stadium entry, exit, security detailing – everything was as per international standards.
Chris Gayle and sexism in sports – is the game changing? How you see the female journalists in sport culture?
I have always been a huge proponent of women empowerment. It is great to see female journalists in sports and I am particularly pleased with the way the sports media landscape is changing in Pakistan. With the PSL taking place, you will see that this will further help in building a conducive broadcast and sports journalism environment in Pakistan.
Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a freelance sports journalist from Kashmir, who loves long-form journalism. He tweets @TahirIbnManzoor and cricket is his food