Cricket in Pakistan is more than a sport, it is a way of life. Not only is it the most played sport in Pakistan, it is also perhaps the only sport left in which Pakistan has achieved moderate success. The Pakistan hockey team has receded to new lows of performance, and no one stepped up to succeed Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. Cricket is truly the last bastion of sporting excellence in Pakistan. Cricket in the country has suffered in the past decade but things are slowly improving.
The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on the morning of the 3rd of March 2009 marked a dark day in Pakistani history. The idea that cricket had been impervious to the deteriorating security situation was shattered and the Pakistani Cricket Board was given a rude reality check. The safety of international teams touring Pakistan was questioned and Pakistani fans were deprived of international cricket for nearly a decade.
What followed in the next year was the spot-fixing scandal of 2010 in which Salman Butt, Muhammad Asif, and Muhammad Amir were convicted of conspiring to fix a cricket match against England during their tour of England. In one fell swoop, Pakistan lost its captain and its two best bowlers. Devoid of a leader, and forced to play cricket away from the passionate fans back home, the Pakistan team watched as cricket leagues such as the Big Bash League and the Indian Premier League sprung up around the globe, hugely increasing revenue that their boards received and providing the kind of player growth young Pakistani cricketers were starved of.
Other cricketing boards are spending millions, organizing domestic tournaments such as the Indian Premier League, to help their teams improve, allocating resources for the provision of specialists such as nutritionists, psychologists, and multiple physiotherapists. Pakistan has not had the resources to provide any of these facilities and therefore the Pakistani cricketers are at a great disadvantage before they even step out onto the field.
In 2016, the first edition of the Pakistan Super League was held, with all the matches being played in the UAE. The League was a success with a host of foreign stars participating, immense fan turnout and significant revenue being collected. No matches could take place in Pakistan however, which was an aim that the PCB tried to build towards. In the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Pakistan Super League all matches except the finals were again played in the UAE, with the finals being held in Lahore and Karachi respectively. The concern was that due to the extraordinary security arrangements needed for the games to take place a larger number of games was impossible to host. This challenge was overcome successfully during the 2019 edition when 8 games were held in Karachi without incident.
In the aftermath of this year’s tournament, PCB chairman Ehsan Mani was quoted as saying “PCB’s credibility has hit a new level” while ICC chief David Richardson said that the perception of Pakistan being a dangerous country has changed ‘slowly but surely’. Almost 40 players took part in the Pakistani leg of the tournament this year, the warmth with which they were received and the security they were provided are encouraging signs for the PCB’s plan to host the entire Pakistan Super League in Pakistan next year.
The success of the Pakistan Super League has bought huge economic benefit to Pakistani cricket, with nearly 200,000 people watching the matches live in Karachi this year and nearly 150 million people watching the games on TV according to PCB chairman Mani. Selling the rights to the 6 teams that currently participate in the League, as well as the television rights and sponsorships that the tournament has obtained has led to the PCB generating significant revenue that can be used to revamp the crumbling domestic cricket structure in Pakistan.
The League also provided young Pakistani cricketers a chance to blossom while playing alongside some of the best players around the world. Players like Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Fakhar Zaman and Asif Ali all came to prominence on the back of significant success in the Pakistan Super League. A number of these players went on to form the core of the Pakistan side that won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017, beating rivals India in the final by a substantial margin. It was exactly this player development that had been missing in Pakistani cricket for so long, and the fruits that the League continues to bear can be seen in the development of new players every year and the improvement of Pakistan’s ranking in international cricket.
In a country where a winning captain is held in such esteem that he goes on to become the Prime Minister of the country, where Shahid Afridi is a more renowned and well-known figure than ex-President Mamnoon Hussain or President Arif Alvi, it is a shame that Pakistani fans were deprived of what had become a lifeline that distracted from the troubles of their daily lives. The Pakistan Super League has succeeded in bringing back cricket to the abandoned stadiums in Pakistan and spectators have reciprocated by flocking to the matches in tens of thousands. Once more the national anthem thunders around the stadium before every game as thousands of eyes are transfixed upon the players in front of them while millions watch at home. The League has rejuvenated Pakistani cricket and provided an excellent stepping stone to build upon for the Pakistani national team in upcoming tournaments such as the World Cup scheduled to be held this year. Pakistani fans will wait with bated breath for the next time their heroes perform and look towards next year when hopefully all Pakistan Super League matches will be held in various venues around the country, greeting them with the same fervor they have always done.