KARACHI: March 5, 2017.
On March 5, 2017 Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, will come to an utter standstill.
In the heart of the sprawling historic city, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final will take place at the Gaddafi Stadium.
The roar of cricket will, at long last, return to the parched country. The importance of the occasion cannot be ignored, but those writing the narrative must be wary of hyperbole.
Cricket was to return to the country when Zimbabwe toured in 2015. But something felt missing at that time — a nagging feeling that somehow this wasn’t cricket at the highest level. With all due respect to that Zimbabwe side, the crowd felt slightly short-changed.
They cheered every ball like only a starving crowd can, yet in the deepest recesses of their mind they knew these weren’t the standards that they were used to seeing at the Gaddafi.
Pakistan Super League final to be played in Lahore
When the two sides, whoever they might be, clash in the PSL final, cricket will indeed return to Pakistan once again. But, as the series with Zimbabwe showed, the level of cricket that returns is just as important.
Without foreign players, many will look at the final as just another regional domestic event. Those events pass by almost by the dozen every year without the general public caring or even noticing. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) risks making the PSL its most prized asset, yet another regional domestic event if the glitz and glamour of household names such as Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, for example, is missing in the final.
Other, more cynical, people even believe rejection from the best international players would further extend Pakistan’s exile.
Yet the PCB is quietly confident of convincing at least some of the foreign players to play in the final. Certain corners are already claiming as many as 50 foreign players have agreed to play in the final. These players, whoever they might be, can be selected by the finalists in a secondary draft if the foreign players already in those two teams opt against playing in Pakistan.
With or without foreign players, PSL final will be held in Lahore
Make no mistake about it, the PCB is taking a risk of epic proportions here; on the line stands not only the finances and repute of the league but the very future of cricket in Pakistan itself. Failure here, of any sort, may well be a death knell.
But the PCB is not run by fools. They know full well the monster they have created. The PSL is no mere domestic league — it is cricket’s second-largest league.
Hosting the final in Lahore will send out a message; loud and clear. Pakistan is ready for international cricket. Manage to convince even second-tier cricketers such as Ryan McLaren and Cameron Delport to play in Pakistan and the ball may finally get rolling.
That is not to say that the big names will surely say no. Peshawar Zalmi owner Javed Afridi has claimed all of his international players are ready to play in the final if his side reaches it. This includes World T20’s only two-time winning captain Darren Sammy and Bangladesh stars Tamim Iqbal and Shakibal Hasan.
Kevin Pietersen undecided on playing in Lahore
The biggest name in the Quetta Gladiators side, the legendary Englishman Kevin Pietersen, hasn’t ruled out playing in Lahore either; saying he will make a decision only if his team reaches the final.
A game at Gaddafi featuring Darren Sammy and Kevin Pietersen may truly mark the return of cricket to the country; not to mention it opening up the possibility of all play-off matches taking place in the country next year.
Perhaps, then, it is time to bring the PSL home. Back where it belongs.