KARACHI: Peshawar has had its share of being in the news for all the wrong reasons in the past few years but that has changed in recent months, with the city now showing signs of recovering from the damaging effects that came along with the war on terrorism.
That recovery also saw the rise of a venture which came to the fore with much anticipation and played a crucial role in shepherding the cricketing fan-base in the city; Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise Peshawar Zalmi.
Zalmi made the loudest bang among all the teams in the PSL and soon boasted a strong fan-following on the back of star signings such as Shahid Afridi and Darren Sammy, both of whom played a crucial role in the team’s journey to the playoffs in the first edition and then the final in the second.
While that was what was happening on the pitch, Zalmi have been quite active off it as well.
Franchise owner Javed Afridi, while talking to The Express Tribune, talks about how Zalmi have been focusing on the development of cricket in the country and how their main aim is to give more chances to the youth.
“We were actually active even before the PSL started and conducted a talent hunt through the Peshawar Zalmi Foundation (PZF) which was formed with the sole aim of empowering the youth and working on their development and I can tell you that we have achieved many of our targets since its inception,” he said, before talking about how the foundation has identified youngsters and ensured they get the best training available.
“We identified youngsters through the talent hunt and worked on them and I am proud to say that many of them have represented Pakistan at the U19 level,” he said. “We also send these youngsters to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore to make sure they get the facilities to improve their game and have also helped a lot of them financially so they can focus more on the game as many of these players come from not-so-resourceful backgrounds.”
Talking about the ‘100 pitches’ initiative, Afridi said: “We know that most of the players in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) don't have even the most basic of facilities to pursue professional cricket, so we are not only providing pitches but proper nets as well and that too in remote areas. We have estimated that around 10,000 players will benefit from these facilities.”
Unlike other franchises, Zalmi’s player development programme doesn’t stop at men alone as they have been working to allow female players to pick up the sport professionally and even got them to train in NCA as well.
“The betterment of women’s cricket is equally important to us and we believe they need serious attention,” said Afridi. “PZF had brought young girls from K-P and trained them at NCA with Zalmi players to boost their confidence. We believe our women have a lot of potential and all they need is a healthy environment to pursue sports.”
Zalmi were also the first franchise to start their own tournament — the Zalmi World Cup in the UAE — and talking about how the team used the tournament as a platform to select players, Afridi said: “I strongly believe in sports diplomacy and that is why we organised the Zalmi World Cup. The Global Zalmi team includes players from different countries and has players who performed well in the tournament. We have three emerging players from Pakistan in this team which will be part of every playing 11.”
Zalmi, along with Lahore Qalandars, are the only PSL franchises to feature teams in the upcoming Global T20 League in South Africa with the Peshawar outfit going by the name of Benoini Zalmi in the African league, and Afridi has some special plans for the young players.
“Taking players from Pakistan to South Africa is amazing as the players now get to share the dressing room with international players on a more frequent basis. This will not only boost their confidence, but will also allow them to become better players and learn advanced techniques from some of the best players in the world,” he said before adding that the team plans to bring more South African players to Pakistan as well.