KARACHI: Islamabad United owner Ali Naqvi is confident his side will impress in the third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), saying that they are much stronger now than what they were during a disappointing second campaign.
“Every team will suffer if they are shorn of their four first-team players,” he said, while talking to The Express Tribune. “We were without two important batsmen, one frontline pacer and one of the world’s best all-rounders in Andre Russell so it was understandable that we were devoid of any sort of balance. Due to the situation we found ourselves in, we had to shore up our batting by playing foreign batsmen. That meant a bowler like Samuel Badree could not be played.”
This time around, though, Naqvi promises things will be different. “This time around, our team is much more balanced,” he said. “Andre is going to be back. Plus our openers, our middle-order and our all-rounders are some of the best around and our bowling, which was already good, has gotten better. This is a very competitive league but we have a very well-knit and balanced group and our coaches are very passionate so we will do well.”
Swapping Wasim for Waqar
Islamabad lost their coach Wasim Akram to Multan Sultans but promptly replaced the left-armer with fellow Sultan of Swing Waqar Younis, and Naqvi believes the acquisition of Waqar heralds exciting times.
“The two W’s are both greats. With Wasim we had a great time but it’s natural that players and coaches swap teams, especially as the league expands. Waqar is incredibly passionate and serious about grooming young coaches so hopefully we will be able to use that to our advantage.”
Focus on youth
Naqvi also revealed that the team feels a certain sense of responsibility towards Pakistan’s young leg-spin sensation Shadab Khan.
“We feel very proud of Shadab and also feel responsible for him,” he said. “He has done really well and his rise has been remarkable but let’s not forget that he is only 19. We need to make sure he can realise his potential in the long run. He can serve the country for the next two decades.”
Shadab, though, isn’t the only youngster in the Islamabad roster and Naqvi says they concentrate on youngsters. “The franchises need to groom the players that we can, especially the likes of Shadab and (Peshawar Zalmi pacer) Hasan Ali. We are also very excited about Rumman Raees and Hussain Talat. We also have in line the likes of Sahabzada Farhan and Rohail Nazir, who will hopefully become more relevant in PSL4 or 5.”
Naqvi also threw his weight behind the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) decision to manage every player’s workload but called for balance. “There are two drivers here; one is that the players become financially secure because before the PSL, financial security outside of the top 30 players was not very good,” he said. “The second is that you have to ensure that the players do not suffer from mental and physical fatigue. I agree that there should be some sort of balance between the two extremes so that both parties are happy.”
Islamabad’s defence of their inaugural PSL title went up in tatters after three of their players — Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif and Muhammad Irfan — were all suspended for their role in the spot-fixing scandal that shook the second edition.
Naqvi praised the remaining players for the way they responded to that situation. “When you are playing for a franchise then it is very easy to lose focus,” he said. “You’re not playing for a cause or for your national team here, you’re playing for money only so it’s easy for the team to become divided. However, that didn’t happen with us. The players remained together and are still incredibly closely knit. We fought till the last match. In fact, I’d say our performances exceeded expectations.”
Naqvi also hailed skipper Misbahul Haq for his role in ensuring the team stayed together. “How your leader reacts to adversity has a huge impact on the team,” he said. “Everyone looks up to Misbah and the young kids went into shock when they were first told about it. The way Misbah, Dean Jones and Wasim Akram acted helped the team a lot. Misbah was superb both on and off the pitch and has helped us a lot.”
‘PSL’s return to Pakistan only a matter of time’
The Islamabad United owner expressed his delight at this year’s final being held in Karachi. “Karachi is a very proud city with a long cricketing history and it’s great that the final is taking place there this time around,” he said. “Hopefully, in the upcoming few seasons, we can have the PSL in several cities of the country.”
Naqvi also urged the board to take a bigger leap of faith next time around. “Next year, we should have 10 matches in Pakistan,” he said. “We need to go from three to 10 to 20 to 30. If we go 3-5-8-10 then it will take us an entire decade to completely bring the PSL to Pakistan. The growth should be exponential.”
The business tycoon admitted that not all players will agree to coming to Pakistan but felt that the league can continue without them. “Those who want to come should come and those who don’t want to come can be replaced,” he said. “The league is now established enough to survive this. Confidence will grow slowly. Now, with the arrival of the World XI and the Sri Lanka team, more players will be willing to come to Pakistan.”
Naqvi also revealed that they will be trying to convince Islamabad United players to come to Pakistan. “This time around during the draft, all players had a column in which it said whether they were willing to come to Pakistan or not,” he said. “So the franchises already had an idea which players will come to Pakistan. Then during the six weeks in the UAE, we will work on them too. Dean Jones came to Pakistan and played cricket in the Badshahi Mosque without any security. Our players will see that and realise that the situation isn’t as bad as it is made out to be.”
Islamabad’s welcome selection headache
Naqvi said the wealth of talent present in Islamabad’s squad means they will find it difficult to select a playing XI.
“We have several players for several positions,” he said. “We have some very good youngsters as well and I won’t swap any of my players.”
However, he did admit that he has a favourite player from each team. “[Quetta Gladiator batsman] Kevin Pietersen is a phenomenal player; when he is hitting the ball, his hits are unbelievable,” he said, a hint of a smile crossing his face as he reminisced about the Englishman’s assault against Peshawar Zalmi. “From Lahore Qalandars I think Yasir Shah is incredibly talented. I love his style. From Karachi, Muhammad Amir is great. I hope he will regain his old flamboyance back as it seems that he has lot a bit of that ever since he has returned. In Peshawar, I love Sammy’s character but Hasan Ali is great for cricket; he is not only talented but he also has a great personality and you need such players to popularise the game. From Multan, I would pick our old boy Irfan since I really like him.”
Praise for the PSL
While the PCB has received criticism from several quarters over the PSL, Naqvi had nothing but praise for the board.
“For most people this is a case of the glass being half empty or half full, but had it not been for the PCB then the glass would not have existed in the first place,” he said, before taking a slight break to shift on his seat. “The first PSL was organised with missionary zeal. Everyone was involved; the media, the PCB, the franchises, the players, the fans. It was as if the entire nation had a point to prove.”
He added that there are a few things that the PCB needs to do or continue doing if the PSL is to thrive and improve.
“First and foremost they need to continue ensuring that no illegal elements creep into the league,” said Naqvi. “They did so very well in the second edition, much to the detriment of our team, and they need to continue doing that. There cannot be any compromise on that. It needs to continue being zero tolerance.”
Naqvi further urged the PCB to focus on broadcasting rights. “The centralised revenue pool needs to be sold in the most effective way,” he said. “If the PCB has to work on one thing then it is to ensure that media rights are sold properly. That is vital for the sustainability of the league. Everything is economics and if the league needs to continue generating money if it is to remain successful. These two are the most important things; minor issues and teething problems will keep popping up but as long as the board handles reputational and financial risks properly, the league will hopefully continue to be a success.”