Much has been said about the benefits of the Pakistan Super League (PSL); the talent that it has unearthed, the experience and exposure that it has afforded young players and the role it has played in bringing back international cricket to the country.
So positive has the league been for Pakistan and its favourite sport that only a cynic would try and find negatives in the product. Cynics, though, are found in abundance across Pakistan. And there have been genuine questions regarding the benefits of the PSL.
The criticism levied at the PSL is that it is dividing the country — or at least has the potential to do so. By pitting player against player and city against city, it is not only causing a rift among cricketers but also among fans of the teams.
Other, more well-meaning, statements also seem to play down the importance of the league’s outcome. “It doesn’t matter who wins the league, jeet to Pakistan ki hi hogi [in the end, it is Pakistan that wins].”
But it does matter who wins the league and there is nothing wrong with supporting one team over another. It isn’t dividing the country, it isn’t unpatriotic and it does not mean you don’t care about the international team.
Rivalries between these teams are not only fine; they are beneficial for almost all parties involved. The best players have always been known to raise their game against rivals, no matter what the sport may be. They not only cope with the pressure, they thrive in it. What use is the league then if it can’t sift the good players from the best for the national team? And how can it be expected to do that if the players treat is as glorified friendlies.
The young players, too, will find it difficult to cope with the demands of international cricket if the best players in the PSL are not giving it their all. And what motivation do the likes of Shane Watson, Eoin Morgan or even Shahid Afridi have to give it their all if they are not egged on by a frenzied crowd baying for the demise of their rival teams?
The biggest victim, though, would surely be the fans. Ennui is the worst possible feeling to feel when watching any sporting event and ennui is all a fan can feel if he is told he cannot cheer the victories of his team and the defeats of his rivals. Even worse is that the fans are sure to feel robbed of a spectacle if the players are not allowed to bleed for the shirt they wear — whatever colour or badge it may sport.
Rivalries not only benefit all parties involved but also give added context and meaning to the game. Owner of newcomers Multan Sultans, Khizer Schon, revealed in an interview with The Express Tribune that his side have already chalked down their game against Lahore Qalandars as a must win. As a clash between southern and northern Punjab, he said, that match already means more to them than the other matches. That doesn’t mean they will take the other games lightly, but that when the game against Lahore comes around, they will leave everything out there on the UAE pitch.
More rivalries are sure to develop in the coming decade as clashes, perceived injustices and close games lead to bad blood between the teams. If the players or fans allow that bad blood to spill out of cricketing stadiums and into real life, then they are to blame; not the PSL, not the teams and certainly not the rivalries.
A lot is at stake during the PSL, careers can be made or reignited through it — just ask Islamabad United bowlers Shadab Khan and Rumman Raees. It is therefore natural and understandable that the players will play with their hearts on their sleeves.
It is vital to let these men, friends off the field, be at each other’s throats during matches. Cricket may be a gentleman’s game but the best of cricketers have always had the spirit of warriors within them. Let us unleash such men and enjoy the anarchy and brilliance they produce. Let there be entertainment and let there be blood.