When Imran Khan announced last year that he wants 2020’s entire Pakistan Super League (PSL) season to be held on home soil, there were serious doubts about the practicality of the Prime Minister’s wish.
After all, Pakistan’s cricket authorities had been facing serious issues in getting foreign players to play a few matches in the country. To have them here for a whole month seemed like an impossible task.
But the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) treated Imran’s wish as their command. Now less than a year later, the fifth edition of HBL PSL will explode into action on Thursday (today) with all of its 34 matches taking place in Pakistan. It’s a big leap forward for the previously nomadic T20 League which was born at the near-empty Dubai International Stadium back in 2016.
On Thursday evening, a packed National Stadium here is likely to greet defending champions Quetta Gladiators and two-time winners Islamabad United in what is likely to be a potentially-explosive opening match of this year’s season.
The season-opening game features two of PSL’s most successful teams and should provide a befitting start to what is already being dubbed as the single biggest sporting event to be held on Pakistani soil.
That might be a tall claim considering that Pakistan have previously hosted the ICC World Cup, Hockey World Cup and World Squash Championships.
But it certainly is a breakthrough event considering that four major cricket centers of the country – Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan – will be hosting the full PSL season that will feature around three dozen foreign stars alongside the cream of Pakistan cricket.
For Pakistan, the importance of PSL exceeds far beyond its status as a major international professional league.
Initiated five years ago as Pakistan’s answer to the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL), the PSL has seen most of its actions taken place in offshore venues like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In its fifth year, the PSL has truly become PSL as it is now being fully played on Pakistani soil.
Hopes are high but apprehensions abound. The fact that the security situation in Pakistan has improved enough for a full PSL season to be held here is certainly a cause for celebration. Cricket fans across the country especially in Rawalpindi and Multan – the two cities who will be hosting PSL games for the first time – are eagerly awaiting action.
There is already a buzz about the famous Karachi-Lahore rivalry even though the two franchises – Kings and Qalandars – have mostly disappointed their fans in the last four editions.
There are also fears as Javed Afridi, the owner of Peshawar Zalmi, pointed out during a press conference held at the National Stadium on Wednesday. He urged all present to pray that the month-long event is held without any untoward incident.
Meanwhile, the six competing teams will be focused on the million-dollar prize and the glittering trophy which was unveiled at the National Stadium on Thursday in the presence of squash legend Jahangir Khan.
Quetta captained by Sarfraz Ahmed will be looking to defend their title. With players like Australia’s Shane Watson and England’s Jason Roy, the Gladiators certainly seem like a team that has the firepower to retain the coveted crown.
They have the experienced duo of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal at the top and young guns Mohammad Hasnain and Naseem Shah in their pace arsenal.
Islamabad United also consider themselves as hot favorites for the title and not without reason. They have a new captain in Shadab Khan and will be taking the field with match-winners like Luke Ronchi and Colin Munro.
They also have players like Dale Steyn and Phil Salt with former captain Misbah-ul-Haq in their dug-out as head coach.
Peshawar Zalmi, another former champions, will also be looking to add to their trophies under the captaincy of the seasoned West Indian Darren Sammy.
They have featured in the last three PSL finals, winning in 2018.
Karachi, Lahore and Multan have never won the trophy but all three of them are fancying their chances this season. Before the first toss of PSL 5 takes place, the thousands of spectators present at National Stadium and millions of TV audiences around the world will be treated to a musical spectacle during the opening ceremony.
Will the ceremony, which reportedly comes with a bill of Rs 200 million, live up to expectations remains to be seen.
Published On Public Hours February 20th, 2020