International cricket has returned to Pakistan despite the machinations of some neighbours. The residents of Karachi and Lahore are particularly inconvenienced by this development but consider it a small price to pay in the interest of the game.
The ongoing season of the Pakistan Super League bears a symbolic significance as it marks the revival of international cricket in the country. With its sixth instalment, the franchise T20 cricket league is taking place for the second time on home soil. It is difficult to view this fact as anything other than a commendable achievement, especially after the long drought of international cricket in the country. Paralyzed by a spate of militancy and security breaches, Pakistan cricket has fought an endless battle for survival.
Cricket aficionados in Pakistan have been unable to forget the events of March 3, 2009, when 12 gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team to Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. The attack marked the beginning of a tumultuous period for cricket in Pakistan. Amid mounting concerns about security dynamics, international cricket teams were advised against planning tours to the country. As a result, scores of zealous cricket fans in Pakistan were left disappointed as international cricket was abruptly suspended.
In addition, Pakistan found itself in a tight spot in the global sphere. In April 2009, the International Cricket Council removed Pakistan as a host for the 2011 World Cup. Domestic cricket also reached a plateau as most home matches were held in the UAE between 2009 and 2016, and the team’s performance remained abysmal. In the Cricket World Cup 2015, Pakistan witnessed a humiliating defeat at the hands of Australia in the quarter-finals and subsequently faced the worst defeat in its cricketing history when it was beaten by Bangladesh in Asia Cup in 2018.
At a time when Pakistan cricket was at low ebb on home soil, PSL acted as a catalyst in bringing international cricket back to the country. As expected, this herculean task could only be achieved gradually. In 2019, the T20 league decided to leave the comfort of a distant stadium in the UAE and host a match in Karachi. The move gained widespread approbation and large crowds thronged Karachi’s National Stadium to become spectators to a rare cricket match. An editorial published in The News on March 10, 2019 stated that the pit stop in Karachi allowed the PSL to undergo a “instant transformation”. The decision to host the match on home soil served as an ever-present testament to the fact that the PSL had to permanently relocate to Pakistan in order to ensure its long-term viability and success. At the time, any plans to relocate the T20 league remained largely unpopular among foreign players as it wasn’t easy to alter perceptions about Pakistan’s security crisis. Many international players who were associated with PSL, such as the South African master blaster AB de Villiers, voiced reservations about travelling to Pakistan to play cricket.
Undeterred by scepticism, the PSL organisers decided to host all 34 matches of the fifth instalment of the cricket carnival in Pakistan. This was a critical step that was praised by one and all. An editorial comment published in Dawn on January 19, 2020 lauded the decision as an attempt to “further enhance Pakistan’s status as a safe country following the return of Test cricket to home soil after almost a decade”.
Over time, the PSL has soared to new heights and attracted a wider viewership. With each season, the T20 league has drawn players from South Africa, Australia, England, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh who have enriched its scope with their many talents. However, the platform’s achievements cannot be reduced to merely roping in foreign players. Much to the astonishment of sceptics, T20 leagues affect the techniques of batsmen. The PSL has enigmatically churned out some fine batting stars such as Khushdil Shah, Haider Ali and Zeeshan Ashraf. With its subsequent seasons, the PSL must make a concerted attempt to continue fostering home-grown talent and broaden the team’s proficiency in the sport.
In the past, the PSL has attracted copious controversies and its organizers have often been criticized for a diverse spectrum of reasons. Be that as it may, the PSL has provided a platform that can allow Pakistan cricket to break free from the morass it found itself in following the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.