Kolkata: The franchise owners of the six-year-old Pakistan Super League (PSL) can, much like the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), look at their journey with a great deal of satisfaction. From a tentative start at their second home in the UAE with four teams in 2015, it has become one of the most vibrant T20 franchise leagues now - and one of the most high profile owners thanked his counterparts for the way they have stuck through thick and thin.
‘‘We have worked very hard to bring PSL where it is today,’’ says Salman Iqbal, owner of defending champions Karachi Kings and a media baron. ‘‘We are now the second largest league in the world as the Indian Premier League (IPL) has to be the biggest. In the Big Bash, the teams belong to the board and not to any private ownership like us,’’ he said during an exclusive interview with Gulf News on zoom.
‘‘It’s been a very, very interesting journey for all the franchise owners, especially the first four of us who started it six years back. After starting it in the UAE, we kept thinking that for the PSL to be a real success, it has to be brought to Pakistan where we eat and sleep cricket. We, along with Najm Sethi, the earlier PCB chairman, worked very hard to bring the league here,’’ Iqbal said from Karachi.
What gives the likes of Iqbal an extra sense of satisfaction is the role PSL played in ending the cricketing isolation of sorts for Pakistan - which has seen the likes of South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh touring the country once again after a decade-long gap.
‘‘PSL played a huge role in bringing back international cricket to Pakistan as we follow the same security protocol which is followed in international cricket here. When we first moved to Lahore to host the two semi-finals and final, we could hardly bring overseas cricketers. Kumar Sangakkara was the captain of Lahore Qalandars, but we had to relieve him from that match against Peshwar Zalmi as he was one of the players who were on that bus in 2009. Lahore had to hence get a new captain,’’ he recalled.
Last year, pandemic struck the league at the fag-end when the two semi-finals and final had to be postponed indefinitely after a suspected case of COVID-19 in one of the camps. ‘‘It was a big decision last year when we couldn’t play the last three matches, but the league could be finally finished with Karachi winning their first title,’’ he said with an air of pride. ‘‘This time, the going had been smooth so far and the SoPs at the stadium are amazing. The fans are being scattered around the stadium with no huddles,’’ he said.
‘‘Some of the biggest names of the game had been part of our league, like Chris Gayle, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn or Rashid Khan...the England white ball captain Eoin Morgan had also come once. I remember how it was we bought the teams, there were a lot of negative vibes - including people in the media - who doubted if we could have the league up and running. Today, every big businessmen in Pakistan now wants to buy a PSL team,’’ he added with a laugh.
What could be the areas of improvement? ‘‘Now we would like to bring the revenue stream where we would like to be and break even,’’ Iqbal signed off.