From left: Naveed Asghar CMO HBL, Abdul Rahman Falaknaz partner Dubai Sports City, Salman Iqbal, Najm Sethi, Ghazi Al Madani, Sport Tourism Manager of Dubai Sports Council and Maqbul Dudhia, Dubai Sports City general manager at the PSL launch. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/ Gulf News

Dubai: HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL), which has weathered testing times, will be the next big thing after the Indian Premier League (IPL), asserted PSL Chairman Najm Sethi during a soft launch in Dubai ahead of the tournament from February 4-23.

“It’s been a hard grind and our blood pressures have gone up and down. We were told that there’s not enough juice in the market. But we were adamant that we couldn’t keep postponing. We are determined to become the second best Twenty20 league (after the Indian Premier League) in the world,” stressed Sethi, adding that, the tournament will be the biggest development in Pakistan’s cricketing history.

A grand opening ceremony is planned where British singer Jay Sean and Pakistani actor Ali Zafar will be performing live. Some of the world’s leading cricketers of the yesteryears – Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Muttiah Muralitharan also offered their best wishes for the tournament through a video. Pakistan’s T20 skipper Shahid Afridi, Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson, former Bangladesh captain and currently No. 1 ranked ICC T20 all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and West Indian opener Chris Gayle are some of the marquee players.

PSL’s top franchise Karachi Kings’ owner, Salman Iqbal, along with Pakistan cricketers Junaid Khan, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Nawaz, Bilal Asif and Eshan Adil were also present on the occasion.

Iqbal, who is also the CEO of ARY television channel, was upbeat about the tournament and a lot of that has to do with the tremendous response he got when his team was launched back home in Karachi. “It was unbelievable and the entire national stadium was full. It actually felt like a India vs Pakistan match. Karachi has gone through so much troubled times, like so many terrorist attacks, that people actually wanted to come out and celebrate,” said Iqbal, whose team will be led by Pakistan all-rounder Shaoib Malek.

“It shows that Pakistan is still a good cricketing nation and after seeing the turnout, even our prime minister Nawaz Sharif wrote to the PCB saying that he wants one or two matches of the PSL in Pakistan,” revealed Iqbal, who was also of the view that it also was an assurance that there is still a market for T20 cricket.

“We actually managed to get a lot of sponsors. We have nine logo sponsors and we just had a month to sell and so all the franchises have accepted that in the first year we will have to incur huge losses. Karachi team being the most expensive team, I will bear the biggest loss but from next year onwards we will start to break even and start making some profit,” revealed Iqbal, whose focus for the first year is to get a strong fan base in the city.

“One aspect is to make money and the second aspect is to have a team for the city. Once the city accepts you as a team of their own then it is easier to lure the sponsors. There will be a lot of viewership and once it starts building up, we will have sponsors,” added Iqbal, who felt that the franchises will start to break even from the third year.

“I honestly think from third year we should start to break even. It’s more of a valuation game and I have spoken to some of the IPL team owners and as per them they did break even from second or third year. So we are also hoping for the same,” said Iqbal, who is based in the UAE for the last 41 years.

Another matter of concern for the PSL was the launch of the Masters Cricket League at the same time in the UAE. Though it is not an ideal situation for both these tournaments to make their debut at the same time, Iqbal was hopeful that at least the television viewership won’t be hit.

“I had an opportunity to buy a team in MCL as well. It is also a good cricketing move and more such moves are good for cricket. There will be more talent coming out. MCL is a different ball game altogether.

“PSL, IPL, Big Bash are looking to nurture talent but getting former players with a big fan following in MCL is different. Here we are looking at forming a team from a city which has over 25 million people. PSL will have its own market,” asserted Iqbal.

Pakistan batsman Alam, who is currently a part of the Paksitan ‘A’ team, was of the view that the tournament serves as a perfect opportunity for the players to take a shot at the T20 squad ahead of the forthcoming World Cup in India.

“Definitely if you do well in this tournament and get noticed the selectors will definitely be inclined to include you in the World Cup squad. I’m sure there will be many players out there who would like to do that. It is an opportunity for all of us and all want to do well,” said Alam, who is a part of the Karachi team.


Tickets box

Tickets for HBL PSL are available online to fans across the world at kyazoonga.ae/psl. Fans in UAE can also purchase tickets from branches of Al Fardaan Exchange, Karachi Darbar, Kulcha King, AJ Sports, Tandoori Junction, Sindh Punjab, TCS, and Delhi Nihari. Ticket prices for the single headers start from an extremely affordable AED 20 while tickets for play-offs, double headers, and the final start at AED 30.