Kolkata: For Pakistan Super League (PSL), it was a triumph against all odds to conclude the second leg of the sixth edition in Abu Dhabi on Friday night. The air of uncertainty was palpable when the league had to be suspended midway in Karachi in March after a number of positive cases of COVID-19 were detected among the players - and the choc-a-bloc international calendar throughout the year meant they had to come up with a Plan B in the month of June, but not later.
The UAE, which had been the ‘home’ for Pakistan’s international fixtures for over a decade from 2009, seemed almost an automatic choice for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) who quietly started doing the spadework to host the remaining 20 matches in the UAE capital. Senior officials of the franchises were unanimous about the gesture from the UAE government for their cooperation - along with a all the logistical support from the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and Abu Dhabi Cricket.
The teams and their support staff started camping in Abu Dhabi from the third week of May as the tournament was scheduled initially for a June 3 start. However, a number of logistical issues over the travel plans of the broadcasting crew, who were supposed to be taking two chartered flights from India and South Africa to the UAE, delayed their release of fixtures and the start of the event had to be pushed back by a few days.
Moving onto on-field action, it was heartening to see a new champion in Multan Sultans. Lacking in so-called star power that some of the other franchises boasted, Multan’s stirring show was based on solid contributions from homegrown talents like captain and Pakistan international Mohammed Rizwan and Shoaib Maqsood, who were second and third highest scorers in the tournament with aggregate of 500 and 428 runs, respectively. Shahnawaz Dhawani, the lanky right-arm paceman from Sindh, was their wrecker-in-chief and highest wicket-taker in the league with 20 scalps - with a record haul of four wickets for five runs against Lahore Qalandars.
While there were a fair share of marquee names in franchises like Lahore Qalandars (Rashid Khan), Quetta Gladiators (Faf du Plessis, Andre Russell), Islamabad United (Colin Munro & Usman Khawaja), not all of them could do justice to their reputations. Quetta, however, were unfortunate as both their overseas stalwarts - Du Plessis and Russell - were felled by short balls and could not be a part of the tournament anymore.
The former South African captain’s case was particularly worrisome as he admitted of suffering a concussion and a short term memory lapse - and one only hopes that the strongman of Proteas’ cricket is back in action soon.
The duo of New Zealander Munro and Khawaja, the out-of-favour Australian opener, showed their class off and on for Islamabad United but could not take the team to the final - being done in by Peshawar Zalmi in the second qualifier. Khawaja, who scored one of the two centuries in the tournament (105 not out) in their league game against the same opposition, can be quite a delight once he gets going.
A last word before one signs off on this year’s PSL - one cannot help but feel sorry for the gifted strokemaker Babar Azam. The Pakistan skipper’s form before the England tour must have been a welcome augury for the as the mainstay of Karachi Kings’ batting emerged the topscorer of the edition with 554 runs from 11 innings - comprising of seven silken half-centuries and an enviable average of 69.25.
All that, however, failed to take the Kings past the Eliminator - thus maintaining the tradition of no team being able to defend their title in PSL so far.