PSL 9: Turbulent Trajectory and Emerging Talents Set the Stage!

  • 24 Feb - 01 Mar, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Sports

The official anthem for the ninth season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), named Khul ke Khel, has been formally unveiled by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). It showcases the dynamic collaboration of singers Ali Zafar and Aima Baig. Crafted by Zafar, this lively anthem is designed to encapsulate the enthusiasm and intensity of cricket that characterises PSL. The anthem for HBL PSL 2024, which emphasises on overcoming fear and living boldly, is jousting for position in the playlist of the league fans; the story on the pitch, however, is a shade gray.

Trophy Unveiling
On a misty morning at Lahore's Jilani Park, the PSL revealed its trophy for the ninth season. PCB chairman, Mohsin Naqvi interacted with each of the six captains and franchise owners. While there wasn't a strict dress code, the attire leaned towards a mysterious-casual style. Shan Masood, Babar Azam and Shadab Khan opted for their team jerseys; Shaheen Shah Afridi sported a Lahore Qalandars hoodie, Mohammad Rizwan's attire was appropriate, and Sarfaraz Ahmed dress appeared notably sharp, though lacking the Quetta Gladiators logo. Qalandars team owner Sameen Rana, in a tracksuit, appeared to have interrupted a morning run to present the trophy to Naqvi.
It marked a departure from the extravagant displays of earlier years. In 2017, then-chairman Najam Sethi orchestrated an event resembling a gemstone craftsmanship convention masquerading as a cricketing occasion, reaching the pinnacle of ostentatious opulence. The "Spirit Trophy" was adorned with 50,000 double-pointed Swarovski crystals, inspired by the brilliance of the universe.
The ideal trophy unveiling might lie between these extremes, but while 2017 embodied Pakistan's optimistic fervor for the PSL, 2024 reflects the league's evolving trajectory. The early PSL seasons captured the hope and excitement of a new audience for Pakistani cricket, featuring T20 luminaries like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Kevin Pietersen, Brendon McCullum, Sunil Narine, and AB de Villiers. The tournament played a pivotal role in ending Pakistan's cricket-hosting drought, with the 2017 final in Lahore created an electrifying atmosphere.

PSL at Crossroads
As the BBL lost some appeal, the PSL subtly positioned itself as the second-largest T20 league after the IPL, and various metrics supported this claim. Returning entirely to Pakistan, the league consistently filled stadiums, especially for evening matches. Fan engagement and team loyalties organically flourished, offering a passionate connection few leagues could match. The emphasis on ball dominance over bat, with fewer runs per match from 2016 to 2019, provided a unique product compared to the high-scoring spectacles seen in other leagues. A quick look at the international participants this year serves as a reminder that the PSL's growth isn't always steady, and its progress can't be assumed.
The platinum overseas category selections included Jordan Cox, Daniel Sams, an aging Kieron Pollard, Rassie van der Dussen, David Willey, Noor Ahmad, and Sherfane Rutherford. Noor has already withdrawn, and the absentee list grows daily, with Rashid Khan, Reece Topley, Lungi Ngidi, Jamie Overton, and Tim Seifert all unavailable. Van der Dussen and Tabraiz Shamsi are partially present, creating a roster that lacks the expected quality for the second-largest cricket league.
Board-level dysfunction exacerbates the situation. Since the beginning of 2021, three PSL seasons and five PCB chairmen have unfolded. The ill-fated Pakistan Junior League venture and fleeting considerations of a women's league, culminating in three exhibition matches, further contribute to the sense of instability.
External factors beyond PCB’s control add to the precarious moment for the PSL. The recent general elections on February 8, amid a politically charged atmosphere, have captivated public attention and media platforms. Consequently, the PSL has slipped under the radar, receiving minimal mainstream media coverage as the aftermath of the elections continues without a clear resolution in sight.
The PSL faces more significant challenges than just unfortunate timing. In its inaugural year in 2016, the February-March window offered a relatively uncluttered calendar, allowing players to use it as a tune-up for the IPL or make cases for the T20 Blast and CPL. Starting in the UAE provided a soft launch, garnering positive reception when eventually shifting to Pakistan.
However, the emergence of the SA20 and ILT20 leagues has cornered the PSL. Owned by IPL stakeholders, Adani, and Glazer, these leagues overshadow the PSL financially, making the late winter window busier. From mid-February to mid-March, the PSL struggles for space in the calendar, losing the flexibility it had in 2022.
Originally set for February 8, the PSL's start was adjusted due to ILT20 running till February 17, extending the tournament into March, coinciding with Ramzan. The lunar calendar shift means this clash persists for the next half-decade. Despite considering a move to January, the PSL now contends with a three-way tie for players' attention.
Scheduling issues aside, the SA20 and ILT20 offer higher salaries, with South Africa and the UAE remaining more attractive than Pakistan. Despite safety improvements, security concerns persist, and Pakistan faces challenges competing with these countries on non-cricketing factors. Top players find it easier to skip the PSL if they have SA20 or ILT20 contracts before, and/or an IPL deal to follow. In just 14 months, the PSL has shifted from the second-largest T20 league globally to the third-largest in February.
The proximity of the IPL after the PSL has led players to prioritise caution, with instances like Topley being withdrawn due to a niggle from the SA20. Players aim to stay fit for the IPL and subsequent events like the T20 World Cup. The PCB's plans to address these challenges remain unclear, with the new chairman, Naqvi, having just started his role, while juggling responsibilities as the caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab.
Financial challenges persist, and the PCB's recent actions indicate a lack of seriousness in addressing them. The PSL appears to be navigating turbulence without clear leadership, facing headwinds from both sides, and, for now, the only option is to weather the storm. In this context, concerns over the sartorial choices of PSL captains suddenly pale in comparison to the broader challenges the league is confronting.