PSL Final: What was more important, the game or where it is held?
When Najam Sethi initially announced the Pakistan Cricket Board’s intentions to host the final of the second Pakistan Super League (PSL), it received critical acclaim. Everybody, fans and the administration, realised the need to eventually bring the league back home, but nothing has ever come easily to Pakistan and, similarly, the idea, though appealing seems difficult to execute.
Many things have changed since the intentions were first disclosed including an alarming shift in Pakistan’s security situation resulting from series of unpleasant acts of terrorism. Most recently, it was confirmed that the final would still be held in Lahore, with or without foreign players.
But then again, under pressure is when the Pakistan Super League management thrives and we saw that during a highly successful first edition when they were subjected to undue criticism at times and they responded by achieving even more success.
Having the final in Lahore should be considered a breakthrough moment in Pakistan’s pursuit of regaining hosting privileges in the country. However, like with all the high reward outcomes, there is an exponentially higher risk involved. Pakistan’s security situation, at this point in time, is the worst it has been in years and nobody can deny the fact that Pakistan is possibly vulnerable to more attacks in the near future.
The entire country was divided with everybody coming up with all sorts of suggestions. People had suggested shifting the final to either Karachi or Islamabad, having the final without the players who do not wish to come and holding a new draft to bring in internationals who would be willing to play in Lahore. However, it has now been confirmed that the board is sticking to its original plan.
— Wasim Akhtar (@wasimakhtar1955) February 16, 2017
To being with, it was never a matter of whether it should be held in Karachi, Islamabad or Lahore because the entire country has been jolted by these bomb blasts and every city, for the time being, is equally vulnerable. The actual problem at hand is the international players willing or unwilling to come to Pakistan for the lone match. To date, none of the players have come out and explicitly said either yes or no and, thinking from a neutral perspective, one could safely assume that in their heads they are more inclined towards the no rather than the yes.
What would the final of an international league be like without the presence of some of the stars that have played throughout the tournament? They would be placed in a situation where they are either forced to play in a country recently shaken by a series of blasts or return home without actually completing the task.
In complete fairness, it does sound unreasonable. All those people who have come out and backed the idea of having an all local players final are nowhere to be seen during other domestic matches where the same local players are playing it out with each other.
Can we not look beyond a packed stadium in Lahore and use it to gauge the success of a league? To clarify my point, I want to see cricket return to Pakistan. I have been an avid supporter of everything that the league has achieved thus far, reiterating the fact that the PSL will only uphill once it does come back. However, the sensitivity of the matter requires everything to be perfectly in place for the league to return to Pakistan.
Moreover, leaving out members that have been part of the team since day one would have its consequences on the team combination and strategising as well. An all local players final would require a complete shift in plans and potential team combinations. For example, until now we have seen Islamabad United field a power-packed top order that boasts the likes of Dwayne Smith, Sam Billings, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin. Suppose these players opt not to play the final for Islamabad. The only other two batsmen that Islamabad have sitting on the bench are Asif Ali and Hussain Talat, both of whom albeit talented are rookies who might see themselves play an all-important final with little to no game time throughout the tournament.
Furthermore, Mahela Jayewardene, Kumar Sangakarra and Chris Gayle have all refused to play the final in Lahore if Karachi Kings does qualify. As a result, Karachi might even have to appoint a new captain.
While people would see that as an opportunity for the local talent to step up and take charge, the overall quality of the game would take a serious hit and the final may be remembered as a major coup in terms of the return to Pakistan, but the actual plot would be lost somewhere in between, which is playing your best team and playing the best cricket.
Moreover, if the Pakistan Super League does somehow manage to rope in players who are willing to play the final in Lahore, chances are extremely high that they will be third tier players who have remained far away from top flight cricket for most part of their careers, which again would be a compromise on the overall quality of cricket being. Names that have been making rounds over social media are disappointing to say the least. Franchises will be left with little to no team to actually allow these new players to gel in with the team and the end result could look choppy.
To sum up my point, that will be taken in a negative sense by many – the fans, the administration and anybody for that matter who may be even remotely interested in PSL should not have made playing the final in Lahore an ego issue.
For cricket to return to Pakistan the timing needs to be perfect and, at the moment, it is far from it. Need I remind that, as a cricketing nation that has been deprived of cricket for the past eight years, we cannot afford anymore slip-ups that have even the remotest of potential to take our cricket and chances of hosting international matches again another 10 years back.
Best of luck to the Pakistan Super League management for the final.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.