How Pakistan Super League transformed Pakistan Cricket's limited overs fortunes
When Mohammad Sami gifted a couple of no balls to give Bangladesh a free ticket to the final of Asia Cup T20 2016, Pakistan got eliminated from the tournament. Pakistan had won only 3 of their last 10 T20Is with the wins coming against Zimbabwe and UAE. It was the lowest point in Pakistan's T20 history.
In the World T20 that followed the Asia Cup, Pakistan again endured an early exit as then beat Bangladesh and but lost the other 3 matches. That was followed by the retirement of then captain, and one of Pakistan's most beloved cricketer, Shahid Afridi. Waqar Younis, who was the coach at that time also resigned from his job and the resignation followed an extensive report on why Pakistan performed so badly in the two major events.
Shahid Afridi said that the reason for their poor showing was the result of Pakistan not producing talent which international cricket demands. So a country which is known of having opulent raw talent and which is known to unearth highly skillful cricketers time in and time out was rated by their captain as having no talent at all. What could get more worrisome than that?
“We say there is big talent in Pakistan, but sorry, there is no talent,” he said. “There is no such level of talent which the cricket world demands right now.''
Depicting their poor run in T20 format were the ICC T20I rankings, where Pakistan was reeling at number 9 spot. Pakistan had slumped to such a low that the only way they could move was up. But to get out of such depths, some effort was required, on administrative as well as cricketing grounds.
And then it happened, Pakistan Super League was introduced. Though the first edition of PSL had already taken place before the Asia Cup T20 and World T20, the ripple effects of PSL started appearing when Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif hammered the English bowlers to all parts of the ground to give Pakistan their first win after the World T20 and that too against the World T20 finalists.
In Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan found a capable leader. It was his first assignment of leading the international team, and it marked a start of a splendid era in which Sarfraz's Pakistan did not lose a T20 series for nearly 3 years.
The second edition of PSL provided Pakistan with some stand out performers. The teenage sensation, Shadab Khan was introduced, who quickly made his mark with his variations and confidence, for instance, Yuvraj Singh's dismissal in the Champions Trophy final. Hasan Ali came in as a genuine wicket-taking option and became the leading wicket-taker in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
Fakhar Zaman, with his swashbuckling style, came into the spotlight in the same season and scored the counter-attacking hundred to crush Indian dreams of defending their Champions Trophy crown. Rumman Raees also rose into prominence and was more than handy when Pakistan blew away England in the semi-final of the same tournament.
All these youngsters combined to give Sarfraz Ahmed the trophy in his very first ICC event as captain. It may be argued that he already lead Pakistan U-19 to world cup glory, but his leading skills blossomed when he captained Quetta Gladiators to two successive PSL finals. After all, what can boost your confidence more than leading a side which includes international stars like Kevin Pietersen, Rilee Rossow, and Thisara Perera, to name a few.
The 2018 edition of PSL threw Hussain Talat, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Asif Ali to the biggest stage. Hussain Talat, the Islamabad United all-rounder made an immediate impact when he smashed a fifty against West Indies and helped Pakistan win the series against them. Asif Ali and Shaheen Afridi are yet to get significant chances to make a mark at the international stage.
Just three years old PSL has already provided Pakistan's limited overs cricket a new dimension, a new charisma, a new and successful captain, and most of all a bucket full of talented youngsters who already have guided Pakistan to Champions Trophy and number 1 spot in T20I rankings.
There may be more lucrative T20 leagues in the world, leagues with much more financial incentives, leagues with a much better quality of cricket, but no other league can boast of providing such a talent to the international stage in such a short span of time.
Most of the other T20 leagues primarily provide huge profits to the host nation. PSL cannot even dream of this because it is staged outside the home nation, so only thing it can provide is talent. Now to shape a country's cricketing future is money more important or talent? It's anybody's guess.
When Alastair Evans edged to Sarfraz to give Faheem Ashraf his third wicket of the match, that also gave Pakistan their 7th consecutive T20I win, their 7th consecutive T20I series and 19 wins in 22 games they played after World T20 2016. That also helped them keep their record of not having lost a T20I series in three years alive and in the process help them gain the top spot in the T20I Rankings and give Pakistan one of their highest points in T20 history.
To rise from the lowest point to the highest point, such that you don't even lose a series in between, nothing helped Pakistan cricket more than the PSL.