Inaugural Pakistan Super League rolls into action with vibrant and dazzling opening ceremony

DUBAI: Spectacular light shows and pyrotechnics ruled the night as the inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) rolled into action with a vibrant and dazzling opening ceremony at the Dubai Sports City Stadium here on Thursday evening. The PSL, the national cricket board’s much-trumpeted T20 project, finally saw light of the day when it was launched amid fanfare, eagerness and a lot of apprehension. Shelved twice in the past three years owing to logistical and security issues, the PSL is being touted as a ground-breaking venture in the country’s cricketing history with the potential to revive the flagging fortunes of the national team and, of course, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

The players from the five teams from Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and Lahore strode out to the stadium in limos to the tune of their teams’ anthems. As the presenters introduced the teams and the captains, the loudest cheer of the night was reserved for Pakistan T20 captain Shahid Afridi. The ceremony was highlighted by performances from Pakistan actors Mohib Mirza and Sanam Saeed followed by famous musician Sean Paul and Pakistan’s actor-singer Ali Zafar. Sean who hails from Jamaica, was also joined by West Indian cricketers Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy and Jason Holder on the stage as the cricketers entertained the crowd with their other talents. The PSL is Pakistan’s first franchise-based league and has provided emerging as well as established cricketers with a lucrative opportunity to display their Twenty20 talent during the extravaganza which continues till February 24. The 19-day league – to be played in Dubai and Sharjah – comprises five franchises: Lahore Qalandars, Karachi Kings, Peshawar Zalmi, Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators. All outfits boast a fair mix of international and domestic players.

The long-awaited first edition of the Pakistan Super League follows two previous attempts that fell through over a lack of sponsorship and the suspension of international cricket at home in the wake of a militant attack on the Sri Lankan team almost seven years ago. But despite the euphoria surrounding the event, it is seen as a hastily-put-together venture that has left many questions unanswered. It is no surprise that till the day of the launch, franchise owners, media and the fans are fairly clueless about the league’s viability and its objectives. The preceding months have seen the PSL weathering a number of storms as well. This includes a nasty war of words between ex-PCB chairmen Zaka Ashraf and Najam Sethi over the brainchild issue as well as a venue imbroglio that has seen the PCB officials oscillating between Qatar and the UAE for weeks. Additionally, the mysterious absence of Sri Lankan cricketers at the players’ draft in Lahore and the selection ruckus involving senior pro Younus Khan and a few others also raised a few eyebrows.

With Pakistan’s once-dominant Twenty20 side sliding to a lowly seventh place in world rankings following a their recent series loss against New Zealand, organisers are keen for local talent to hone their skills alongside the world’s best players including Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen and Shane Watson. Featuring 69 local and 29 foreign stars, the five-team, 24-match league will be held across two stadiums in Pakistan’s “home away from home” since the 2009 terror attack. The teams were sold to private consortiums for a sum of $93 million across 10 years, with $200,000 salaries for top-tier players and relatively handsome paydays for middle-tier and emerging talent. The winning side, meanwhile, will bring home $1 million.