Cricket has a rich history in Middle-East, particularly in the United Arab Emirates. The country has become a home away from home for Pakistan’s National Cricket Team following the attacks on the Sri Lankan side in Lahore. Pakistan currently uses Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium in Dubai and Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in Sharjah for its international games.
Yesteryears of Sharjah:
The Sharjah Cricket Stadium holds the ‘Guinness World Record’ for hosting the most number of One-Day International matches (218). The first Sharjah Cup was played at Sharjah in 1986-87, it was a quadrangular tournament with Pakistan, India, Australia, and England being the participants, the tournament was won by England on the basis of a higher net run-rate. In fact some of the best performances by cricketers have come at Sharjah. It was at Sharjah that Sachin Tendulkar took Shane Warne to the cleaners, the clash between these two maestros is still fondly remembered as ‘Desert Storm’. Or who can forgot the bravado of Pakistan’s Javed Miandad, he hit India’s Chetan Sharma for a six when it mattered the most, sealing the match with a shot that made him a national hero and a subject many folklore songs. It was Sharjah that brought the best out of the bowlers such as Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, the speedster Shoaib Akhtar, Muttiah Muralitharan, and West Indian ace bowler Courtney Walsh among others. Whereas in the batting department stroke makers such as Sri Lankan marauder Sanath Jayasuriya, West Indian Brian Lara, India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Pakistan’s Inzamam ul Haq among others have enthralled spectators with their blitzkriegs.
International cricket in Pakistan came to grinding halt in 2009 when the touring Sri Lankan national side became the target of a terrorist attack outside the famed Gaddafi Stadium of Lahore. Only the minnow cricketing nation Zimbabwe has toured Pakistan since, the tour happened last year in May after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) provided financial guarantees worth US$12500 to each Zimbabwean player part of the touring squad.
Given the kind of talent Pakistan has produced over the decades in both bowling and batting departments of the game and also the fanatical following of the game in the country, the cricketing administration quickly needed to find an alternate ‘home’ for their cricket team. Although it is sad to see such a talented cricketing nation not being able to host the big-wigs of cricketing world in its home grounds, the fact remains that Pakistan Cricket team has turned UAE into an impenetrable fort, the success of the Pakistan’s cricket in UAE in the recent years is romantically reminiscent of the its supremacy in Sharjah in the yesteryears.
Since 2009, Pakistan has played a total of 9 test-series in UAE and won 5 of those against stalwarts of test cricket such as England and Australia. Under the pragmatic leadership of Captain Misbah ul Haq Pakistan’s strong performance at its ‘second-home’ earned it the top spot in the Test rankings, however briefly. The record of Pakistan in International T20s (20-over each side game) in UAE has been impressive too, having registered wins against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka among others.
No International cricket matches to host in Pakistan meant a fast diminishing stream of revenue for the country’s cricketing body and more importantly no way fast-track fresh talent into the national side. However, the emergence of T20 cricketing leagues around the world changed the dynamics of the game forever, at least in financial terms. The biggest league currently is held in India titled as Indian Premier League, however, Pakistani players have not been allowed to play in it after its first edition, which posed a fresh set of problems for both the players as well as the cricket management of the country. PCB finally seems to have found an answer to their headaches as they came up with their own T20 league ambitiously named as the ‘Pakistan Super League’.
The league consists of five franchises, which nominally represent most prominent cities of Pakistan. The teams are quirkily titled as:
The first edition of the league was organised from 4th February 2016 to 23rd February 2016, with all 24 matches hosted at UAE’s Dubai and Sharjah cricket stadiums, although it was initially announced that the matches would be hosted in Doha. Many international players such as Ravi Bopara, Andre Russell, Shaun Tait, Jonny Bairstow, and Ajantha Mendis among others took part in the first edition of the league. The inaugural edition of the league was clinched by ‘Islamabad United’ team, with England’s Ravi Bopara declared as the player of the tournament.
PSL is all set to return to UAE on 9th February 2017 with its second action packed edition. The league will conclude on 7th March 2017, Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium has been tentatively selected as the venue of the league’s final game. Recently retired international player Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, Carlos Brathwaite are some of the new faces that PSL will feature in its season 2.
For Pakistan, PSL represents a potential rebirth of their limited-overs cricket, a fresh start to climb the rankings. A healthier domestic competition will spawn a stronger national team. A stronger national team raises interest in the PSL. T20 cricket improves the 50-overs game and the benefits for the Middle East region, UAE in particular are great as well. Organising of such cricketing competition in the region will not only enhance the interest of the people in the game but also benefit the host countries in economic terms and perhaps pave way for the hosting of other sporting events as well in the region. It is a virtuous circle and a win-win situation for all. Let’s hope that the league lives up to its expectations.
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