Dubai: The third edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) begins today as Peshawar Zalmi is all set to defend their title defence against the newest addition Multan Sultan, the newest addition franchise in PSL at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Both Multan skipper Shoaib Malik and his Peshawar counterpart Darren Sammy, however, will have to a backseat for a while before the toss takes place to herald the cricketing action on the playing field due to a marathon star-studded glitzy opening ceremony that would last two hours with a hosts of celebrities — including American singer-cum-dancer Jason Derulo, PSL official anthem performer Ali Zafar and the veteran Sufi singer Abida Parveen — taking the centre stage upfront.
Arguably, the most expensive PSL franchise at $5.2 million per annum, Multan Sultans will be keen to make early impression to justify their team value and with each side to 10 matches before the 30-game league round concludes, the race for the top-four slots is wide open than ever before.
In their endeavour to bring back international cricket back to Pakistan, the PCB has scheduled two playoff fixtures in Lahore and the final in Karachi, the country’s most populated city which has not hosted topflight cricket for nine years now.
The real success of the tournament would entirely depend on the presence of first-choice international players for those three matches on Pakistan soil after Quetta Gladiators’ title aspirations were shattered by non-availability of Kevin Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Luke Wright, Rilee Rossouw and Tymal Mills for last year’s final that saw Peshawar clinch victory hands down with a full-strength XI.
To avoid a repetition of what happened to Sarfraz Ahmed’s depleted squad of players in Lahore last March, the organisers this time added a clause in the contracts to prevent pullouts by the overseas players at the business end of the competition, while ensuring only those would be picked who are willing to travel to Pakistan.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Najam Sethi said he hopes that in 2019 the entire tournament will be played at home.
“That will pave the way for a full series in Pakistan by a top team,” Sethi said on the eve of the tournament. “We are very satisfied that PSL has become an international brand in two years.”
Busy schedules mean top foreign players such as England ODI and T20 skipper Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales and Jason Roy are only available for part of the tournament, while several others have already pulled out. Chris Lynn’s absence is a huge blow for Lahore Qalandars after the explosive Australian right-hander dislocated his shoulder on Wednesday while fielding during the New Zealand innings in the tri-series final in Auckland.
Likewise, Peshawar will miss Bangladesh’s top star Shakib Al Hasan, who has also decided to skip the event because of a hand injury.
Wasim Akram, Multan’s team director and bowling coach, stressed that people are also eager to seek new talent from Pakistan.
“We found Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman and Hasan Ali from the first two editions of the PSL so the main aim is to hone the talent of local players,” he said. “And there are several exciting signings this time also, which augurs well for the future.”
At the other end, the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi are, they say, on their last legs, with both stalwarts seeking their second team titles; Misbah skippered Islamabad United to glory in the 2016’s inaugural edition, while Afridi has switched to Karachi Kings after being part of the trophy-winning Peshawar team.