Pakistan cricket reborn as Pakistan Super League offers green shoots of hope

Sean Paul (left) and Chris Gayle (right) during the  Pakistan Super League opening ceremony on Thursday Feb 4, 2016 ( Courtesy Pakistan Cricket Board )
Sean Paul (left) and Chris Gayle (right) during the Pakistan Super League opening ceremony on Thursday Feb 4, 2016 ( Courtesy Pakistan Cricket Board )

DUBAI // I am not Jon Landau and this was not Bruce Springsteen at the Harvard Square Theatre. Last I checked it was not May 1974 either. But on Thursday night, in February 2016, just as Landau, a music critic at the time (and later an influential producer) thought he saw a “rock and roll future” whose name was Springsteen, along with maybe 15,000 people I thought I saw a future as well.

Landau wrote that he needed to feel young that night, and that Springsteen made him feel as if he was hearing music for the very first time. Last night I was in the stands at the Dubai International Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

Just behind me were 143 students and teachers from the Army Public School of Peshawar, where just over a year ago, a barbaric terrorist attack took the lives of nearly as many. Javed Afridi, owner of the Peshawar Zalmi franchise, had brought them over from Pakistan. They needed to feel young again. I needed to and at a stretch I would guess all of Pakistan needed to as well.

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And for the hour, or however long, of the opening ceremony, I think they – we all – did. It did not matter that Sean Paul was a strange and bizarrely energetic intruder to the proceedings.

Or that Najam Sethi, the PSL chief, was on some trip in which he imagined himself to be Lalit Modi, the former Indian Premier League (IPL) impresario (and bless them, some in the crowd were not shy of reminding him of his political follies). Later, with uncharacteristic understatement, he thought the opening ceremony went “pretty well”.

Maybe he was tired.

Watching Chris Gayle dance it up and be loved for it was a little uncomfortable too, given the opprobrium that has been heaped on him, and rightly so.

Pakistan have played 94 international matches in the UAE since they started playing all their matches in the UAE after the Lahore terror attacks on the Sri Lankan team in March 2009.

Some of them, it is true, have drawn full houses or big enough crowds that the atmosphere has approached electric. But last night, even if the stadium was not entirely full but close to it, it was, as Landau felt, almost as if this was the first time we were watching Pakistan cricket; Pakistan cricket anew.

A little ways down the road, earlier in the day had already come some good news: cricket’s Big Three revamp, which threatened to leave boards like Pakistan’s in deep strife, was being undone. Now as the league got underway in the evening, the future Pakistan cricket had awaited so long was here, happening before our eyes.

This is now a future in which Mohammad Nawaz, Quetta Gladiators’ young, highly rated all-rounder, can share a field and high-fives with Kevin Pietersen; a future where Viv Richards can saunter casually around the training fields, sprinkling a little bit of his genius behind on this Pakistani youngster and that; a future where Pakistani players, established and otherwise, are part of the world cricket has now become; a future where Pakistan cricket is financially secure, even prosperous.

Of course this is a Twenty20 league, and nothing in cricket engenders cynicism as quickly as one of those. The high disappears quickly. But leave us for now that hour and the energy in it. I swear I even saw Misbah-ul-Haq jig a little.

Now it will be, as Salman Sarwar Butt, one of the main architects of the first season said shortly before the ceremony, the cricket on which this future will be built. In all honesty, it did not get off to the kind of rousing start that first hour promised: the first over of the PSL, anti-climactically, was a maiden.

Forget it. The cricket was a footnote. Finally, belatedly, Pakistan have arrived at cricket’s party. About time.

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Published: February 5, 2016 04:00 AM


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