This time last year, the lead up to the second HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) season was dominated by one issue. Would the overseas players who were involved agree to go to the final in Lahore?
Would it take place at all, given a suicide blast happened in the city while the early phases of the PSL were taking place in the UAE?
Players baulked at the question, offering little more than, “Let’s wait and see”. That was the line they had been asked to toe by the tournament’s administrators.
When it was asked at the captains’ media briefing on the eve of the tournament, Najam Sethi, the PSL chairman, interjected and shut it down, saying sufficient security measures were in place.
When it came to it, the game went ahead as planned at the Gaddafi Stadium, with 10,000 security personnel reportedly on duty, for a match with a capacity of less than 30,000.
Darren Sammy, the Peshawar Zalmi captain, had his doubts. Finally, he decided it was worth it. He assuaged the concerns of his colleagues, they all went, and won against a Quetta Gladiators side whose regular overseas players all opted out.
“Darren is a superstar in Pakistan, the one player who is a household name,” Sethi said at Tuesday’s trophy launch ahead of the start of PSL 3, casting an eye along the dais to the smiling St Lucian.
“Darren, we are indebted to you for the courage with which you came to Lahore and won the hearts of everyone.”
Eleven months on, the salient questions ahead of the 2018 PSL seem to relate to cricket. Can Multan Sultans challenge after their introduction to the tournament? Is Imad Wasim up to the captaincy of Karachi Kings? What is Jofra Archer going to be like? How good can Shaheen Afridi become?
Thanks to Sammy, who subsequently travelled back to Lahore as part of a World XI that played a series against Pakistan’s national team, the security issue feels less relevant.
“I’ll go,” Tymal Mills, the English fast-bowler who was one of the Quetta contingent who opted out of last year’s final, said of potentially playing in Karachi in the showpiece match this time around.
“Teams wouldn’t sign you now if you wouldn’t agree to. Unless something happens between now and then, we have agreed to go.
“There has been a decent amount of cricket there between now and then, whereas last year it was the first proper game, which is why I was quite sceptical.
“I know the levels of security will be really high. Hopefully we get there, because the final is in Karachi, whereas the semi-finals are in Lahore. It would be a really special occasion to be a part of.”
Mills saw the way Sammy, and his own England colleague Dawid Malan, were feted for agreeing to play in last year’s final, but said he has no regrets over missing out.
The left-arm fast-bowler, who has joined Karachi Kings for his second season of PSL, is hopeful to be part of such an occasion this time around.
“I don’t regret my decision,” Mills said, after training with his new Karachi teammates at the ICC Academy in Dubai.
“I feel, at the time, it was the right one to make. It was first game, and there had been a few incidences in the month leading up to it.
“I had my first IPL coming up as well, so it wasn’t a financial thing or anything like that. I’m glad it went well, and I watched on TV to support Quetta.
“You could see Sammy and the guys were really well received, and that it meant a lot to the people of Pakistan that the guys were going to Pakistan for that game.
“I’m sure the semi-finals and the final this time will be equally well received.”