PSL 2021 final: Head groundsman Mohan Singh the true man of the tournament for keeping Abu Dhabi pitch in top condition

Multan Sultans and Peshawar Zalmi will contest the 81st match of a mammoth season for the Zayed Cricket Stadium - and the fact the pitch is still in such great shape his testament to Mohan and his team

Back in 2016, when the Pakistan Super League was launched amid an excited hubbub at the Dubai International Stadium, social distancing was – happily – not yet a thing.

A day before the new T20 tournament for Pakistan started, the ground’s cavernous press conference room was packed to the rafters.

The six captains elbowed each other as they jostled for room on the dais, and good-naturedly declared their side was definitely going to be the inaugural champions.

Fans wearing multi-coloured wigs and team merchandise found their way into what was ostensibly an event exclusively for the press.

The organisers proudly announced the tournament was open for business, and showed off lavish trophies, which had been minted by Swarovski.

Among the many jewel-encrusted awards was an ornate wicket-keeping glove, set aside for the tournament’s leading gloveman.

Times and circumstances are different now. That much is obvious.

Opposition players no longer even shake hands at the end of games, but wave to each other from afar, perhaps with some magnanimous applause for each other.

Players have had to conduct interviews speaking to a voice emanating from the Spidercam. If a press conference does happen, it is via Zoom. And Swarovski do not make the trinkets any more.

But the powers that be might want to reconsider that last fact, and at least come up with one special award. Ideally, they might consider making a crystal-laden model of a lawn-mower, or perhaps a heavy-roller, for this season’s man of the tournament.

Sure, Hazratullah Zazai and Usman Khawaja have batted like princes. Fast bowler Shahnawaz Dahani has announced himself as a new star of Pakistan cricket with his wickets and winning smile.

Mohammed Rizwan has been a captaincy kingpin. Wahab Riaz has continued to personify the spirit of his team. Babar Azam has been Babar Azam.

But the man of the tournament has not been a player. In fact, he would be totally unrecognisable to all fans.

Mohan Singh, the head groundsman at Abu Dhabi Cricket, and his team have worked marvels to make this tournament a success. The fact scoring has been so good, and matches so competitive, is a testament to each of them.

Take Tuesday night's final eliminator match, won by Peshawar Zalmi against Islamabad United.

In the 80th match of an 81-match uber-season at the Zayed Cricket stadium, the side batting second chased 175 to win with more than three overs to spare.

That load of matches has been alternated between the seven strips on the wicket block which allow for TV broadcasts. That makes for an average of more than 11 matches per pitch over the course of a season which started in September.

And yet scoring has not been impaired at any stage. Since the PSL relocated to Abu Dhabi – at about two weeks' notice – just two innings failed to breach the 100-run mark in the 38 that have been played so far.

Even those spoke more of the batting malaise of two sides – Lahore Qalandars and Quetta Gladiators – who did not reach the knockout stage of the tournament rather than adverse pitch conditions.

All of which is happy enough news for the PSL and its supporters. But it bodes well, too, for even more significant times later this year.

The IPL is due back in September. That could well be followed by the T20 World Cup, which would be the biggest international event yet staged in cricket in this country.

With huge events like that comes greater scrutiny, so standards will have to be high. When it comes to matches in Abu Dhabi, the PSL has proved that that can be taken as a given.

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