PSL 2021: world's most cosmopolitan league returns to the UAE - where it all started

T20 tournament continues to march ahead in the face of adversity

Karachi Kings' Babar Azam (L) takes a run as Peshawar Zalmi's Wahab Riaz looks on during   the Pakistan Super League (PSL) T20 cricket match between Peshawar Zalmi and Karachi Kings at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

It might be a push to suggest the PSL is coming home.

But when the disrupted 2021 season restarts in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday evening, it will definitely feel a lot like a homecoming.

Pakistan’s T20 franchise league was born in exile in UAE, up the E11 in Dubai, in 2016.

The fact it has taken a global pandemic to return it to these shores feels more or less par for the course. It is totally in keeping with the best traditions of a competition that has had to roll with the punches for its whole existence.

By the time the competition finally beat a retreat from the UAE in 2019, in favour of returning to Pakistan for good, it felt like they had become weary of the place.

At the time, military tension with India had created uncertainty over whether the competition could decamp, as planned, back home.

After the sort of 11th hour negotiating in which the league specialises, it was confirmed the final phase of that competition would proceed in Pakistan – and all future seasons would, too.

That was a huge moment for Pakistan cricket. Finally, it was taking ownership of its own league. No more enjoying it from a distance, via a TV broadcast. Instead, the teams would get to play in their own cities, with impassioned fans filling the stands beyond the boundary.

New recruits for PSL 2021

All of which sent a vital message that cricket in Pakistan was open for business again.

Yet, while Pakistan cricket made plans, Covid-19 laughed. The PSL's first full season on home soil was cut off at the playoff stage. Stands were emptied by the epidemic. The same happened for its second, and then forced a suspension, too.

When it became clear a restart in Karachi was impractical, they knew who to call. Leaning on that old relationship with the UAE that stems back to early-1980s trips to Sharjah.

Of course, this is less than ideal. But so many of the PSL’s best memories were created in the UAE. All the way back to Mohammed Amir’s hat-trick on the opening weekend.

Or the time Shahid Afridi – when 40-something years young, or thereabouts, anyway – relayed a boundary catch to himself with feline nimbleness, and came to a triumphant stop while stood on the logo of the Karachi Kings side he was playing for at the time.

Or that Friday afternoon which was a throwback to the days of Sharjah’s pomp, when thousands queued to get a glimpse of Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi – only for the game to be rained off.

The problems for the PSL in the years since have been many. The security concerns, which was the reason it started off it UAE in the first place. The reticence of a number of overseas stars to travel to the first final. The massive bill for securing that trip to Lahore. Political tension with India. Covid.

But through all the rigmarole, Pakistan has built a robust, entertaining league, full of highly skilled players – and from all over the globe, too.

The PSL could well lay claim to being the most cosmopolitan major league in the world.

Much was made last week of the fact the ICC are now – finally – expanding their horizons again, when it was announced future World Cups will have more teams. In 50-over cricket, that will be 14 sides from 2027.

That is still two less than the number of countries who have been represented in PSL – or at least will have been by the time Singapore (via Tim David) and UAE (Sultan Ahmed and Mohammed Wasim) are added the to the list for this tournament.

Of course, the latest recruits have been made from necessity, via a second player replacement draft. But each could shine, and make the mark for a country from beyond cricket’s mainstream.

Which, despite all the blows it has faced, has been the PSL’s greatest gift so far. The chance for its players to shine.