Pakistan Reader# 301, 2 March 2022
D. Suba Chandran
The Indian subcontinent is crazy about cricket. Despite the COVID restrictions, the passion for the game remains the same; perhaps, it has become the only good news amidst the COVID gloom in South Asia. Pakistan should have two extra reasons to celebrate vis-à-vis cricket. First, the successful completion of the Pakistan Super League, and second the arrival of the Australian cricket team. Will Pakistan sustain the new momentum, or will it become another false start?
PSL and return of the cricket
Following the success of the IPL in India, numerous other cricket leagues came into being in South Asia. Though Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also have their cricket leagues attracting outside players, PSL in Pakistan is the second-largest cricket league in South Asia, after India’s IPL.
Unlike the previous editions, the PSL saw all the games being played in Pakistan this year. The primary issue was not COVID but the security situation within the country. Karachi and Lahore hosted all the league and final matches. Clearly, Pakistan was confident that the security situation was improved and decided to host all the games within Pakistan. Perhaps, it was felt that the condition outside Lahore and Karachi are not satisfactory enough to conduct matches. Since the PSL leagues have their headquarters in Peshawar (Zalmi), Islamabad (United), Multan (Sultans) and Quetta (Gladiators), it is only fair that the matches are held in all these cities.
The landing of Australia in Pakistan to play three tests, three one-dayers, and a T-20 match should highlight the confidence within Pakistan and outside. For Pakistan’s cricket, this should be a welcome development. In terms of venues, like the PSL matches, Pak-Australia games are likely to be held mainly in Karachi and Lahore; Rawalpindi is the only addition. Pakistan has hosted international matches in other venues – from Peshawar to Quetta in KP and Balochistan, and numerous towns within Punjab – Sialkot, Multan and Faislabad. It appears the State is yet to become confident to host matches in other venues, even within the Punjab province.
Outside the matches, there was a controversy over the abrupt exit of Australian player James Faulkner over the contract and payment. Faulkner had complained that the PCB “continued to lie” to him about his contract and payment. However, the issue did not snowball into a crisis.
Shaheen, Rizwan and Fakhar: The rise of new and young warriors
While the PSL 2022 had a good mix of young talents and veterans playing, it witnessed the rise of a few young players. Shaheen Shah Afridi (captain of the winning Lahore Qalandars), Mohammad Rizwan (captain of the losing Multan Sultans), Fakhar Zaman (opening batsman for the Lahore Qalandars), and Shadab Khan (allrounder for the Islamabad United) are some of the success stories this PSL.
Shaheen Shah is 21 years, and Shadab is 23. Rizwan, the wicketkeeper, captain and opening batsman for the winning Lahore Qalandars, is one of the most prolific and consistent batsmen, not only during the PSL 2022 but also in Pakistan’s international matches in recent years. Though he is not as young as Shaheen and Shadab, at 29, he still has enough cricket in him. With Babar Azam (who unfortunately had a bad series – both as an individual batsman and as the captain of Karachi Kings, who lost very badly) and Fakhar Zaman, Pakistan’s top order lineup today should be as good as Saeed Anwar-Aamir Sohail era.
In this context, the PSL should be a success in providing local talents to emerge.
Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik: End of an era
If the emergence of young players is a feature of the PSL 2022, it also saw Shahid Afridi finally calling it a day. A magnificent player of his era, he had already retired from international cricket. He continued playing for the PSL; but finally hanged the boots. Yesterday, on 1 March 2022, he turned 42; it is time. Well played Afridi.
In retrospect, along with Shoaib Akhtar, another extremely talented player, the two could have really taken Pakistan’s cricket to the next level. There was so much potential in these two players; would they be satisfied with what they had achieved, given their natural talent? This has been an issue; the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) could have done better – in nurturing the talent, guiding the young players on the right path, and grooming them to achieve greatness, and become legends. The story of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt, who got carried away and involved in a fixing scandal is a case in point. Though Mohammad Amir returned to play for Pakistan after a ban, he was never the same player. The case of Umar Akmal is another point; though he did not involve in a scandal as Amir or Butt, his ego got the worst of him. In all the above cases, the PCB should take responsibility for failing to nurture and guide the young players.
Back to Afridi. Besides him, perhaps it should be the end of the road for Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, two other senior players. Along with Afridi, they were given enough opportunities. Though Hafeez was part of the winning PSL team this year, and played a crucial part in the team lifting the trophy in the final match, his performance during the league matches were below par. So was Shoaib Malik’s. Both are getting old, and have crossed 40; Hafeez is 41; Malik has just crossed 40.
Hafeez and Malik are not in the same category as Afridi and Akhtar; but they did win matches for Pakistan single-handedly. Both are all-rounders; however, both played more one day and T-20 matches, than test matches, which is considered the ultimate challenge for any batsman. Hafeez has played 55 test matches at an average of 37 plus, while Malik has played 35 matches at an average of 35 plus. The Hafeez-Malik era should have followed Yousuf Youhana-Younis Khan-Misbah Haq era; but, it was not the case.
With the PSL over, now is the time to reflect on lessons that Pakistan cricket learn from these three great players of the contemporary era. The PCB has to invest and nurture talent; Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are top players today, more because of their natural talent than because of the system. The PCB should learn from Hafeez and Malik cases, and ensure how to turn the natural talents into greatness and legendary. Else, they will retire as great players, but not as legends. Or get carried away halfway through, and disappoint everyone. Like Umar Akmal and Mohammad Asif.