Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - One of the most remarkable aspects of T20 cricket is how quickly it has spread. Since its inauguration in England and Wales in 2003, 15 professional T20 competitions have had their status recognized by the International Cricket Council. Around the cricketing world, there is a plethora of T20 tournaments for both men and women, even one for retired players in Oman at present.

Although South Africa and Pakistan introduced domestic T20 tournaments in 2003 and 2005, it is the Indian Premier League that epitomizes the rapid development of T20 cricket into a combination of high drama, commercial exploitation, spectator frenzy, inventive player skills, global reach and transformational impact.

Given the absence of consistent, up-to-date data, it is difficult to establish with any great accuracy the income and profit generated by the various T20 professional tournaments, but the IPL likely outstrips all others. After that, depending on the criteria used, Australia’s Big Bash, the England and Wales T20 Blast, the Caribbean Premier League and Pakistan’s Super League are usually considered to be the next strongest, if a mix of the availability and strength of domestic players, the availability and strength of overseas stars and the level of competition between the franchises is used.

One of the biggest issues for the tournament organizers and the players is how to fit the competitions into a very crowded cricket calendar. The final of the Big Bash is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 28, while the Pakistan Super League (PSL) started on Jan. 27. Some players are also involved in a T20 series between the West Indies and England that ends on Jan. 30. Fourteen players will join the PSL late.

Another issue is that some national cricket boards refuse to allow their contracted players to participate in these tournaments. India, for example, will not allow its contracted players to participate in tournaments in other countries, and Pakistani cricketers cannot play in the IPL.

It is impressive, then, that the PSL has managed to strengthen its reputation as one of the most competitive and challenging T20 tournaments. The 2022 edition will be the seventh since its inception in 2016, when, for security reasons, it was played in the UAE. Five teams, based in the five cities of Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad participated, with Islamabad United defeating Quetta Gladiators in the final.

In 2018, a sixth city and team — the Multan Sultans — joined. They are the current champions, having defeated Peshawar Zalmi in June 2021 in Abu Dhabi, where the tournament was relocated after it had to be postponed in March when six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a bio-secure bubble in Pakistan. The 2017-2020 tournaments were all held in Pakistan.

This year, Karachi hosts the first leg of the tournament until February when the action switches to Lahore, where the play-offs and final will be held, the latter on Feb. 27.

In the league stage, the six teams play in a round-robin format, with the top four qualifying for the playoff stages. The top two teams will advance to a qualifier, with the winners going through to the final. The third and fourth-ranked sides will move to a first eliminator, with the winners meeting the losers of the qualifier to determine the second finalists. A total of 34 matches are scheduled to be played.

The franchises selected their players in a draft held in Lahore on Dec. 12, 2021. Prior to that, each team was allowed to retain a maximum of eight players from the previous edition, making further additions from the draft up to a maximum of 18 players.

Players were divided into five categories — platinum, worth $130,000-170,000; diamond, $60,000-85,000; gold, $40,000-50,000; silver, $15,000-25,000; and emerging, $7,500.

Each team was able to pick three players from the first three categories, five from silver and two from emerging.

A later supplementary category was subject to a separate, virtual, draft on Jan. 8, for teams to select two additional players, along with a replacement draft to allow teams to partially replace players who would be unavailable for the first few matches due to international commitments, or to fully replace those who had to withdraw.

PSL7 opens with a mix of high hope and caution. The hope is based on a strong lineup of players and Pakistan’s success in white-ball cricket in 2021. The caution relates to ongoing worries about the omicron variant of COVID-19. If cases were to surge, the event may not be able to switch to the UAE, where the Emirates Cricket Board could hold its own T20 league in February/March. And it would be difficult to reschedule due to Pakistan’s packed international schedule.

If more than eight players in a squad of 20 test positive, a reserve pool of about 25 locals can be used as replacements. If the whole competition is affected then it will be postponed for seven days, after which the remaining matches will be played as double-headers. Three distinct bubbles will be in place with different protocols: The main bubble comprises all the teams, staff and officials. Franchise members will not be allowed to meet within the hotel premises. The two other bubbles, comprising production crew and ground staff, will be at a separate hotel. The bubbles will not be allowed to interact and players will be tested regularly during the tournament.

Such precautions are wise, as there is much to lose. PSL receives over $15m per year from the franchises. Habib Bank, as lead sponsor, pays upwards of $5m per year. Broadcasting and live-streaming rights have been renewed at significantly higher levels.

PSL’s brand value is estimated to have increased almost 20 times since 2016, when it made a profit of $2.6m. But it is about more than just money; PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket.

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