Blog

By Syed Mustafa Not since the days of those India-Pakistan humdingers in Sharjah had a sporting event caught the imagination of the nation in such a spectacular way. From the sprawling cricketing fields of the UAE to the slums and fan parks of Pakistan to the drawing rooms and TV lounges of the expats living in different parts of the world, the cricket fever had caught everyone in its firm grip. The fact that holding such a competition had become more or less a necessity owing to the continued banishment of Pakistani cricketers from a certain league, also added to the significance of the event. It was almost as if the whole nation had come together to give a befitting response to the neighbouring country. Plans to hold the Pakistan Super League (PSL) had been in place since at least a couple of years but something or the other kept delaying it. In the meanwhile, the international players kept making progress in the shortest format of the game. The extraordinary show of skills on show in the IPL made the Pakistani fans wonder if their own stars will ever be able to catch up with their contemporaries. The concept did take a while to materialize but the results show that it was worth the wait. Leading up to the tournament, there were all kinds of doubts, apprehensions and question marks around not only the organizers’ ability to manage a tournament of such magnitude but also their ability to engage the cricket-loving public, especially the fans back home considering the tournament was to be held in the Emirates. Another big challenge was to rope in the entrepreneurs to come forward and invest and also attract sponsors to shoulder some of their burden. End of the day, the PCB succeeded in presenting to the world a tournament that was a masterpiece as far as the organizational prowess was concerned and left the fans yearning for more. Witnessing the tournament as part of the extended squad representing one of the franchises was an experience in itself. Sharing the roof with around a hundred stars, from emerging to the super; watching them sweat it out during the training; observing their diets and the enormous willpower they would exhibit in choosing only the ‘right’ stuff from the tempting breakfast buffet; seeing them shed their stardom for a few hours on match days to plead and negotiate for ‘complimentary’ tickets for their friends & families; enjoying the game from just outside the boundary line; lazing around with them in the hotel lobby till late in the night and grilling them on their performances. The cricket itself was gripping to say the least. The fans were quick to get behind their favourite teams based either on their ethnic affiliation or the presence of their favourite players. Quetta Gladiators – being the ‘smallest’ team on the basis of the price it fetched and also by virtue of representing the ‘neglected’ province of Baluchistan – quickly became one of the most popular teams of the tournament. Not surprisingly, Boom Boom Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi had the biggest fan base whereas Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars had support from their loyal regional fans. Islamabad United – the eventual winners – was perhaps one of the most low profile teams of the tournament and one of the least fancied to win the trophy. It would be fair to say that much of the initial interest was generated due to the perceived upsets that saw Karachi and Lahore as well as Islamabad getting off to dismal starts. Regardless of the results, it was great to witness the camaraderie among the players; in fact, it was common to see the youngsters turning to the greats of the game like Wasim Akram, Viv Richards and Andy Flower for advice irrespective of the franchise that they belonged to. The youngsters also got to rub shoulders with some of the finest international players including Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle and Kumar Sangakkara among others. The tournament was lit up by the presence of a plethora of stars from the showbiz industry. All the teams had managed to draw glamorous celebrities as brand ambassadors; so there were the likes of Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malik, Fawad Khan, Ali Zafar and Ayesha Umer among others rooting for their teams from the Hospitality Box. One of the most endearing and everlasting impressions from Season I would remain the unbridled jubilation of the great Viv Richards – the two-time World Champion who was almost always found on the edge of his seat in the dugout. Shahid Afridi remained the biggest draw-card of the tournament who would receive raucous cheers each time he walked out to bat. It was a touching gesture to invite kids from the Army Public School (APS) to witness a couple of matches during the latter half of the tournament. The fans also welcomed Mohammad Amir back to competitive cricket after a lengthy hiatus. The tournament might not have brought immediate success to the national team’s fortunes – the team went on to perform poorly in the Asian T20 and World T20 Championships that followed – but it certainly equipped them to handle high pressure situations as a lot of matches went right down to the wire. The way young Mohammad Nawaz and the old warrior Aizaz Cheema held their nerves to pull off a stunning victory for the Gladiators against Zalmis in what was without any doubt the match of the tournament is a case in point. With an even better array of international players lined up for Season II of the spectacle, we might finally get to see the dilscoops, the paddle sweeps and those massive hits out of the ground that the spectators love to watch. Email: syed.mustafa@hotmail.com Twitter: @MustafaFairPlay

Read More

The champions of the inaugural season, Islamabad United made an inauspicious start to their campaign but succeeded in getting their act together towards the business end of the tournament. It was a classic case of ‘peaking at the right time’ as from the verge of elimination, Misbahul Haq’s charges got their act together to string together a series of  match winning performances. Mohammad Sami, Sharjeel Khan, Imran Khalid, Devon Smith and Brad Haddin were the stars of the play-offs and the tournament final against the Gladiators as United created history by winning the glittering PSL 2016 trophy. Misbah was an inspirational leader in 2016 and a year later Pakistan’s most successful Test captain ever is ready to lead the campaign for the retention of his team’s title in the 2017 PSL season. United have retained their core squad and are aiming to make full use of the team bonding, spirit and camaraderie that helped them during their tough start to last year’s event. The team is an exciting blend of youth and experience with proven T20 performers from around the world as well as Pakistani players with proven pedigree in the shortest format. United will be once again relying on their 2016 performers in their bid of replicating their success, Shane Watson who sat out the end games due to an injury last season is committed to a full season appearance. United’s think tank of Dean Jones, Wasim Akram and Tauseef Ahmed will be pinning their hopes on the Australian legend to deliver match winning performances for the squad especially during the crunch games. Like the 2016 season, United have real fire power in their top-order, Pakistan T20 openers Sharjeel and Khalid Latif form a fearsome pair with Smith and Watson potential game changers on their own. Misbah is still a big force in the middle-order especially with his ability of striking big against the slow bowlers. United also possess a potent T20 weapon in West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell who has a knack of winning silverware in leagues all around the world besides his crowning glory with the West Indian team in last year’s WorldT20 in India. Sami and Mohammad Irfan will spearhead the bowling line-up once again, Sami has abundance of experience in the T20 format and even with his advancing age his ability of generating pace is an attribute that hasn’t left him. Irfan is one of the most awkward bowlers in the game with his height and the ability of generating bounce on even the most docile pitch. United also have a decent battery of spin bowlers led by the legendary Saeed Ajmal who would be assisted by Imran’s left-arm spin that bamboozled the Zalmi batting order in the crucial play-off at the Dubai International Stadium. United have the armoury to repeat their success and after their stunning victory in the opening season their stakes are even higher for the 2017 season. Their rivals now know for sure that United are never down and out even when they seem down and out.

Read More

Astutely led by Sarfraz Ahmed, the Gladiators made a stunning impression in the opening edition of the PSL by marching to the tournament final.  Many pundits considered Gladiators unfancied and rank outsiders before the commencement of the event yet their fighting spirit and commitment turned them into a formidable outfit that came within a game of lifting the trophy. Gladiators were well served by their icon player Kevin Pietersen who along with team mentor Viv Richards combined brilliantly with Sarfraz and the team management led by former Pakistan captain Moin Khan, the Gladiators fan base increased with every passing game turning them into one of the most popular teams in the competition. Gladiators ended the round robin stage at the number two spot behind Zalmi, the top two teams played a nail-biting first qualifier which was decided on the last ball of the match as Sarfraz’s eleven held their nerve in front of a roaring Dubai International Stadium. Their title bid was thwarted by United in a high scoring final as the Islamabad outfit outwitted Gladiators. For the second season, Gladiators once again look a formidable lot with the core of the team that played in the first season retained. The squad is further bolstered by the signing of English fast bowler Tymal Mills who has acquired a reputation of bowling some sharp and incisive spells especially in the instant format of the game. Umar Gul is likely to spearhead the bowling attack, the right-armer is one of the most experienced T20 bowlers in the game and despite his lack of success at the international level in recent years his vast experience, control and penetrative bowling combine to make him a potent force in the format. Spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Zulfiqar Babar will have a big role to play on the spinning tracks of Sharjah and Dubai, Nawaz was one of the finds of the inaugural season and impressed all with his impeccable control and more than useful middle-order batting, attributes that booked him a place in Pakistan’s WorldT20 squad on the heels of the PSL. Gladiators have also imported United batting all-rounder Umar Amin, the left-hander is a capable T20 resource and would be aiming to make a big impression in the league as he endeavours to win back his place in the national limited overs’ squad. The batting department is full of talent and potential match winners, Pietersen will be the linchpin in the line-up while Sarfraz, Luke Wright, Asad Shafiq, Saad Nasim and opener Ahmed Shehzad are all capable performers, Shehzad has played some sterling knocks in Pakistan’s domestic competitions in the days leading up to the PSL and the Lahore born would surely be aiming to make most of his dazzling batting form. On paper Gladiators’ have a balanced squad that can once again challenge the rest of the franchises, Sarfraz and his players have the trophy in their sights and based on their spirited run in last season, Gladiators can’t be taken lightly by any of their four rivals.

Read More

After a great run in the league stage, Zalmi lost a cliff-hanger against the Gladiators before bowing out of the first edition of the PSL in their eliminator against the eventual champions United. Clad in yellow and blue the Zalmi outfit struck a chord with their huge Army of fans in the first season and more of the same is expected with their star studded outfit for PSL 2017. For the second season of the PSL, Zalmi have made a tweak at the top and the team’s leadership baton has been handed over from the charismatic all-rounder Shahid Afridi to the most successful T20I captain Daren Sammy. The West Indian all-rounder led his team to the 2012 and 2016 WT20 titles and is known for his incredible motivational skills and passion as a leader, attributes that helped him earn unprecedented success as a captain at the highest level of the game. Sammy has a solid squad at his disposal, the likes of Afridi, Eoin Morgan, Marlon Samuels and Tamim Iqbal are big names in the crash, bang and wallop format and have the ability of turning a game on its head with their power packed performances. Sammy also has a host of talented Pakistani match winners who provide balance to the team, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz played vital roles in the team’s ascent to the top of the league table in the 2016 season. The experienced quartet is further bolstered by the presence of middle-order batsman Sohaib Maqsood who was imported from Lahore Qalandars; Maqsood will replace Shahid Yousuf with an aim of providing some quick runs especially with his ability of hitting the ball long and hard.   Left-hander Haris Sohail is also well and truly on the road to recovery after a long layoff, the southpaw is an exciting addition to the Zalmi set-up and must be aiming to reproduce some of the performances which made him a permanent feature of the Pakistan team during the 2015 World Cup. The strength of the batting line-up is enhanced further with the powerful back up in the shape of West Indian Andre Fletcher who can don the wicket-keeping gloves besides providing a quick start during the power play overs at the start of the innings. Zalmi enter the tournament with a strong bowling line-up with English T20 fast bowler Chris Jordan expected to spearhead the attack with Wahab, Junaid, Sammy, Afridi, Imran Khan Junior providing great variety , skill and depth to franchise’s bowling ammunition. Afridi was arguably the biggest crowd attraction especially among the Zalmi diehards last season and once again his presence is likely to galvanize his team and their passionate fan base. Afridi and Sammy are likely to drive the team forward in their bid of winning the coveted PSL 2017 trophy, rest assured a Boom Boom whirlwind innings will lit up Dubai and Sharjah stadiums, Afridi showed glimpses of his prowess during his fighting innings against United in the Eliminator last season, Zalmi fans would love to see him unravel with more consistency in PSL 2017.

Read More

Representing the biggest city in the country, Karachi Kings had a lean run in the first edition of the PSL. Finishing at the fourth spot after the round robin stage, Kings limped out of the tournament following a one-sided drubbing in the first eliminator against eventual winners Islamabad United. Kings have made some big picks in the 2017 PSL draft sealing the inclusion of West Indian T20 legend Chris Gayle, imported from the Qalandars and Gladiators’ Sri Lankan icon Kumar Sangakkara. Sangakkara takes over the captaincy from Shoaib Malik who led the team up to the play-offs in 2016 before handing over the reins to England’s Ravi Bopara. Bopara had an outstanding tournament as an all-rounder and was one of the few shining lights of an otherwise below par performance, his stellar show in the opening season is surely going to hold him in good stead for #HBLPSL2017. Sangakkara with his vast experience and pedigree as a world class player brings another dimension to Kings’ outfit. The former Sri Lankan captain has the leadership skills that can galvanize the team and give them a much needed boost for the upcoming season. Gayle will be the leading attraction for the Kings’ fan base despite a spate of injuries that kept him away from consistent action in recent months. At the top of the innings his stroke play would hog the headlines and the southpaw would be a sure shot star attraction. Gayle’s West Indian teammate Kieron Pollard adds strike power to the middle and lower order, his presence will give further depth to the team especially if Bopara reproduces his 2016 form. Kings’ will also have high expectations from their import from United, Babar Azam who reeled off three back to back ODI centuries against the West Indies. Azam is the future of Pakistan’s batting and is likely to bat at number three for Kings nestled at the spot between Gayle and Sangakkara. Kings have a formidable bowling line up led by Mohammad Amir, the left-armer snared a hat-trick in the opening game for his team last season, Kings’ bowling will once again be spearheaded by the skilful bowler who on his day can run through any team. Amir will be backed up by right-arm pacers Sohail Khan and Ryan McLaren the duo can generate fair pace both with the new and the old ball. Pakistan all-rounder Imad Wasim has hit a purple patch since the tour of England last year; his stellar show in UAE against the West Indies earned him the man of the series award and the Swansea born will be a vital cog in Sangakkara’s team with his game changing batting and bowling abilities. Karachi batsmen Khurram Manzoor and Shahzaib Hasan will provide back-up in the top-order besides a local flavour to the franchise. Former captain Rashid Latif combines with Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur in the team management. Kings on the paper at least have a player and management combination that will give their rivals a real testing time in the 2017 season.

Read More

Qalandars endured a disappointing run in the inaugural PSL season, the popular franchise failed to make a mark on the field bowing out of the competition even before the playoffs. Qalandars struggled with their bowling combination while the batsmen other than the odd innings and some consistent performances by Umar Akmal in the top-order failed to score enough runs on the largely batting friendly Sharjah and Dubai pitches. But after almost a year of meticulous planning and rebuilding, Qalandars are back in the reckoning and look a formidable force for PSL 2017. The team management now includes Aaqib Javed and Test all-rounder Mudassar Nazar, besides Pady Upton and Ijaz Ahmed. Qalandars have also rejigged their squad majorly for the upcoming edition. The captaincy baton has been handed over to New Zealand legend Brendon McCullum who took his country to the World Cup final in 2015 for the first time in their history. McCullum leads the batting unit with Akmal still a vital cog in the line-up, upcoming opener Fakhar Zaman is also in the fray along with wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan, Cameron Delport and Azhar Ali; Azhar led the team in the 2016 season. England’s hard-hitting opener Jason Roy will also serve Qalandars for the opening two weeks of the competition. There is enough firepower in the batting ranks with McCullum in the top-order, besides the Black Caps recruit the Qalandars have made another major pick in West Indian spinner Sunil Narine who has been one of the top T20 bowlers through his nagging accuracy and variety. Narine will be backed up by talented spin bowling duo of Zafar Gohar and Usman Qadir, Gohar has already donned the national colours and is rated as one of the brightest slow bowling prospects in the country. Qalandars have also included Sohail Tanvir and Bilawal Bhatti to bolster their bowling further, both Tanvir and Bhatti represented Kings in the first season. Tanvir made a resounding comeback to the Pakistan T20I team for the series against West Indies last year and his abundance of experience in the shortest format makes him the spearhead of the bowling attack. Bhatti is also a capable bowling option and can also wield the willow effectively in the lower order; the lower order is further strengthened by the presence of Aamer Yamin who is going to don the Qalandars kit for the 2017 season after representing Zalmi in 2016. Yamin, Tanvir and Bhatti provide real strength to the all-rounders category and McCullum will have high hopes from the trio in his title bid. McCullum is one of the most inspirational leaders in the modern game, his innovative and fearless style of captaincy turned the Black Caps in one of the most feared teams around the world, the wicket-keeper batsman has abundance of experience of plying his trade on Asian wickets and is set to be one of the major PSL attractions. The Qalandars think-tank are determined to turn the tide and make a big impression in the tournament, on paper at least the franchise has the ammunition that can see them all the way through to a potential final appearance at the Gaddafi Stadium on March 5.

Read More

Who am I and why should you care? A question I was asked over 15 years back now for the first time, and my answer that first time was probably the most heartfelt – I am the only Pakistani alive to be endeavouring to get a degree in Sports Marketing, against all odds, and I have a singular aim of changing the way sports is managed in Pakistan. That journey started almost two decades back now, and though I can’t say I’ve achieved all that was needed, we’ve all come a long way, and there’s still a long way to go. I have been involved in various iterations of what was initially called the Pakistan Premier League and in its current and real incarnation now is called the Pakistan Super League, whether it be concept development of the property, bidding for it, or as now, taking care of a few critical components of the League. I realise this sounds more like a eulogy now, but I’ve been questioned on numerous occasions as to why there’s a paternal tinge to my handling of the PSL – this preceding prologue should give an insight as to why. The one component held as critical, in fact imperative to the success of any league, is the acquisition of top talent available and attracting them in to the property to be a part of it. This was one of my core areas of responsibility, and while top player acquisition was a very gratifying task, what’s really been heart-warming to see is our local emerging players stand up and be counted. I felt myself stretched beyond reason at times in fighting almost at times, whether within the team or when faced with opposition from team selectors, to not only justify the necessity of these juniors in each team, but also to highlight the long term and immeasurable impact their participation in such a league would mean for their cricketing careers going forward as well as for Pakistan Cricket. I had the honour and privilege of conducting the first ever Draft conducted in the Sub-continent, for the PSL late last year, and though calling out the names everyone knows – Afridi, Gayle, Malik, Watson, Pietersen, and so on, was a feeling I can’t begin to explain, as it represented the culmination of months of sleepless nights and endless days spent negotiating with Boards, Associations, and agents, what really gave me a sense of fulfilment was when Quetta Gladiators picked Mohammad Nawaz, Peshawar Zalmi picked Mohammad Asghar, and others equally talented youngsters went to various teams. Seeing Nawaz uproot Watson’s stumps, and watching Zia get the edge of KP’s bat – that has been the high point of my PSL. Not for the cricketing feats they represent, but for the achievement of the efforts of a small and dedicated few driven to change the destiny of Pakistan cricket to mould it to a bigger, brighter vision we all share for it – to take its place among the top echelon of world cricket.

Read More

Street Cricket and Street Food of Gari Shao in Lahore Lahore is a city renowned for its food and spices coupled with traditional values and love for cricket! While everyone knows of Lahore’s MM Alam road and Food Street, the true heart of Lahore’s street food can be found in lesser known places such as the Shah Alam Market, Garhi Shao and Lakshmi chowk.

Read More

‘My cricketing journey began from the UBL Cricket Academy, and from a very young age I knew I could play at the highest level. Cricket was an obsession for me, and I always dreamed of turning it into my profession. Growing up, I idolized the mighty Wasim Akram and wanted to emulate him. He had it all, a charming personality, a ferocious left arm and I was awed by his willingness to bowl in every situation. A true great in every sense of the word, he was my absolute hero! I started putting in the extra hours, working my socks off in training with the hope of representing Pakistan one day. I finally got to meet Wasim bhai for the very first time in 2015 in Karachi during one of our training camps, and to say it was a dream come true would be a massive understatement! I started performing well at club level cricket during the earlier part of my career, which helped me get picked for Pakistan’s U-19 team. Fortunately for me, my form never left my side and my performances continued to improve. I finally made my debut in First Class List A and domestic T20 in 2010, and God has been kind ever since. I was the second highest wicket taker in our domestic T20 competition, and the highest wicket taker for Pakistan A in 2015, which is probably the highlight of my career so far. Everyone began to take notice, and I also got called up for the national camp, which was the absolute cherry on top! It was a great year for me! All that hard work was finally paying off. HBLPSL is a great opportunity for me personally, and for all the emerging players involved. This is cricket at the highest level, and it doesn’t get any bigger than this. When the draft was announced, I was pretty confident of being selected as my performance spoke for itself. However, I was overwhelmed when I was the first pick from the ‘Emerging Players’ category, the sheer sense of pride and joy I felt at that time can’t be expressed in words, and for that I am grateful to Islamabad United. Islamabad United has given me the perfect platform to progress and develop as a cricketer. I would be sharing the dressing room with the likes of Shane Watson, Andre Russell, Samuel Badree, and our test team captain, Misbah- Ul- Haq. I hope to learn a lot from all these players, and getting acquainted with an international ‘mahol’ would be vital in my development. I will also get to work with Dean Jones, who I always enjoyed watching on TV, and of course, my idol Wasim Akram would be mentoring us! Such opportunities do not come every day, and I hope to grab it with both hands and make it count. My ultimate goal is to represent the Pakistan national team, and do justice to the role. This league is a small step towards that goal. Whenever I am done with my career, I want to be remembered as one of the cricketing greats of this country. ‘Meri pehchaan Pakistan ho’, that’s the dream!

Read More

For a long time now, we have heard about the prospects of Pakistan Cricket Board launching it’s own T20 league. On many occasions, these efforts have faced hurdles that have been hard to overcome. This time, things are on track to redefine Pakistan’s cricket! On February 4, 2016, Pakistan cricket will take another giant step towards adapting to the requirements of modern-day cricket. How so? To begin with, PSL will allow emerging Pakistani players to rub shoulders with some of the best minds in cricket. Imagine a youngester from, say, Quetta sharing a dressing room with Gayle or Watson. Imagine a young fast bowler from Peshawar getting to learn the tricks of the trade from someone like Allan Donald. In short, our younger lot will get in to a fast-track learning experience. As a result of this, we will see many new Pakistani products in the next three-four years.There is hardly any international cricket being played in Pakistan and our boys are not getting enough exposure. Our young boys will be rubbing shoulders with the greats of the game is probably the biggest benefit that they will get. To be honest, this is not just limited to what they do on the field. There are so many things that one learns from senior professionals – training routine, mindset, handling pressure, socialising etc. For some of the younger players who are struggling with their game – the likes of Ahmad Shehzad, Umar Akmal, and Junaid Khan – Pakistan Super League will be a great platform to focus on their game and bring out the best in them. These players are very talented and I will keep a keen eye on their performances in PSL. This will be a great platform for these boys since they will be some of the main players in their PSL teams. As a result, they will be given responsibility and they will be expected to deliver. I am more than delighted to see that top international and local coaches are part of the coach roster. Naturally, this will translate into an immediate improvement in the quality of our cricket. The bigger effect, as you will notice, will be in our domestic cricket at home. Players will now be more eager to perform in other domestic tournaments in a bid to get noticed and that sense of competition will help Pakistan across all formats. Last, but definitely not the least, is the healthy response that PSL has received from top local and foreign cricketers. Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Shahid Afridi, Kevin Pietersen, Lasith Malinga, Shoaib Malik, Kieron Pollard – these guys are rockstars of cricket! I have seen Mr. Najam Sethi and his team work day in and day out to make this possible and the commercial interest in the PSL is a direct result of their hard work. I have no doubt at all that Pakistan Super League will be the biggest sporting festival of Pakistan!

Read More