Islamabad United v Quetta Gladiators, PSL 2016, Dubai February 5, 2016

Dubai night lit bright by PSL debut

Any apprehension about whether fans would turn up was immediately forgotten on Thursday night as people of all ages turned out in strong numbers to Dubai Sports City, keen to see the T20 spectacle

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Fireworks galore in Dubai

Shahid Afridi looked anxious as he stepped out of the team bus in the early evening light of Thursday. And why not - this was a special occasion in his career. Not just his. The inaugural Pakistan Super League was about to begin. All of Pakistan was waiting in expectation. Afridi and Pakistan needn't have worried, though.

A couple of steps away from Afridi, a young boy was shrieking in delight. This youngster could not believe he was at arm's length from Pakistan's most popular modern-day cricketer. Such episodes are what make and sell franchise-based sport: access and intimacy with your idols, favourite players and heroes.

If there was any apprehension about whether fans would turn up at all, it was immediately forgotten as the queues started to build up four hours before the start time. By the time the five team buses snaked their way into the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, as the sun set on Dubai, there was a huge din in and around the ground.

Inside, the stadium had descended into a choreographed darkness. Cleverly the organisers had left LED wrist bands for the fans to wear. Soon those LEDs on the wrists blinked different colours resembling the jersey colours of the five franchises. And then the music started. Like gleaming ocean waters on a full-moon night, those LEDs on the wrists and the empty seats danced dazzlingly.

It was an electric atmosphere by now, with the 26,000 capacity stadium 60% full. And the din inside had already made those waiting outside eager and anxious. Like avid movie-goers, no one wanted to miss even the trailers. Boys, girls, teenagers, men, women, grandparents, families, parents pushing pushchairs, fathers swaddling babies... everyone made their way to their seats, keen to see the spectacle.

Franchise cricket encourages loyalty towards your team and, as the five captains lead their contingents onto the ground, the crowd reserved their loudest cheers for their respective regions. Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq got handsome cheers from the crowds as they led the Karachi Kings and Islamabad United out, but the loudest, craziest shrieks were reserved for Pehshawar Zalmi. Afridi, who entered the ground with his trademark star-pose, waved both hands to acknowledge the support of his fans.

The crowd erupted once again when the "world boss" Chris Gayle joined his Jamaican countryman Sean Paul, the rapper, on the stage, along with fellow Caribbean players in the league - Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy - to shake a leg. Even the rock called Misbah moved rhythmically as he clapped and nodded his head as Pakistani singer Ali Zafar sang the PSL's anthem - Ab Khel Ke Dikha (Show Me How You Play).

Among the crowd was a special set of 146 that had been flown in on Thursday by Javed Afridi, Zalmi's owner. The group comprised students and teachers of the Army Public School in Peshawar, which had been attacked by the Taliban in 2014. Lead by their teachers and the school principal, the students - dressed in their school attire - enjoyed the evening out.

According to the school coordinator, Zalmi's gesture was bigger than just benevolence. Sport is a great healer and the for the young minds who had witnessed the brutal attacks on their friends from close quarters, being part of a festive atmosphere like the PSL could have a significant and positive impact psychologically.

The PSL has been a longstanding dream for Pakistan cricketers. At the trophy unveiling on Wednesday afternoon, the tension was palpable on the faces of all five captains. Forced to play cricket away from their home, forced to sit out of the IPL, both the players and their fans have been left hungry and frustrated.

Salman Sarwar Butt, one of the main architects of the PSL, told the five franchises during an address on the eve of the tournament that he and his management team had done all the hard work. "'Now it was for you guys to go and fight hard. We have done what we could.' I told them it was in their hands to make PSL a success," Butt says.

He might have just said: Ab khel ke dikha.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhammad Danish Cheema on February 6, 2016, 6:02 GMT

    great ceremony of psl come on pak plyers

  • ESPN on February 5, 2016, 14:55 GMT

    Yep well said Muhammad Naveed. Can't compare leagues. This one belongs to Pakistan...and we'll enjoy it. Everyone invited to the party to enjoy with us.

  • Osama Ali on February 5, 2016, 13:13 GMT

    Great start to this super event

  •   Muhammad Naveed on February 5, 2016, 11:03 GMT

    Please don't compare it with any other league. Our league belongs to us. Its our now. Hope to see more teams and matches in coming years.

  • Usman Amjad on February 5, 2016, 9:09 GMT

    Wow one of the beautiful celemony in histroy of cricket thats really positive point PSL never copy other league like Bpl etc .. But PSL first addition superb blast My team Islamabad United but lose one match but all teams my country teams so best of luck for all teams

  • ousman on February 5, 2016, 8:43 GMT

    @multipack why so negative lad?,stay salty kid.

  • Muhammad on February 5, 2016, 8:28 GMT

    Beautifully crafted article. PSL start was wonderful. People get us wrong when they think we are frustrated because we want to show the world that we can also own a league. We want to show the world that we are peaceful and sports Loving nation. Stopping Cricket is not an answer like Imran Khan said. you dont boycott a society for few sick men. Inviting APS students and teachers was a great gesture by Zalmi. Looking forward for todays contest. All the best PSL

  • samir on February 5, 2016, 8:22 GMT

    What IPL is to batting, PSL will be to bowling. Two different beasts, both great cricket to watch.

  •   Muhammad Hasnat on February 5, 2016, 7:25 GMT

    Yep amazing ceremony - Hope PSL succeeds in serving new exciting players for the national side

  • Zain on February 5, 2016, 7:20 GMT

    After BD, Pakistan has always been one of my favourite team to watch. Love the players, especially those I have grown up watching during the mid 90's. Furthermore, Pakistan is an important part of world cricket and it's good for the game overall to see them do well. Keep it up guys

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