The evening after they won the opening night's clash against Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators' owner Nadeem Omar hired a yacht in the Dubai Yacht Club. He hosted a strictly team-only party and as the evening rolled on, Omar asked Viv Richards, mentor of Quetta, to have a word with a few players.
Two days before the PSL had started, Richards had put the players at ease by giving a short opening statement in Quetta's first team huddle. He asked them for one particular thing: to not refer to him as "sir". Call him plain "Viv".
At the yacht party, Richards sat down Ahmed Shehzad. He told the outspoken batsman that he was lacking in confidence. According to Omar, Shehzad had told Richards that he was insecure about his spot in the Pakistan team after having been dropped a few times. Richards asked him to stop worrying. "That was what Viv told him. He said stop being insecure," Omar recollects of that evening.
The main thing, Richards reminded Shehzad, was to keep performing. "He told him (Shehzad), 'Man, after I retired maybe 40% people recognised me, 10% know who I am today. But if you don't make your bat talk, not even 1% will remember who you are. Man, you need to make your bat talk,'" Omar says.
Omar recites another incident fondly. When Richards met Quetta allrounder Mohammad Nawaz he was blunt. Nawaz, who had taken 4 for 13 and scored 22 runs to bag the Man-of-the-Match award in the first match, might have been surprised a wee bit. "Richards just told Nawaz to change his body language," Omar says. "He told him: 'You need to have the swagger. The oomph is missing. You need to back your performances with confidence and walk as if you rule the world.' From then on Nawaz has shown much more positive body language," Omar says.
On Monday afternoon, while Quetta were training on the eve of the final, Richards explained the message he delivered to Shehzad. "There are times when you are not doing well and no one wants to be associated [with you]," Richards says. "It is highly important for you to maintain consistency. This is one of the things that helps to keep you going as an individual. If you love the game and appreciate it whether you do well or not, you should be thinking about these things. The best thing for you to do is put in the effort and when you come back you will be immediately noticed."
Richards has attended every training session, every team-bonding evening and every dressing room meeting. He has played the ball boy during the fielding drills, put arms around the players in the nets and played the cheerleader in the dugout.
Richards has shown a different side of himself in the Quetta dugout. He says unlike all the other T20 leagues where he has played similar roles, for the first time he felt he was part of a closely-knit family at Quetta.
"When I first came here to the Quetta Gladiators we were like a family. This is why I think we have done so well and the reason where they have reached today," he says. "The very first day it was of utmost importance because we are coming from all walks of life and for the period of time that we were going to be together it is important that we understand one another as quickly as possible. That to me is half way to success."
Richards explains why he has been so animated and emotional in the PSL. "It is because of the good people around. I've been in the CPL before. I've been in the Big Bash before. But I've never felt such happiness. The trust that they put in you for advice etc, this whole unit has been receptive. They have embraced me with open arms. That is why you see me as animated."
Richards knows his role. He is not here to coach or strategise. That job is handled by head coach Moin Khan, the former Pakistan wicketkeeper, along with senior foreign imports - Kevin Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Luke Wright and the captain Sarfraz Ahmed. "My job isn't about telling the guy how technically sound he may be. It is about making that guy as comfortable as possible in order for him to take the chances."
Moin, both Richards and Omar acknowledge, has played a huge role in Quetta's attitude to play with freedom and confidence. "He is one of the more relaxed coaches around," Richards says. "He gets over his programme as easily as it should be. He is not boring. Sometimes you can talk forever. The most important things Moin would say, just takes a few minutes. And that's it. Everyone's on board and then we take off."
It is a rare and surprising sight to see Richards jumping out of his seat in any dugout, both in jubilation and anxiety. Never since his playing days has Richards been seen charging onto the field as he did immediately after Quetta and Pakistan fast bowler Aijaz Cheema valiantly denied Peshawar Zalmi the ticket to the final when the latter needed just eight runs off the final over in the 1st Qualifying Final. Quetta won by only one run.
Richards was tense and it showed. With three runs required from three deliveries, Quetta were on the edge. Cheema first had Hasan Ali top edge a short ball and held on to the return catch. When Wahab Riaz, too, fell prey to a similar strategy, Richards stood up, faced the dugout and said Quetta were going to the final.
"I stood up and said 'Come on, guys, we are in now. Let's continue to believe.'" Minutes later, everyone including Richards, Moin, the management and coaching staff rushed to the ground to celebrate the victory along with the players. "This is what I am talking about. It is a family. We believe in one another. This is one of the more important things and lessons I have learned despite my experience of playing at the highest level just seeing how relaxed people are. When you are relaxed it is amazing how many things you can accomplish."
Omar points out that not just Richards, but even Pietersen has helped the Quetta dressing room stay positive and humble. "I was totally shocked when both Sangakkara and Pietersen voluntarily apologised to the dressing room saying they had let the team down by playing the wrong shots at the wrong time. Although the pair had built the momentum with a strong partnership, they felt they had faltered the team," Omar says.
According to Omar, Quetta are not tense on the eve of their first final. "Pietersen has reminded the players that no matter what happens one has to stay grounded. He even pointed out the examples of [Sachin] Tendulkar who in his 20-plus years always maintained the same consistency on and off the field. He never reacted to anything or anyone. Pietersen told the players that is the key element in performance and success."
The PSL comes to an end on Tuesday. The story of the Quetta family is a good indicator that the league has been a success. For the likes of Shehzad, Nawaz, Sarfraz and other Pakistan players, interacting with, partying with, living and playing with the legends will always remain an important part of their lives and careers.