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Kamran Abbasi

The PSL spells good news for Pakistan cricket's future

The tournament had its flaws but it has great potential to boost the country's game in many ways

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi
Fireworks at the PSL final: things are looking up for Pakistan cricket again  •  Chris Whiteoak

Fireworks at the PSL final: things are looking up for Pakistan cricket again  •  Chris Whiteoak

When Kevin Pietersen tweets in Urdu, upset at losing a cricket match, seeking forgiveness from his team's fans, and promising to return even better next year, you know the Pakistan Super League has not only arrived but that it has made an instant impact.
When Wasim Akram and Dean Jones bounce for joy for that little known team called Islamabad United, and Viv Richards cuts a forlorn figure as a Quetta Gladiator, swallowing his pride at the rare experience of losing a final, you know that the PSL has not only arrived but that it has made a deeper emotional connection than mere T20 flimflam can.
Yes, we know, the PSL isn't perfect. But perfection has never been a requirement for success. It was enough that the Pakistan Cricket Board, defying its hard-earned reputation for amateurism, staged a professional competition to capture the zeitgeist. It was enough that the PSL was exhilarating, better than many other T20 franchises, with games of a high standard and abundant passion. We came, we saw, we fell in love.
In this way, the cricket delivered by the PSL was of a certain vintage. Pace bowlers excelled and took wickets. Batsmen offered flashes of genius, nothing more, just tantalising flashes. Great bowling and unpredictable batting: Pakistan's gift to the world. Catches were dropped, of course. Emotions ran high. Players crossed the line. Wahab Riaz barged Ahmed Shahzad. The gifts that keep giving, kept giving.
In other ways, the cricket was unrecognisable. International stars dedicated themselves to teams from places they might have struggled to place using Google. Standards were raised. Mettle was firmed up and tested. The lore of batting and bowling was shared generously. A full house in Dubai watched a domestic final between Islamabad and Quetta. Imagine that even a few months ago - would you have believed a sell-out for Islamabad and Quetta?
For Pakistan, it marks a potential rebirth of their limited-overs cricket, a fresh start to climb the rankings. A healthier domestic competition will spawn a stronger national team. A stronger national team raises interest in the PSL. T20 cricket improves the 50-overs game. It is a virtuous circle.
Now, the PSL was only possible outside Pakistan. The international players came because they felt safe in the UAE. We live in imperfect times, and in imperfect times pragmatism is more beneficial than any fanciful notion of bringing cricket home. Only daft patriotism and farcical arrogance will force this tournament to Pakistan in a hurry. The stars will not come to Pakistan, and without the stars, the PSL is a rump, another foot in the grave, a further nudge down the slope of declining standards.
Hats off, then, to the organisers, who played the right moves, realised their vision, and allowed luck to work in their favour with events on the field. A dominant Umar Akmal, strutting and explosive? A resurgent Mohammad Sami, direct and threatening? A failure from Shahzad, heroic and composed? Young players, forgotten players, seizing their moment? A winning hit by a captain with a point to prove? The script was so good it was almost perfect.
Pakistan still have much catching up to do, and one tournament doesn't fix a decade's worth of damage. But the sense of irrevocable decline has passed
This first PSL is the beginning of a process. The implications for Pakistan's World T20 campaign are unclear. Shahid Afridi's team is strong in pace bowling, especially with Sami's resurgence and Mohammad Amir's return. The batting we know is suspect, although Umar Akmal and Sharjeel Khan offer some power hitting. The greatest worry for a tournament in India, however, is the absence of a world-class spinner.
Hence, Pakistan still have much catching up to do, and one tournament doesn't fix a decade's worth of damage. But the sense of irrevocable decline has passed. The question of how long Pakistan cricket can be sustained without home internationals has begun to be addressed. This is the fightback, the start of a recovery.
You don't need to be a lover of T20 cricket to understand the significance of the PSL to Pakistan. You don't need to live for IPLs and Big Bashes to appreciate the importance of the PSL to Pakistan's cricket. You just need to realise that Pakistan is stricken by conflict and corrupt politicians. The country's cricket has been on its knees since the terrorist attacks of 2009, but it was collapsing for many years before that. You just need to value the exciting skills that Pakistan's cricketers bring to the international game to be grateful that those talents now have a chance to blossom afresh.
The question now is whether the PSL can hit these high notes again. Can you rely on the PCB to stick to a winning formula, other than perhaps introducing more teams? What if the personnel change? Might they steer a wonkier course?
Next year will be harder in any case. Once expectations have been raised, a benchmark set, disappointment and criticism come easily. But the PCB should not be deterred. The value of the PSL will only be realised if it can be repeated again and again. The league might seem like a short-term fix but it is a long-term investment in Pakistan cricket, a shot in arm for the prestige of a nation. The first PSL was an unforgettable party, a dance of joy in the desert, but love might be even better second time around.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. @KamranAbbasi