GeneralThe PSL is Struggling, But I Love Her

The PSL is Struggling, But I Love Her

Islamabad United just beat Lahore Qalandars – my two-time-winning, defending-champions team – in a way that brings a bit of shame both to our recent stunning 5-1 record versus them and to our impressive run at home. But it’s just a bit of shame because this game did a lot more than give us a loss to start: it marked the start of PSL Season 9. Despite everything, I’m so happy it’s back.

I’ve read the PSL is struggling for significance. This is not something any of us can deny. We don’t have the kind of high-quality overseas players that the SA20 has (a league I didn’t watch), we don’t offer the kind of money that the ILT20 does (a league no one watches, I think), and we don’t have everything the IPL offers (a league everyone on planet Earth watches except some brave Pakistanis).

We’re a simple nation, you see. Our economy is in tatters, and we don’t pay heed to betting companies as sponsors anymore. Hell, the PSL is taking flack for signing KFC as a sponsor (as they should). What that tells you is that the only big-money sponsorship options the league has are either betting companies and probably-genocide-funding companies. And let’s not forget the big boys in the board are giving a whole new meaning to cricket (mis)administration. They’re too busy canceling contracts, platforming men with histories of harassment accusations, and renovating offices to think about things like “improving PSL as a brand,” “allowing direct signings,” “changing the PSL account’s username so it’s more searchable,” and “increasing salary caps.” Sorry, I guess. Bigger fish to fry.

So it’s not easy to be the PSL, to wake up one day and realize you’re not 2nd best, that you might not even be 3rd or 4th best anymore. It’s not easy being a fan of Pakistan cricket. We watch us get drubbed in the World Cup and then in Australia and then wake up every morning to learn of yet another player who’s pulled out or made himself partially unavailable for the PSL. It’s hard, especially when people pretend like the SA20 is homegrown (sorry, it’s not) or that it actually matters that Mumbai Indian Emirates (what a name, by the way) is winning a league somewhere. It’s hard for us when people make fun of the PSL’s quality after looking at Multan Sultan’s lineup – actually, this one might be fair – or when they see that Lahore replaced the great Rashid Khan with a 26-year-old they’ve never seen before.

And yet.

And yet, despite the many pain points of the journey we’ve been on since That Unforgettable Reserve Day and my solemn promise to give up cricket after LQ selected RvD when I was hoping for someone more fun (sorry, RvD), I tuned into the first match of the season. And despite the loss and the few concerns I have about my two-time-winning, defending-champions team, I loved it. And I’m so excited for more.

I watched Rauf yell in frustration and then mimed throwing the ball back to Shadab, who, true to his dramatic self, cowered in response. I saw misfields that made me yell profanities (again, sorry RvD), and I saw Salman Ali Agha and Shadab Khan bat in a way that changed my life. I saw Sahibzada Farhan announce himself as an opener at the PSL after a great NT20 (the pipeline is working!), and I saw more extras conceded than wickets taken by us at the World Cup. I watched Shaheen send himself ahead to finish the innings, and I watched IU open a game with Naseem and Ubaid Shah. I saw exactly 0 early contenders for the Fielder of the Tournament award, and I saw a good, fighting score get chased down in true T20 fashion – with little care and much ease.

I know we lost, and my friends can attest to how much I complained and yelled about it, but PSL is back, and there’s plenty more to come. We have so much to look forward to: Shan Masood leading a revolution for Karachi Kings; Iftikhar having the all-timer season we’ve been waiting for; a new Quetta Gladiators with Wasim Jr, Abrar, and Hasnain; Peshawar’s young team light every match on fire; yet another crazy Fakhar Zaman season; a third trophy for Lahore (sorry non-LQ fans); and IU’s spin all-rounder trio dominate with bat and ball. This list may vary for you, but the PSL has something for everyone, so watch closely.

Plus, the loss isn’t that bad to start a season, right? Especially if we’re gifting an in-form Shadab Khan back to Pakistan in a T20 World Cup year and another middle-order T20 batter in Salman Ali Agha? It’s all about perspective (this is not what the kids call “copium”).

Not only will we get a second shot to beat IU, but that’ll be at their home, which will be even sweeter, and hopefully, I’ll make my way to Pindi to watch us do it. And who knows, maybe this overpowered IU team will finally make their way to another final later in the season, and we can beat them there, too.

The point is: there’s plenty of cricket to come. And yes, the PSL is losing significance. It’s sandwiched between 5 leagues, and the Pakistani rupee (and the government and the cricketing board and the universe) is doing it no favors. But like every year, I’ll be watching and viciously live-tweeting anyway. For the love of Pakistan cricket and the sometimes badly run but mostly fun league we call our own. And I hope 50 years from now when cricket is unrecognizable and the IPL is 50 months long, we’ll all be tuning in to PSL then, too.

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