PSL 2018: Thousands patrol Karachi’s cricket homecoming

Although some overseas players opted out, authorities have promised head-of-state level security, at the National Cricket Stadium, when Peshawar Zalmi takes on Islamabad United.

Karachi will also host three Twenty20 internationals between Pakistan and the West Indies, in early April, the first home series involving a Test-level team, since 2009.   -  AFP

Thousands of security personnel will be deployed, when Karachi hosts the final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), on Sunday — its biggest cricket match in nine years, after a spate of attacks drove away foreign teams.

Although some overseas players opted out, authorities have promised head-of-state level security, at the National Cricket Stadium, when Peshawar Zalmi takes on Islamabad United.

The Twenty20 match has great significance for Pakistan, as it gradually welcomes back international cricket, which ground to a halt after a deadly attack on Sri Lanka’s Test team, in Lahore, in 2009, which killed eight people and injured seven visiting players.

As well as the final in Karachi, both eliminators were held in Lahore, this week — a step forward from 2017, when only the final was held on Pakistani soil.

READ: Shahid Afridi: ‘We should try to invite Indian payers for PSL’

Karachi will also host three Twenty20 internationals between Pakistan and the West Indies, in early April, the first home series involving a Test-level team, since 2009.

In 2019, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has said that it hopes to hold half of the PSL on home turf. Currently, most of the games are played in the UAE.

Despite the encouraging signs, some of the PSL’s top stars preferred not to play in Pakistan, including Quetta Gladiators batsman Kevin Pietersen, who appeared to announce his retirement instead.

Australia all-rounder Shane Watson also opted out for Quetta, who were knocked out by Peshawar. Quetta head coach Moin Khan said that players who promise to play in Pakistan, but later back out, should be barred from the PSL draft.

“It’s disappointing that some foreign players refused to come, after giving their consent initially. PCB will have to take notice and not include those players in draft, as it will be big loss for the franchise,” he said.

ALSO READ: PSL 2018: Moin slams foreign players refusing to travel to Pakistan

Helicopters drying pitch

England’s limited-overs captain, Eoin Morgan, was another to skip Pakistan, while England’s Alex Hales and Sam Billings will both be missing for Islamabad United, when they take on Peshawar, on Sunday.

Pakistan has pulled out all the stops for the PSL, to the extent of using helicopters, to dry the rain-sodden Lahore pitch, for Wednesday’s semi-final.

The last time a helicopter was seen hovering so close to Gaddafi Stadium was in 2009, when one was used to airlift the survivors of the Sri Lankan team attack to safety. However, foreign experts, who examined the security arrangements, said that they were “as good as any” they have seen.

Former West Indian captain and Pakistani crowd favourite Darren Sammy, who will skipper Peshawar for a second time, after leading them to victory in 2017, lauded the country’s efforts.

“Pakistan is a place where I have a great connection, and I feel proud that I am part of the efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan,” he said.

ALSO READ: PSL: Tahir hat-trick seals win for Multan Sultans

Improvised ‘tapeball’

The cricket-mad country has since played nearly all its home matches in the United Arab Emirates, where earlier rounds of the PSL were also staged.

However, authorities have been working hard to ease international cricket back to Pakistan, with the final of 2017’s PSL, in Lahore, seen as a major turning point.

That was followed by three T20s against a World XI last September, and the emotional return of Sri Lanka for one-off T20I, in October, all in Lahore, with unprecedented security arrangements in place.

The success of the Lahore events have long spurred calls for similar efforts, in Karachi. Many Pakistani greats grew up playing cricket on the sweltering port city’s chaotic streets, often using an improvised form, known as tapeball, using a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape.

ALSO READ: Shahid Afridi wants to play PSL final in front of home crowd

The city’s most popular player, former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, said that the PSL final was a “great news”, adding: “Karachiites will enjoy the occasion and I am glad over it.”

The third edition of the PSL was launched in February, with the addition of a sixth team, the Multan Sultans. More international stars, and hopeful fans, eager to forget a spot-fixing scandal, which tainted 2017’s event.

After the first 31 matches were played in Dubai and Sharjah, the PSL moved to Lahore, on Tuesday, when Peshawar beat Quetta in the first eliminator, and then ousted the Karachi Kings in the second.

The Lahore matches were played under heavy security, with police and paramilitary personnel, guarding the teams, from their hotel to the stadium, and back.

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