Take a look around you. It isn’t a pretty picture, is it? The country is teetering on the edge of default, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is stalling a $1.2 billion tranche that we need to keep the country running, and maintaining forex reserves is a constant battle. Our political system has collapsed, inflation is at an all time high, and social unrest is settling in with every passing day.
Yet on the 13th of February, the crowds poured in and filled the Multan Cricket Stadium to capacity at the launch of this year’s HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL). From Multan to Karachi and now onto Lahore and Rawalpindi the carnival is in full swing. In its eight years the PSL has become a mainstay not just of Pakistan cricket but a cultural cornerstone that once a year captivates the nation’s imagination.
Successes have been rare in Pakistan over the course of the past decade. There are more lessons to be learned from the past decade of negligence and disregard than there are opportunities to celebrate. Since 2015, Pakistan has seen five different prime ministers come and go. During the same time, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been witness to four different chairs of the board of directors.
Even as Pakistan has undergone turbulent times and the cricket board has seen multiple changes in management the one constant has been the HBL PSL. The rise has not been without its challenges. The inaugural edition of the tournament was hosted entirely in the UAE before it was slowly shifted to Pakistan over the years. Not only has the HBL PSL produced some of the brightest stars of Pakistan cricket, it has almost single handedly paved the way for the return of international cricket to Pakistan. Even more importantly it has become a profitable institution that has been supported and backed by anyone that has come into office. It has largely remained non politicized and unaffected by changes in administration.
The success and growth of the tournament has been impressive to say the least. Consider this for example: when the PCB first sold the rights to the franchises the most expensive one was the Karachi Kings which went for $2.6 million a year. Two years later, when a new team for Multan was added, the franchise was sold for a whopping $5.2 million. When the Multan franchise changed ownership again a year later, its value had gone up to $6.35 million a year.
The biggest reason behind this success has been consistent patronage by four parties: the cricket board, the sponsors, the franchise owners, and most importantly the fans. The board has turned the tournament into a major cash cow for itself. Sponsors like HBL, which recently extended its contract for the title sponsorship of the league until 2025 for $22.5 million, have stood by the tournament through delicate turns in its short history. At the same time, the team owners have shown resolve to keep paying their dues throughout despite not making profits for the initial period. Most importantly, the fans and broadcasters keep coming back for more because of the high quality of cricket on display.
The HBL PSL is one of the rare things that are right about Pakistan. This year, the tournament has faced a slight hitch in the form of the PCB and the caretaker Punjab government hitting a roadblock in a financial dispute over the cost of security for the HBL PSL games in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Such roadblocks are to be expected of course, but they must be resolved forthwith. Already, the cloud of terrorism looms large over Pakistan once again.
Since 2009, we have not just rebuilt our cricket infrastructure, we have managed to build an institution that has the potential to last and remain a flagship part of Pakistan’s calendar. However, this will require continued agreement over the importance of the tournament between all stakeholders and for a mature approach to resolve such conflicts. The HBL PSL is an institute worth keeping and growing. After all, we so rarely get things right in the first place.