Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan T20 captain, has said the Pakistan Super League (PSL) should be held within the country, with or without overseas players. The PCB had announced recently that the inaugural edition of the league would be held in Doha, Qatar in February 2016.
“It would be great if PSL could have been held in Pakistan,” Afridi said. “As we were talking about the revival of cricket in Pakistan after the Zimbabwe tour to Pakistan, we started to hope that cricket would continue to be played here. Our cricket should be played within our own territory. It looks good if our grounds get revived, filled with crowds and our own players get the maximum benefit out of it.”
The PSL, ESPNcricinfo understands, had initially contacted top agencies handling over 100 international players to consider playing in Pakistan. The response was overwhelmingly negative, which forced the PSL to be held outside Pakistan.
The Zimbabwe tour in May was widely propagated as heralding the revival of international cricket in Pakistan, but a suicide attack near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore during the second ODI meant the rest of the cricket world remained unconvinced. Though Zimbabwe stayed on to play the third and final ODI, the incident ruined the efforts made to revive international cricket in Pakistan.
Last month, the PCB finally zeroed in on Doha as the venue for the PSL, for which prominent T20 players such as Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo have signed up. Afridi, however, said that what mattered more than overseas signings was that young Pakistan cricketers should get the chance to play at home.
“I am not worried if foreign players come or not, but what is important is the revival of cricket in Pakistan and (that) our youngsters get opportunity to play in front of big crowds,” Afridi said. “It isn’t possible that we invite foreigners and (they) do not come. I spoke to some players and they are ready to come. If we give good offers to foreign players I don’t see any reason why they won’t come. The circumstances of our country are getting better and better.”
When asked about the prospect of Pakistan playing India, Afridi said it would be “bigger than the Ashes” but added that Pakistan should move on if India does not want to play.
Cricketing ties between the countries have been snapped by border and political tension. Despite an agreement between the PCB and the BCCI, the chances of the series slated for December going ahead appear bleak. The BCCI had signed an MOU to play Pakistan in six series between 2015 and 2023, with the first to be hosted by the PCB in the UAE in December. The series, however, was always subject to government approval.
“I don’t know why we are pushing for India series,” Afridi said. “There are other teams as well so we should be focusing on reviving our own home grounds. We have to work on the basic things and making them strong. Why insist on playing with India? I don’t see any need to play if they don’t want to play. We have invited them and if they do not want to play then it shouldn’t be a worry. We are still happy.
“Pakistan has always welcomed India, last time when India toured Pakistan nobody has seen such a welcome to any team in the world. We have always supported India in tough times but it’s their government decision. But I understand people from both countries want to see their teams play each other. If we play each other it would be a bigger series than the Ashes.”
The Pakistan limited-overs squads are presently undergoing a conditioning camp at Gaddafi Stadium. Pakistan are set to play two T20s and three ODIs against Zimbabwe from September 27 to October 5. The trip is meant to reciprocate the Zimbabwe tour to Pakistan earlier this year.
Afridi said Pakistan were not underestimating their opponents. “Obviously no doubt they are a fine side. I never underestimate any team especially in T20 format as once the game slips out of your hand it’s really hard to fight back. They are playing so well and I have seen their recent performances. They are in form as a team. Playing at their home ground in their own conditions is always tough. Even the matches here in Pakistan, in our home series, we never won them with ease.
“We are preparing and the series is allowing us to try many new faces ahead of the World T20. There are many players who impressed me in this (domestic) T20 cup but we can’t afford to make many changes at once. We are going to make a settled side ahead of the World T20.”
Pakistan will depart from Lahore for Harare on September 23.