It’s probably heresy to even think about it, but could the Pakistan Super League, a six-team national competition, be the strongest Twenty20 nursery in the world?
Orthodox logic says no. Of course, the Indian Premier League, the all-star contest that claims to be the NBA, NFL, and Champions League of cricket, has increased the revenue of each entrant and the standard of the 20-plus format as a whole.
Innovation in cricket has been fueled by the IPL, where the best of the best are challenged to do their best, under pressure, in an annual whirlwind of noise, music and dollars. If you’re not at the IPL, as Paul Keating would say, you’re camping.
And yet the young Pakistan team, neither of whom can play in the IPL, put up another performance, this time in Wednesday’s T20 World Cup semi-final at Sydney Cricket Ground against New Zealand, to suggest that the IPL is not, or not exclusively, where it is.
Whether it was Shadab Khan’s brilliant direct strike over Devon Conway, the clever and varied bowling of the four-man rhythm attack, or the spinning artistry of Shadab and Mohammad Nawaz, Pakistan again showed that they play their Twenty20 cricket better than just about anyone in the world. To top it off, their two most credentialed batsmen, starters Babar Azam (53 of 42 balls) and Mohammad Rizwan (57 of 43), finally opened the valves and pulled off a convincing win. In the end, they were led home by Mohammad Haris (30 of 26), one of their four under-23 youth squads, who has only played his cricket inside Pakistan and just 25 PSL games. On Sunday, Haris will bat at the first pitch in a World Cup final.
All 11 members of the star-studded New Zealand team have IPL experience; none of the Pakistanis. Due to India’s ban on players from Pakistan, which has been in place since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, the first year of the IPL, Babar’s team has had to grow their T20 nous by finding gigs in the Twenty20 leagues from all over the world or just within Pakistan.
Their youngest members of the current squad possess a small fraction of the T20 experience of their opponents at this World Cup. A few weeks ago, in the highlight of the tournament, Pakistan outscored the galactic Indians in 39 out of 40 overs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. His eclipse of the Kiwis brought to mind those old rugby league games when NSW Country came to town and, on this very patch of grass, laid waste to the city’s glamor boys. When they get a little more exposure to this T20 caper, Pakistan is going to be pretty cool.
His most effective pitchers on Wednesday were lanky left-arm Shaheen Shah Afridi (2/24 from four overs), evergreen Haris Rauf (0/32) and teenager Naseem Shah (0/30). Rauf has played some BBL for Melbourne Stars, Afridi nothing outside PSL, Naseem only PSL plus one season in the Caribbean league.