Ahead of the eighth edition of Pakistan Super League, as all six franchises prepare to lift the trophy on March 19 in Lahore, the stars of the national team prepare for the challenge with all eyes on them. Meanwhile, away from the spotlight, with aspirations to come out of the tournament as the diamond of the season, multiple emerging players are preparing as well. They hope to grab that one golden opportunity destined for them to prove themselves as the future of Pakistan cricket.
It is not an exaggeration if we label PSL as one of the biggest brands of Pakistan. In its eighth year, it has proven to be Pakistan’s famous local product that has gone global, arguably, becoming the second most followed cricket league in the world. Along with the sports, entertainment, brand deals and glamour, it has also given the youngsters a platform to shine on the big stage. A number of youngsters have gone on to make a big name at the international level after gaining exposure at one of the most competitive T20 leagues in the world.
From playing in the streets of their local towns like any other Pakistani kid to performing at the big stage and becoming a crowd favorite is not an easy journey. With limited resources and crippling surroundings, majority of those street cricketers give up on pursuing their dream as the burden of responsibilities increase.
Outshining those in competition while dealing with the personal quests in the existing structure of local cricket, its luck paired with merit that makes it possible for the players to attain their goal of playing professional cricket and then going beyond it to become a regularly capped player for the country.
The emerging players have had undoubtedly commendable records in the past in domestic leagues or U19 cricket, but PSL gives them a stage to put on a show for the masses, hence, the fame is inevitable. Pakistan’s current stars were once young boys with eyes filled with hope and passion that translated into their fame today, the path that was paved by PSL.
Shaheen Shah Afridi, the flying eagle of Pakistan, before his PSL debut, had already represented Pakistan in U19 cricket and later bagged the record of the best figures for a Pakistani bowler on first class debut in Quaid e Azam Trophy in 2017. Later, he became the leading wicket-taker for Pakistan in the 2018 U19 World cup. However, it was not until his debut for Lahore Qalandars in 2018 that he rose to fame. The same year he debuted for Pakistan in all three formats. Three years down the lane, Shaheen’s first over against India in the T20 World cup 2021 wrote history and the tall kid from Landi Kotal became a World favorite. Eventually, Shaheen also led Qalandars to win their maiden PSL trophy in 2022.
Similarly, the recent fan-favourite, Muhammad Haris from Peshawar was also once a hopeful young boy with aspirations to play for Pakistan, the dream that came true after his PSL debut for Peshawar Zalmi in 2022. Haris with his #BeTheBest made him a sensation overnight. Later, during the 2022 T20 World cup, he announced his arrival at the international scene with aggression and proved to be the need of the team.
Haider Ali became the first Pakistani to score a fifty on his T20i debut in 2020, but his fame began from his PSL debut earlier that year when he became the youngest to score a fifty in PSL. Ever since that, Haider has been in the eyes of media, fans and cricket pundits, hoped to be the next big thing in the World of cricket. His journey began from being picked in the supplementary category and has now led him to be the Platinum pick for Karachi Kings in PSL 8.
When naming the young stars of PSL, one can not omit the name of the wonder boy, Naseem Shah. Naseem made his PSL debut for Quetta Gladiators and has been playing with them ever since. His swing with the new ball became a crowd favorite and the ace card of the Gladiators. The 19-year-old that shook the World in the 2022 Asia cup with his swing. Naseem made his T20I debut against India replacing Shaheen. It was only a matter of time; it took him 2 deliveries to prove why Pakistan is called the pace maker factory of World cricket and cementing his position among those pacers.
Now the stage is set for the unknown names to come out of the season as the emerging star of the tournament. Players like Qasim Akram, Haseebullah, Zeeshan Zameer and Aimal Khan have proven to be meritorious in their domestic careers, however, PSL is another acid test they have to pass in order to cross the line of becoming the future of Pakistan. Hopes are high that whoever gets picked by luck and secures a spot in the national team will further prove his worth to be the next icon of the cricket world.
Originally published at tribune.com.pk