Dubai – Riding on the huge success of the first edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in UAE last year, the second edition of the HBL PSL 2017 commences today (Thursday) here at the Dubai International Stadium, with organisers hoping to make it an even bigger spectacle.

A colourful opening ceremony with a fireworks display will start at 6:50pm, with performances by Shaggy, the Jamaican reggae sensation; Ali Zafar, the rock-star from the subcontinent who is also the producer and writer of the HBL PSL anthem ‘AbKhelJamayGa’; and Shahzad Roy, the popular artist from Pakistan, who is also the brand ambassador of title sponsors HBL.

All five teams, led by their captains, will walk on to the field before the venue makes way for the first match of the event’s second edition, between defending champions Islamabad United, led by Misbah Ul Haq, and the Darren Sammy-led Peshawar Zalmi, from 9pm.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Najam Sethi, chairman of PSL, explained how different this year’s PSL will be from last year and his plans for the future. “Last year we did not have time. It was all organised in six months. Franchises were inexperienced. A lot of foreign players had doubts, so they did not apply for it and did not come. We also had the problem of our dates clashing with the Masters Champions League (MCL). Above all, these difficulties there were the big question mark whether the fans here will come to these stadiums.

“This year we resolved all these issues. We expect full houses. The players who last year expressed reservations about coming are all here. So although franchises have retained many of their foreign players, some new foreign players who were not available last here have come in today. So in that sense it will be a bigger and more star-studded event than last year,” he added.

The success of last year’s event has resulted in a greater response from sponsors. “The response from the sponsors has been fantastic. We have got more money and more prizes to give away and all this is leading up to a situation where we will be selling the sixth team next year. The value of that because of the success of the first edition and second edition we expect that when we are ready to sell the sixth team we will get twice as much as we have got for each team earlier on. That shows how the value of the assets has gone up,” said Sethi, who also revealed that the team owners have been made happy. “The team owners are actually delighted. Last year they ran into significant loses but as per our promise we tried to recover some of their losses by sharing our profits with them. So we distributed over $2 million to the five of them in order for them to reduce their losses. This is not just a financial issue for them; it’s a long-term project where the value of the asset goes up. They are now investing a lot of money in developing local cricket. Each of the franchises is tied up with a media partner. They are doing talent hunts. So they are getting sponsors for themselves which means their losses are going to be covered by the market, which is what the model is all about.” Sethi believes that the teams are more competitive than last year. “The teams are better than last year with better foreign players and local players and so compared to last year. I think the competition is going to be at least a hundred per cent more fierce.”

When asked how much UAE as the staging venue has contributed to PSL’s success, Sethi said: “Last year we had difficulties. This year it is very smooth. It is smooth because the UAE authorities have also woken up to the fact that this is the biggest sporting tournament that this country is hosting and they need to support it. I must thank the venues, instead of raising their costs they agreed to reduce some of the costs for us so that the franchises are happy. At the end of the day it is the franchises who have to pay for it. I am grateful to the UAE authorities, Emirates Cricket Board and to the venues for lending us their full support.”

Sethi feels that PSL has ushered in a lot of new talent. “All the teams conducted talent hunts. We allowed teams to bring only 15 players but each of them has brought up to five extra players who are young from their talent hunts. They may not be playing but they are going to be part of their dressing rooms and dug out so that they can see the atmosphere and learn from it and be inspired and motivated from it, so some of them will end up playing next year.”

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