It’s not that no-one watches the Indian Premier League in Pakistan.
There is a significant viewership of the IPL on the only channel – the GEO Super – showing live telecast of the event. The fans here watch the most popular league in the world in awe and with envy, and of course with a little bit of jealousy as well.
The fast grooming of the young Indian talent in the IPL is seen with a mix of envy and regret. With a plethora of international stars rubbing shoulders with the young guns of India, sharing dressing rooms and passing advice on and off the field is a useful thing. Then on top of it, some high-profile players of the recent past; like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jonty Rhodes, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Muttiah Muralitharan etc. and reputed coaches like Tom Moody, Stephen Fleming, Paddy Upton et al. burnishing the talent means that the next generation of Indian players is safe hands.
Just last year when a 17-year-old Sarfaraz Khan made his IPL debut and in one of the matches out-batted a world renowned AB de Villiers, the signs became pretty obvious. Sarfaraz, who has played two Junior World Cups for India, was embraced by de Villiers and it was a sight to behold.
In the 2015 auctions, he was bought by the RCB for Rs 50 lakh and soon became the youngest to play in the cash-rich league. Sarfaraz’s 21-ball 45 earned him universal respect and even made Kohli bow to the-then 17-year-old.
“He is an incredible young man and there is no doubt that he has worked extremely hard to get all types of shots right. The control over the shots he has… never seen before for a young talent like him. It shows he has practised hell of a lot, and we saw him this tonight,” said Kohli then.
This season when Sarfaraz made a rollicking 10-ball 35 it not only lifted RCB but also his stature. Chris Gayle described him as a “real talent” and said that “Sarfaraz is like my son.” It would have raised the youngster’s confidence sky high.
Pakistan lacks such a talent and it was in awe that the fans here watched Sarfaraz, Karun Karun Nair, Shreyas Iyer, Mayank Agarwal, Jasprit Bumrah and many other youngsters.
The timing of the matches suits Pakistani viewers. After their office routine, they enjoy the matches are enjoyed over a cup of tea. But there are insinuations as well, as Pakistan players are missed in the IPL and to many it’s a huge loss.
“IPL has raised the standard of Indian players,” admitted former Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi. “The enormous exposure IPL gives to the young Indian players makes them pressure-free at international level and that’s the difference between our players and theirs.”
Afridi was one of 11 Pakistani players who featured in the inaugural IPL in 2008. Left-arm paceman Sohail Tanvir made it memorable for the players from across the border by taking 22 wickets and finishing as the “best bowler of the tournament.”
Sadly, Tanvir’s progress suffered after Pakistani players were not included in the next auction in 2009 following relations strained between the two countries over terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.
Former Pakistan great Wasim Akram, associated with Kolkatta Knight Riders since the start, wanted to groom Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Irfan in the IPL but his plans could never be materialize.
The master admits the extent of loss is enormous.
“Pakistan feel deserted,” said Akram. “The exposure at the IPL could have done a world of good for Pakistan players, but sadly it’s not to be. Look at some of the Indian youngsters. They have come a long way and can be introduced to international cricket at any time.”
Fans also realize the importance of IPL.
“It’s exciting as well as productive,” said Ansar Abbas, who is a club cricketer. “I watch all the matches because it’s a great spectacle, at times it’s a feeling of envy and at other times, jealousy.”
Another cricket buff Salman Khalil said Pakistan lack stars like Virat Kohli.
“Look at Kohli,” said Salman. “He has matured into a world class player at international level and besides that excelled in the IPL. Our half-Kohlis, Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, would have groomed had they got a chance to play in the IPL.”
But there are still hopes.
Pakistan hope to produce and groom their youngsters through Pakistan Super League, initiated last year. But they will have to wait for a few years to set the ball rolling.