Islamabad United v Peshawar Zalmi, PSL 2017, Dubai February 9, 2017

A disjointed yet dynamic opening night in Dubai

Despite its share of hiccups, the opening night of Pakistan Super League 2017 showed the competition may be starting to gain a foothold in its home away from home

Team captains took the stage at the opening ceremony as PSL 2017 kicked off in Dubai on Thursday night © PCB/PSL

Fahad Mustafa is the king of Pakistan television. Pakistanis know this, but to those who don't, take it as true that he is. By occupation he is an actor but really he is the host of a wildly successful game show that works on the simple formula that you cannot go wrong if you give prizes to anyone with a pulse within a 100m radius.

He is the show. Imagine the Energizer bunny. Imagine that Energizer bunny a few cans down of an energy drink. Imagine the Energizer bunny a few cans down of an energy drink and then a shot of pure adrenaline to the good. Then multiply that by some. What you have is about half the energy Mustafa brings to his shows, day in, day out.

So to have him as the hype man for the opening ceremony of the second Pakistan Super League in Dubai was, at so many levels, the rightest thing organisers could do. This wasn't quite the canvas for him to do his thing, and the crowd was already feeling the occasion, but still: he was just the man for the moment and mood.

He was one of a few things they got right. Altogether there was something more polished about this opening than last year. That evening had burned through on emotion alone. Until the very last moment, it had felt like it might not even come to be. There had been little marketing in the build-up because the budgets were so tight. Ticket sales had been an issue. The broadcast deal was unheard of. There was confusion over where they would play. It was sharing space with the Masters Champions League - which then seemed like a workable idea and even a threat.

But somehow they got it up and running and Peshawar Zalmi flew in 143 students and teachers from the Army Public School, the scene of a terrible terrorist attack the year before, and the stadium had enough people in it, and it didn't matter that the opening ceremony felt slightly disjointed and nervous because the night felt so redemptive. Pretty much the whole season surfed through on the emotion of that night.

This year there has been more control. In the run-up there has been greater promotional visibility around Dubai for the league. And it showed, in the number of fans that had been streaming into the ground a good 90 minutes before the opening ceremony was due to start.

Big names at the PSL? Of course © Pakistan Super League

It showed in the ceremony itself, slicker, smarter and not averse to a few tugs at the heart. Any other time, for instance, a rendition of "Dil Dil Pakistan" might pass by unnoticed - it is just what you get at any Pakistan game. Nobody missed the significance this time, just two months removed from the death of its singer Junaid Jamshed. And there is no occasion that isn't fit for a little Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Feels, they say these days, proper feels.

But like Sean Paul last year, Shaggy was an odd intrusion. When and where indeed was Shaggy not an odd intrusion other than, perhaps, for a brief period in the 90s? Perhaps not as odd as the PSL's original wish - Justin Bieber - would have been though. Given how much Pakistan's music industry is bubbling currently, another Pakistani to accompany Ali Zafar and Shehzad Roy could not have been difficult.

This being a Pakistani production, there had to be a fashionable delay before the game actually began. Last year there had been a 20-minute delay. Tonight it took 50 minutes to start because of what appeared to be difficulties in dismantling the stage without affecting the sightscreen behind it. Don't miss the symbolism, given how long and how many delays there have been in getting the league off the ground in the first place. By this point the stadium was all but full - in itself a revealing achievement given how sparse crowds have been for recent Pakistan internationals here. Some of the energy that Mustafa had generated had gone though.

And once the game began, the evening assumed an oddly familiar feel, as if this is precisely what we have come to expect - a little razzmatazz, the biggest Pakistani names, team-mates and opponents to some of the world's finest talent. Yep, this is what the PSL is. Which is odd given that it is not being played in the country it is supposed to be played in and that it was only the 25th match in the short history of the league. Increasingly, this is the thing about popular T20 leagues, that you can identify with them and that you pretty much know what to expect as an experience when you go to any one of their games.

Indeed it would have passed by in that haze of familiarity had it not been interrupted by a brief shower. Those are not as unusual as you might think, especially as it comes at the end of an unusually cold spell. But still - how many would have predicted that? Coupled with the late start and the shower - which came after midnight with the second innings not yet 10 overs in - it meant that about a third of crowd had left well before the end of the game.

Which is a shame because the action - the very thing that will sustain this league - was promising. Last year, slow surfaces had made for lower-scoring Twenty20 cricket, intriguing in its own way, but not necessarily a recipe for long-term success. If this game is anything to go by - a first innings total near enough 200, a significant chase by the champions, though with only two balls to spare - this season might be a correction.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • a on February 10, 2017, 7:27 GMT

    The best thing about it was the bright green pitch and the sideways movement from the seamers. Always thought that PSL - being Pakistani - should be a bowlers tournament. Hope there will be lots of grass at Gaddafi stadium for the final!

  • Khair Maarij on February 10, 2017, 6:22 GMT

    so author forgot to mention one of the best lighting and fireworks of the opening ceremony?

  • Dhawala on February 10, 2017, 5:53 GMT

    No Dilshan in the first game hope he will play the second one

  •   Hafiz Muzammil Shahid on February 10, 2017, 5:17 GMT

    That was a great kick off imagine if it was in pakistan it would be 10 times bigger

  • hasan on February 9, 2017, 23:19 GMT

    Very good innings by Akmal

  • No featured comments at the moment.