PSL 2024 – Low turnout in Karachi cause of concern ahead of final

What’s going on with PSL crowds in Karachi?

When Usman Khan punched a single down to mid-off to seal Multan Sultans’ place in their fourth successive PSL final, it was met by deathly silence at the National Stadium Karachi. It wasn’t because the crowd wanted a different outcome, but because there was barely a crowd for the game at all. The two best teams in the tournament so far – Sultans and Peshawar Zalmi – shook hands in front of a nearly empty stadium, uncomfortable surroundings for a league that has branded itself as the second best in the world.

The lack of crowds in Karachi, in stark contrast to the other three venues, has been a point of focus this tournament, but it’s been thrown into even sharper relief since Ramzan began earlier this week. It meant the games began at 9pm local time, finishing well past midnight to ensure there was enough of a gap following iftar at sunset.

With all remaining games scheduled in Karachi, the possibility of knockout games – as well as the final – playing out in front of a largely empty stadium has worried those involved in the PSL, given how damaging it would be for the prestige of the tournament.

No question of shifting remaining knockouts elsewhere

ESPNcricinfo spoke to a number of officials involved with the PSL who justified the playoffs being held in Karachi. “We have moved to a home and away format,” a senior official told ESPNcricinfo “and Karachi is home to the [Karachi] Kings and the [Quetta] Gladiators.”

While Kings have been eliminated from the tournament, it is understood any possibility of moving any remaining games out of Karachi has been categorically ruled out. The logistical challenges of such a move have been deemed to be insurmountable. While changes to venues at short notice have been made in the past, most notably in 2019 when a flare-up in tensions between India and Pakistan resulted in the final tranche of games shifting from Lahore to Karachi, the PCB do not believe such a move is practical at given the tight window.

Why haven’t more people shown up?

An official acknowledged turnout was surprisingly low, but told ESPNcricinfo they expected a higher turnout at the remaining three games. Citing the popularity of Ramzan cricket in Karachi, they said “observing the first few fasts in Ramzan is tough”, and as spectators settle into a routine, they are likelier to be able to attend in larger numbers. However, it is unclear how significant a difference that makes given the next two games are on the consecutive days which immediately marked the first qualifier, and still very much within the first week of Ramzan. That they fall on the weekend, though, may make some difference.

Is a Monday final the issue for PSL?

But the most puzzling issue, and one about which official explanations have proved in short supply, concerns the day of the PSL final. Breaking with all previous tradition and standard procedure to ensure finals fall on the weekend, the PSL has a rest day this Sunday, with the final taking place on the following Monday – a working day – instead.

Sources within the PSL’s organisation insisted there were multiple reasons for the unconventional scheduling. They cited a desire to accommodate maximum home games for all teams “without breaking momentum”, while also attempting to avoid back-to-back fixtures for one of the sides playing the final. There is a confident assumption within the PCB that interest in the PSL final can be taken for granted, regardless of the day, time, or city it is held in.

The next three days will reveal how well-placed that confidence is.

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